Robot Writers: Outsourcing Our News

robot writers

It is no surprise that the advent of technology has transformed our world into a fast paced, information based society. And with each technological advance, we’ve seen jobs slowly replaced by robots and automation. Jobs such as phone operators and toll booth collectors scarcely exist while even farming and factory industries are replacing human laborers with mechanical ones.

     But did you ever think you’d see the day when even writers would be replaced by a robot? Well, the time has come!

     According to an article in USA Today  (and written by an actual, live person), the Associated Press has used an algorithm  based company to write the bulk of its financial and corporate earning stories since 2014.

     Apparently, algorithms have been responsible for content on sites such as MSN and Yahoo as well. Even the NFL has signed on as a client.

     Developers of the writing algorithm state that computers can replace human writers in both accuracy and depth. Although the algorithms are informationally and grammatically precise, they admittedly do not have the stylistic flair of human authorship.

What does this say about the importance of writing skills?

     Aside from the obvious objection of replacing the jobs of working professional writers across the globe with robots, I find the trend toward algorithmic journalism disturbing on other fronts as well.

     In a technology based world where people are replacing human contact with iPhones and video games, reading news and columns by other people is a last point of human contact or interaction. When we pull up an article on our laptop or open a crisp newspaper, we are able to read someone’s opinion, laugh at their humor, or ire at their position. We are able to connect.

     On an academic front, this acceptance of robot writers tells a tale of our weakened educational achievement and priority. In the pursuit of teaching to tests at all costs, we’ve also lost sight of teaching the fine points of reading. We’ve neglected to expose our students to the pleasures of symbolic poetry or the complexity of stylistic prose. In diminishing the joy of reading in our students, we are creating a generation of readers who don’t value excellence in writing. We are creating a generation of people who only care about the speed of information.

Is faster better?

     If an article can be written in one minute by a robot when it takes a professional writer ten minutes, of course we want the information faster. Right? Or do we want the insights and perspectives that only a person can generate…the humor and irony that only a human can portray? This latest example of robotic writing is just another way that society is telling our youth that writing isn’t a priority, that it isn’t a skill worth learning. It is another way that our education system is devaluing the arts and creativity in our students.

     As citizens and a public readership, we need to insist that our news agencies support human writers and respect the education and skill required to do the work in the best way possible—even if it takes a few minutes longer.    

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