THE WRITING ON THE WALL: Robot Journalist Defeats Human Sports Writer In A Writing Contest


ALL THINGS CONSIDERED: A while back, All Things Considered brought you the story of a breakthrough technology: the robot journalist. Okay, so it’s not really a robot. It’s actually a software program. You feed it data, it processes that data, and it spits out a news story putting those numbers you gave it into context — just like you’d see in your local newspaper. In the beginning, it was used exclusively for sports stories and a lot of people were skeptical — namely, real-life sports journalists. “I always imagine kind of the robot you imagined in the third grade with the boxy body and the antennae arms, standing in front of a keyboard,” says Emma Carmichael, a writer for the sports website Deadspin. She and her colleagues at Deadspin took a few digs at the idea, and this spring, when they came across a particularly bad account of a baseball game on the college sports website they assumed it was machine generated. University of Virginia player Will Roberts had pitched a perfect game against George Washington University. The story on neglected to mention that fact until the second-to-last paragraph. “That was shocking,” Carmichael says. “This was the first time this had happened in the NCAA since 2002. And when it happens, you expect to see it in the headline and you expect to see everyone talking about that aspect of the game.” The writer of that story — it turns out — was a living, breathing human being. But the creators of Narrative Science, a news-writing software program, took Deadspin’s assumption as fighting words. They set out to prove that their system could produce a better story. MORE

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