THE RISE OF ROBO-JOURNALISM

THE RISE OF ROBO-JOURNALISM - COULD THIS ARTICLE BE WRITTEN BY A MACHINE?

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Recently I have been writing a lot about automation, machine-learning, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, the Fourth Industrial Revolution and so on. In short: the transformation of life as we know it. The rising power of AI and robots is scary stuff, if you think about it long enough. Not least when those in the know warn that AI is a "risk to human existence" - Elon Musk, Tesla Co-founder, in this instance. And then there's world-renowned physicist Professor Stephen Hawking saying that AI could be "the worst event in the history of our civilization".

And now I am reading about the rise of robo-journalism. Narcissistically, I am left wondering what that means for me. As a storyteller for brands, is my job in jeopardy? Will machines churn out content more efficiently than I, a human, could ever be capable of in the future? And if so, can a robot ever be nuanced or creative? Most importantly, would clients be able to tell the difference between TPW the machine and TPW the human? The answers to these questions certainly have the potential to undermine what I thought were my unique selling points as a copywriter.

The BBC News has run an article named 'Would you care if this feature had been written by a robot?'. It certainly caught my attention - especially when it claims that robo-journalism is 'coming a lot faster than you think'. In fact, it's already happening. At London's Press Association (where I once worked) a trial is underway using machine-generated stories. They're already being tested by journalists and software engineers and allegedly, various automated stories (such as about recycling rates) have ended up online or in print.

Newsrooms are operating on a shoe string; hacks are overworked and underpaid. The allure of some extra-efficient, cheap manpower is strong and understandable. But with an estimated 800 million global jobs being taken over by robots by 2030 (McKinsey Global Institute), are journalists part of that staggering figure?

It's possible I'm getting way ahead of myself, and wallowing in apocalyptic paranoia. At the moment, allegedly, the machine part of the journalistic equation is just about trawling through data and digging out juicy statistics. Exactly how? Well, the mind baffles. It's reported that thousands of stories a month are written with the help of algorithms. But, robo-journalism is, so far, research-based work; the arduous, boring bits, essentially.

In which case, much like cobots are helping human workers in factories and on production lines, machines might be able to help journalists identify killer stats (perfect for attention-grabbing headlines), while the human writer is left with the creative writing. This certainly could have its benefits. But if the role of robo-journalists become much greater than that, it'll be time for me to re-skill. That's another buzzword I've been writing about recently for clients - although I never realised I'd become part of the narrative. But for now, this article was well and truly written by me.

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