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Meet the Robot Reporters: How AI Is Disrupting Journalism

By Scott Simone, Contributor During the U.S. national elections in November 2016, the Washington Post published hundreds of local articles tracking the results.

One article that recapped Republican Darrell Issa’s win over Doug Applegate, a Democrat, for California’s 49th Congressional District seat, read: “Republicans retained control of the House and lost only a handful of seats from their commanding majority, a stunning reversal of fortune after many GOP leaders feared double-digit losses.”

While the verbiage has the ring of a veteran political reporter tracking election results, the article was in fact produced by a robot—Heliograf, the Post’s artificial intelligence (AI) system, built in-house.

“At this point, automation and augmentation — in effect, AI for journalism — work in contexts where the work of humans is highly routinized and predictable, and where data is easily and consistently quantifiable,”

And while so far it’s been mostly larger news organizations utilizing AI, it could potentially have the largest impact on smaller, more local outlets—or at the very least, expand local coverage.

For example, Urbs Media, a UK-based company, recently brokered a Google-backed deal with Press Associated (the UK’s leading news agency), to generate 30,000 localized news reports every month.

“We started writing national news stories and selling them to national press in the UK, but in dealing with open data about London, we realized that much of it was segmented to a localized level,”

Lewis, Shirley Papé Chair in Emerging Media, University of Oregon At Urbs Media, the AI system is able to cover any topic that contains structured data—for starters: health, crime, transportation, education, environment, social policy, demographics, and lifestyle.

They’ve looked at the car ownership statistics for each local government area of the UK, helping track diesel car ownership—a growing environmental concern among citizens.

Even those publications and technologies that are perfecting AI-driven reporting rely on the human touch.“We’re talking about the most mundane and routinized stories, not the kind of features and human-interest stories that, almost by definition, require creation by humans,”

Automated Journalism – AI Applications at New York Times, Reuters, and Other Media Giants

Artificial intelligence in news media is being used in new ways from speeding up research to accumulating and cross-referencing data and beyond.

In this article we discuss several examples in which AI is being integrated into the newsroom, and we’ll aim to tackle the following three questions for our business and media industry readers: The following examples help to flesh out the directions that AI is taking in journalism, and the opportunities made available by it’s application.

With AI use-case examples from eight reputable publications (including The New York Times and Washington Post), we’ll aim to paint a picture of how journalism is changing, and we hope it’ll help you imagine the future of journalism in the next five years (and how your organization might adapt).

By searching through data in real time and extracting information based on requested categories, such as events, people, location and dates,  Editor can make information more accessible, simplifying the research process and providing fast and accurate fact checking.

  But the Times is experimenting with an AI solution which could transform comment moderation and extend the comment feature to more articles, hopefully allowing for cost-savings for NYT, and more engaging conversation for it’s readers The Perspective API tool developed by Jigsaw (part of Google’s parent company Alphabet) organizes reader’s comments interactively so that viewers can quickly see which ones they may find “toxic” and which may be more illuminating.

So if a journalist is looking for the latest stories on President Trump or articles associated with companies in the AI sector, Juicer quickly searches the web and provides a list of related content. Iain Collins of the BBC explains and demos the technology below in 3 minutes: In the not too distant future, Juicer may also be used to enhance the user experience by creating pop-up news facts when readers hover over certain words.

In 2016, Reuters partnered with semantic technology company Graphiq, to provide news publishers with a wide range of free interactive data visualizations across a spectrum of topics including entertainment, sports and news.

claims that by generating content (articles, reports, emails) with data from specific sports teams (or fantasy sports teams) it is able to kill two birds with one stone: First, the company draws in readers for longer sessions with customized, rich content (based on sports data).

NewsWhip’s analytics page advertises the following main capabilities: As well as tracking news stories, it can analyze a real or historical time period on any timescale scale between 30 minutes and 3 years and provide reporters with real time alerts or daily digests.

Sports, Automated Insights features a case study about it’s work with the Associated Press as well. AP isn’t writing long and thoughtful political commentary with the use of AI alone (and probably won’t be anytime soon), but the company does use Automated Insight’s “Wordsmith”

It’s uncertain whether this specific application of AI will be adopted for media consumption on a large scale, but it is clear that users will gravitate to low-friction ways of getting the information and entertainment they want, and Quartz would rather make the change proactively rather than reacting to it.

Although Quartz is still evaluating what its next steps will be, one idea is a newsroom bot created to assist journalists in their workflow by improving the way reporters can generate data and produce news stories for new media spaces.

To save time scrolling through or searching for news stories, the chatbot allows users to pick from US, UK and Australian version of Guardian News, choose from a 6am, 7am or 8am delivery time and it will deliver selected news stories everyday via Facebook Messenger.

What is clear for the present is that AI does have a place in the newsroom for helping to save time and money and increase speed and efficiency to help human journalists keep up with the ever-expanding scale of global news media.

Artificial Intelligence: Practice and Implications for Journalism

While the term artificial intelligence dates back to the 1950s, and has since acquired several meanings, there is a general consensus around the nature of AI as the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence.

On June 13, 2017, the Tow Center for Digital Journalism and the Brown Institute for Media Innovation convened a policy exchange forum of technologists and journalists to consider how artificial intelligence is impacting newsrooms and how it can be better adapted to the field of journalism.

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