Google funds robot-written news

I. Am. Not. A. Robot.

But other articles to be published by a national news agency in Europe that just got a huge Google grant will be written by robots.

The aim: to crank out up to 30,000 stories a month that will be distributed by the Press Association to hundreds of news outlets in the U.K. and Ireland. The stories will be automated with the help of artificial intelligence — and a handful of human journalists.

“Skilled human journalists will still be vital in the process, but Radar allows us to harness artificial intelligence to scale up to a volume of local stories that would be impossible to provide manually,” Peter Clifton, editor-in-chief of the Press Association, told the Guardian. Radar stands for Reporters and Data and Robots.

Clifton said the news media needs “cost-effective” ways to produce news, according to the BBC.

How cost-effective? Well, the Google grant is for about 700,000 euros, or $800,o00.  The Radar project will employ five — yes, five — human journalists, who will be tasked with finding stories, creating templates for them and editing the tens of thousands of articles the robots come up with. Graphics, videos and photos will reportedly be automatically generated and added to the stories.

The grant to the Press Association is just one of many Google has doled out as part of its Digital News Initiative. The initiative, started in 2015 in Europe, has given out more than 70 million euros to more than 350 projects in Europe. Its mission, according to its website: “to support high-quality journalism through technology and innovation.”

Attempts at automated news writing and gathering have been around for a few years now. How have they worked out?

Automated tools, including news writing, is being used by media outlets such as the Washington Post, Reuters and BuzzFeed, and there have been some positive reactions.

But there’s also this: Just a couple of weeks ago, the Los Angeles Times wrote an automated news story based on a news alert mistakenly sent out by a USGS computer. It was about a magnitude 6.8 earthquake that happened in Santa Barbara a hundred years ago, but was dated in the future.

Other recipients in the Google initiative’s third round of funding include the Associated Press, which has a project in the U.K. called AP Verify that aims to verify user-generated content for use in news stories, and a few outlets working on fact-checking and weeding out fake news.


Photo illustration from Thinkstock


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