Will Machines Replace Journalists?
Article by Former Fellow Nicola Bruno in the Fall 2011 issue of Nieman Reports
After looking at start-ups for their book, 'The Monkey That Won a Pulitzer', two Italian journalists launched a project that uses motion graphics to tell news stories with context.
At Northwestern University, out of a place bearing the name Intelligent Information Laboratory, rises the invisible hand of Stats Monkey, a software program capable, its creators say, of drafting dozens of news items in impeccable English within seconds. If it seems smarter than journalists perhaps this is because so far its stories have been limited to baseball, a sport in which statistics dominate. Number crunching is, after all, a mechanical task. Speaking of numbers, the folks who invented Stats Monkey say they plan to expand its coverage to global financial markets, a place where numbers scurry by in milliseconds. In this realm, the stories these numbers tell can make a significant difference—possibly sending markets tumbling with a misstep here or there.
The escalating velocity and density of the flow of data mediates every aspect of our daily lives. Keeping this ferocity in mind, it is not difficult to understand why machines and robots—not human brains and people—face a promising future in journalism. Perhaps it is too much of a stretch for the Stats Monkey developers to predict that a story written by their program will be awarded a Pulitzer Prize within the next few years. With the pace of change so rapid, what might seem on its face an absurd notion can't be totally dismissed.