Close your eyes and try to picture a journalist. You’re probably imagining someone holding a pencil and a skinny notebook, shouting questions at lawmakers. Or a reporter in front of a camera bringing you the latest from a scene? Or maybe you’re thinking of our show, with Joshua interviewing guests in our Washington, D.C. studio.
Well, what if all of that was replaced … by robots?
Okay, our show isn’t about to be hosted by a machine (yet). But artificial intelligence is already being used in newsrooms today.
For instance, there’s Heliograf, a bot developed by The Washington Post. Wired calls it “the most sophisticated use of artificial intelligence (AI) in journalism to date.” It’s capable of covering an event and adding context to the report, all without the assistance of humans. As of last September, Heliograf has written about 850 stories for the Post.
The paper isn’t alone in its effort to bring advanced technology to the practice of journalism. And as any overworked reporter (hello!) could tell you, it seems like there’s more news than ever before and fewer people to cover it. So maybe a robotic companion would be a nice relief.
But AI has limitations. Jeremy Gilbert, the director of strategic initiatives at The Washington Post notes that so far, “automated content has not been able to inject human voices [into stories], in part because quotations are not created like structured data”. And it helps to have a human verifying things. Last year, a bot being used by The Los Angeles Times erroneously reported that an earthquake happened.
Could AI be the key to getting major news scoops? How could machines change the job market for journalists-in-training? And – most ominous for us – could AI replicate the voices of radio broadcasters?
- Jeremy Gilbert Director of Strategic Initiatives, The Washington Post Artificial intelligence guru
- Nick Rockwell Chief Technology Officer, New York Times
- Rubina Madan Fillion Director of Audience Engagement, The Intercept
- John Keefe Developer at Quartz Bot Studio, Professor at CUNY Grad School of Journalism, Former Editor of Data News at WNYC
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