Wobot Writing

A while back I mused on the possibility of computers generating non-fiction content. I now learn from Wired magazine that there are already several companies engineering software that produces news articles. The article profiles a company called Narrative Science.

Narrative Science’s writing engine requires several steps. First, it must amass high-quality data. That’s why finance and sports are such natural subjects: Both involve the fluctuations of numbers—earnings per share, stock swings, ERAs, RBI….But how to turn that analysis into prose? The company has hired a team of “meta-writers,” trained journalists who have built a set of templates. They work with the engineers to coach the computers to identify various “angles” from the data. Who won the game? Was it a come-from-behind victory or a blowout? Did one player have a fantastic day at the plate? The algorithm considers context and information from other databases as well: Did a losing streak end?

Then comes the structure. Most news stories, particularly about subjects like sports or finance, hew to a pretty predictable formula, and so it’s a relatively simple matter for the meta-writers to create a framework for the articles. To construct sentences, the algorithms use vocabulary compiled by the meta-writers. (For baseball, the meta-writers seem to have relied heavily on famed early-20th-century sports columnist Ring Lardner. People are always whacking home runs, swiping bags, tallying runs, and stepping up to the dish.) The company calls its finished product “the narrative.”

This maps closely to my presumption of how such an idea would work. Take raw data, massage it into human readable text and you’ve got something fairly digestible. I could also foresee a process where a computer generates the basic text and a human finishes it, adding some literary flourish.

Old science fiction is filled with the trope about robots taking everyone’s jobs. I think people in the artistic fields have longed presumed they would be immune. I doubt it. They will fall, bloodied and fatigued on the battlefield, and the robots will have their way with their women. It is the future.

3 Responses to “Wobot Writing”


  1. John Saleeby

    Have you read anything by Ring Lardner? You’ll be walking around talking like somebody in a Thirties gangster movie until somebody pulverizes you.

    He was a master of karate and friendship!

  2. Wil

    I have not – I bet he could write rings around robots.

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