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Don't Worry, Woodward and Bernstein, Your Jobs Are Safe for Now

While artificial intelligent is an exciting and terrifying human endeavor, it doesn’t signal the end of days. It’s safe to say that at least for the foreseeable future content creators will still to be relevant and sought after.

Everyone knows the traditional news media have been struggling in the age of smartphones and the Internet. Many longstanding news publications have closed or become web-only amid the growth of ad hoc journalism via videos, photographs, blogs and social media.
Meanwhile, automated content-producing robots are said to be quietly positioned to claim more journalists’ jobs.
The robot incursion into journalism started several years ago. A company named Automated Insights, using a Wordsmith platform, developed algorithms to write basic sentences and news articles based on data from sources such as corporate financial statements and fantasy football scores. The Associated Press said in 2015 that it has been using Automated Insights to generate more than 3,000 stories about U.S. corporate earnings each quarter, a tenfold increase over what it previously produced. Based on such examples there has been much speculation robots may soon replace more journalists at their newsroom desks (although not at their nighttime bar stools).

James Cameron's impression of a future journalist.

James Cameron’s impression of a future journalist.

But let’s get real. Right now computers have very limited ability to report news effectively, except for a few niche situations. Put a robot at the scene of an angry demonstration at City Hall or at the scene of a multiple-car collision and you are likely to get some usable video and photos, but no coherent story of what happened and why it happened. Data-driven topics are perhaps most promising so robots can continue to tackle more complex and significant data, perhaps even presidential election polls, government spending data and crime statistics.
But does a robot have any advantage over humans in reporting on these complex topics? Not at all.
Computers do not have quicker access to polls or to government data than humans and their software would have to be many levels more sophisticated than what is currently used for corporate earnings data or football scores. The robot would likely report erroneous, misleading or trivial findings so that a human journalist or editor would still be needed to ensure accuracy and make the article meaningful.
Robots are replacing some niche forms of journalism but they never can replace human writing and thinking. Today’s complex world demands ever more complex thinking and we don’t want to underestimate the value of that capacity. Just because a robot can clean floors in a jiffy does not even begin to suggest that it could clean out a corrupt administration.
So go ahead and order another round, Woodward and Bernstein. There’s still plenty of time.

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