If an Algorithm Wrote This, How Would You Even Know?

Let me hazard a guess that you think a real person has written what you’re reading. Maybe you’re right. Maybe not. Perhaps you should ask me to confirm it the way your computer does when it demands that you type those letters and numbers crammed like abstract art into that annoying little box.

Because, these days, a shocking amount of what we’re reading is created not by humans, but by computer algorithms. We probably should have suspected that the information assaulting us 24/7 couldn’t all have been created by people bent over their laptops.

It’s understandable. The multitude of digital avenues now available to us demand content with an appetite that human effort can no longer satisfy. This demand, paired with ever more sophisticated technology, is spawning an industry of “automated narrative generation.”

Companies in this business aim to relieve humans from the burden of the writing process by using algorithms and natural language generators to create written content. Feed their platforms some data — financial earnings statistics, let’s say — and poof! In seconds, out comes a narrative that tells whatever story needs to be told.

These robo-writers don’t just regurgitate data, either; they create human-sounding stories in whatever voice — from staid to sassy — befits the intended audience. Or different audiences. They’re that smart. And when you read the output, you’d never guess the writer doesn’t have a heartbeat.

Consider the opening sentences of these two sports pieces:

“Things looked bleak for the Angels when they trailed by two runs in the ninth inning, but Los Angeles recovered thanks to a key single from Vladimir Guerrero to pull out a 7-6 victory over the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on Sunday.”

“The University of Michigan baseball team used a four-run fifth inning to salvage the final game in its three-game weekend series with Iowa, winning 7-5 on Saturday afternoon (April 24) at the Wilpon Baseball Complex, home of historic Ray Fisher Stadium.”

If you can’t tell which was written by a human, you’re not alone…

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  • Drunk_by_Noon

    Wow!
    This is very exciting.
    Contrary to the fears of your average NYTs reporter, this might actually “clean up” journalism from the cesspool it has become.
    On second thought, I doubt it. Leftists will still want to pee into the pool.

    • Frau Katze

      It likely works best for strictly factual stuff, like sports news.

      • Drunk_by_Noon

        That was my first thought, but it seems to also be writing poetry and novels.
        Different systems however.

  • Frau Katze

    So it’s just factory workers whose jobs are endangered by computers and robots.

  • FactsWillOut
    • Frau Katze

      Monkeys can write “post-modern”, Marxist crap. I’m sure you could write a program to churn it out by the bucket load. (I read to the bottom and saw that what it was. LOL, good one).

  • Frances

    Actually, the machine-written paragraph was clearer and easier to read.

    • Minicapt

      The NYTimes can improve itself.

      Cheers