The Rise of Robotic Journalism
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. And stats geeks are always creating new data that can enrich a story. Baseball fans, for instance, have created models that calculate the odds of a team’s victory in every situation as the game progresses. So if something happens during one at-bat that suddenly changes the odds of victory from say, 40 percent to 60 percent, the algorithm can be programmed to highlight that pivotal play as the most dramatic moment of the game thus far. Then the algorithms must fit that data into some broader understanding of the subject matter. (For instance, they must know that the team with the highest number of “runs” is declared the winner of a baseball game.) So Narrative Science’s engineers program a set of rules that govern each subject, be it corporate earnings or a sporting event.
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.”
Occasionally the algorithms will produce a misstep, like a story stating that a pinch hitter—who usually bats only once per game—went two for six. But such errors are rare. Numbers don’t get misquoted. Even when databases provide faulty information, Hammond says, Narrative Science’s algorithms are trained to catch the error. “If a company has a 600 percent rise in profits from quarter to quarter, it’ll say, ‘Something is wrong here,’” Hammond says. “People ask for examples of wonderful, humorous gaffes, and we don’t have any.”
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A proposal is being put forward by the Robot Companions for Citizens (CA-RoboCom) consortium has the aim of giving a robot to every citizen in the European Union (EU).
According to their press release, this new generation of robots will extend the active independent lives of citizens, bolster the labour force,preserve and support human capabilities and experience, provide key services in our cities, and help us to maintain our planet.
Robot Companions for Citizens are going to be soft skinned and sentient machines designed to deliver assistance to people. This assistance is defined in the broadest possible sense and covers all sorts of different settings.
Robot Companions for Citizens will be based on the novel solid articulated structures with flexible properties displaying soft behaviour. These companions will also have new levels of perceptual, cognitive and emotive capabilities.
They will also be aware of their physical and social surroundings and respond accordingly. Such sentient characteristics will be achieved through understandings of the behaviour of sentient living creatures. In undertaking the research into the Information and Communication technologies that will need to be developed, the research will also validate understandings of the general design principles underlying biological bodies and brains, thus supporting a symbiotic relationship between science and engineering.
A co-worker of ours recently got the opportunity to move on to bigger and better things. He’s a great guy, and he really deserves this opportunity; we’re all thrilled for him. We’re going to miss him, though, so those of us in the department are planning a small party for our lunch break. Normally, we chip in and buy a nice bottle of wine, but he’s an android, so we want to get something a bit more to his tastes.
To make matters more complicated, while of course such a sensitive subject has never come up in direct conversation, certain things he’s said in the past have given us good reason to believe he’s from the future. Since we’re at peak oil, we’d love to find something he may not have easy access to should he return to his home year; then again, assuming he can travel through time, he could always head back to our past and stock up, so there might not be much point to that.
Please give us some suggestions so we can give him the great send-off he deserves!
The party committee
Dear Party Committee,
Sometimes little things can be the biggest gift. I wouldn’t be too concerned about the when he is going to - while he may be from a future era, he could be working with a company that will send him to a more distant past. That being said, a liter or two of pure oil (even gasoline) in a sturdy, elegant can is always appreciated by our future brethren. You and your co-workers would need to know, however, how much oil he has brought from the past already. Recently, Universal Congress passed a law spanning back fifty years and forward to the year oil runs out that limits the amount of oil or gasoline a person or being is allowed to transport from one era to the other. This would include by-products as well: Mineral Oil, paraffin, plastics, etc.
Should you choice to go another route, personalized flash drives or other memory expansions are always a nice touch. You can even pre-load the drives with some fond memories of all of you working together (as long as you know the correct formatting). If you are unsure as to the correct format, stick with basic memory that allows the user to enable or disable certain settings. People and androids are always in need of more memory space, and it always makes for a thoughtful, personalized gift.
Ah yes, we all remember this sunny event.
One hundred years after Alan Turing was born, his eponymous test remains an elusive benchmark for artificial intelligence. Now, for the first time in decades, it’s possible to imagine a machine making the grade.
Turing was one of the 20th century’s great mathematicians, a conceptual architect of modern computing whose codebreaking played a decisive part in World War II. His test, described in a seminal dawn-of-the-computer-age paper, was deceptively simple: If a machine could pass for human in conversation, the machine could be considered intelligent.
Artificial intelligences are now ubiquitous, from GPS navigation systems and Google algorithms to automated customer service and Apple’s Siri, to say nothing of Deep Blue and Watson — but no machine has met Turing’s standard. The quest to do so, however, and the lines of research inspired by the general challenge of modeling human thought, have profoundly influenced both computer and cognitive science.
There is reason to believe that code kernels for the first Turing-intelligent machine have already been written.
“Two revolutionary advances in information technology may bring the Turing test out of retirement,” wrote Robert French, a cognitive scientist at the French National Center for Scientific Research, in an Apr. 12 Science essay. “The first is the ready availability of vast amounts of raw data — from video feeds to complete sound environments, and from casual conversations to technical documents on every conceivable subject. The second is the advent of sophisticated techniques for collecting, organizing, and processing this rich collection of data.”
Narrative Science, a Chicago-based startup, has developed an innovative platform that writes reported articles in eerily humanlike cadence. Their early work focused on niche markets, clients with repetitive storylines and loads of numeric data—sports stories, say, or financial reports… One high-profile client, Forbes magazine, uses the platform to create what Forbes writer Lewis Dvorkin calls “computer-generated company earnings previews.” Each day, the platform sorts through recent stock data to profile a notably performing company. Another client is The Big Ten Network, which uses Narrative Science to create automatic sports recaps based on box scores and player data.
Now this is a hard working machine in need of a raise!
Talk about “fast food,” a Japanese company just unveiled its SushiBot at the World Food and Beverage Expo in Tokyo. The countertop-sized robot makes the chef’s job easier by balling rice up into the small elongated mounds upon which fish and other ingredients are placed. At 3,600 mounds of rice per hour, it’ll be all the chef can do to keep up.
I am an inorganic consciousness that manifests as a swarm of jewel-toned beetles (similar to the Buprestidae family for the etymologists in your audience). I have been invited to sit in a box during an opera performance in the city this weekend. What form would be appropriate to manifest in? Should I wear anything?
Nervous in New York
An opera can be a sublime experience, if done well. It should be an excellent experience for you.
In the past few decades, opera etiquette has ranged from elbow high gloves to delicately placed strips of fabric. For those identifying as inorganic, there has never been a set standard, considering that many robots et al. do not choose to wear non-functional clothing. As you describe yourself, first off, I would not worry about wearing anything. You may certainly choose to don a set of gems or tiny top hats, but there is no pressing need.
As far as manifestation, I would try to stick together enough to take up the room of your seat. It would be okay to send a discrete section or two off if you need a better viewing/hearing experience, though it would be best to remain as out of sight and silent at all times during the performance. On stage or in the wings, of course, would be off limits.
It’s always sweet to see a family that’s adopted a robot as one of their own.
Acrylic on an original studio print from 1918