Latest Writing Machines Just Good Enough

Jun 17, 2015

Recently NPR ran a rather interesting competition of man versus machine.

This 21st century version of the John Henry legend pit NPR reporter Scott Horsely against Wordsmith, an algorithm designed to assemble original news stories by accessing data residing in the cloud.

What this little experiment demonstrated is not what you might expect. It did not show that the machine is somehow better than -- or even just as good as -- the human reporter. Instead, it proved that these programs are just good enough to begin seriously displacing this kind of labor.

Although journalists are correct to be concerned about the future of their careers, I believe this technology will have significant impact on the university and academic publishing. This is especially true in the natural and social science where data-driven research is the name of the game.

For many researchers, it is the experiment and the data it generates that is of primary importance. The journal article or research report is often just a secondary effort necessary to communicate findings to the scientific community.

These reports already adhere to a formulaic structure and are often produced by graduate students and junior members of the research team. It seem a “no-brainer” to move this activity to the algorithm.

This is no longer science fiction. It is, or will soon be, science.

I’m David Gunkel, and that’s my perspective