We here at io9 love technology, but we also love job security — which is why we're so torn over Narrative Science — a start up company that has developed computer software capable of generating articles that read as though they were written by a living, breathing person.
Is it awesome? Yes. Are we fearing for our jobs? Not yet... but we're close.
"I thought it was magic," says Roger Lee, a general partner of Battery Ventures — a technology investment firm that put down $6 million on Narrative Science earlier this year. "It's as if a human wrote it."
The technology works by taking data — like sports statistics and company financial reports — and turning it into convincingly human-sounding news articles. According to Kris Hammond, one of Narrative Science's founders, the key concept behind the software is composition; "this is not just taking data and spilling it over into text," Hammond said.
The New York Times' Steve Lohr explains how the software might "compose" an article about a recent sporting event:
The Narrative Science software can make inferences based on the historical data it collects and the sequence and outcomes of past games. To generate story "angles," explains Mr. Hammond of Narrative Science, the software learns concepts for articles like "individual effort," "team effort," "come from behind," "back and forth," "season high," "player's streak" and "rankings for team." Then the software decides what element is most important for that game, and it becomes the lead of the article, he said. The data also determines vocabulary selection. A lopsided score may well be termed a "rout" rather than a "win."
The company has been marketing the software since 2010, and has over 20 customers so far, including The Big Ten Network — a joint venture of the Big Ten Conference and Fox Networks — who use the software to generate coverage for baseball and softball games.
But just how good could this software really be? Are your favorite journalists really in danger of being replaced by a computer?
"In five years," Hammond says, "a computer program will win a Pulitzer Prize - and I'll be damned if it's not our technology."
Top image via Toria/Shutterstock