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Automated Journalism

Fariha Marjia
Automated Journalism

Calling all writers! All your hard work and dedication might just be coming to an end. Gone, are the days of precious ink, sweat and tears only to be replaced by robot “writers”.  

The Washington Post came up with another shrewd idea to maximize their profits- by ‘employing’ software in their payroll, to create hundreds of real-time news paper articles on the 2016 Olympic Games held in Rio. In an interview The Post revealed that they are using artificial intelligence (AI), called Heliograf. It can automatically generate short, multi-sentence updates for readers.

Jeremy Gilbert, the director of strategic initiatives at the Washington Post, added “Automated storytelling has the potential to transform the Post’s coverage, more stories, powered by data and machine learning, will lead to a dramatically more personal and customized news experience.”. This new technology can also process a complex combination of different data sources; customize stories according to individual user patters and history. It can also detect anomalies in data to alert journalists to a potential story.


He also believes that the event at Rio is the ideal platform to prove the potential for this technology. “Heliograf will free up Post reporters and editors to add analysis, color from the scene and real insight to stories in ways only they can.”

Therefore, it is safe to say that Heliograf will recount medals, review scores, keep track of the daily scores and schedules, and write briefs for the the Post. The journeys of our new robot “writers”do not end here, however. The Post has conjured bigger plans to use this technology and its ability to analyze hard statistics and key information into covering large scale events such as this year’s 2016 US presidential election.“This technology will also be able to process a combination of different data sources, like crime and real estate numbers, customize stories depending on individual user actions, and help look for anomalies in data to alert journalists to a potential story.”

The data science engineers know no bounds when it comes to innovation and creativity; they further plan to upgrade the present system saying, “Launching Heliograf is the next step for The Post’s use of machine learning. The next challenge is to broaden the subjects covered, deepen the kind of analysis possible and identify potential stories for our newsroom.” revealed Sam Han, director of data science engineering for the Post. Gilbert and Sam Han, the paper’s head of data science, have a team of three engineers working full-time on Heliograf, the Post’s AI software.
To many of employee’s relief, The Post has not yet replaced anyone with its new robot “writer” in the team. The on-duty journalists have been given quite the scare with the recent recruits. Nevertheless, there remains as a fair possibility of replacement. Jeremy Gilbert claims that the purpose is to use AI to generate quick and simple report on scores and other progress in order for the human journalists to work on more interesting and complex reports. "We’re not trying to replace reporters," he said. "We’re trying to free them up."

August 14, 2016
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