The Coming Bot Race


Are writing bots the future? Find out if computers really are competitors for writers.

If we had a nickel for every time we heard someone say they could be a writer, well we wouldn’t be writing ourselves anymore. Like many other artistic endeavors, from singing to dancing, cooking to acting, there can be the tendency for people on the outside to think that the act of creation is pretty easy. In fact, even artificial intelligence is jumping on the bandwagon, with bots popping up as the authors of news stories. If the Washington Post and USAToday are doing it, should you be? And for those who still enjoy the tapping of the keys, should you be worried you are being phased out?

Don’t panic

To start, while major news outlets have begun utilizing bots to create some content, you aren’t about to see gangs of journalists with signs saying “Will write for food.” The reason being is that the AI software being used is really focused on creating efficiency in newsrooms. The bots fill in narrative templates created by the editors, which include key phrases. The bot then links to data, figures out what is relevant based on the key phrases and merges that information into the template. For instance, The Washington Post utilized this for coverage of elections. Instead of reporters having to stay on top of constantly shifting poll data or election results, the bots could shift through all the information and do that grunt work, leaving the reporters time to focus on stories that do require thought and insights.

More reason not to panic

Not only are newsrooms not actively seeking to replace their entire reporting staff with bots, but also the guts of an article that people want to read still requires a bit more than a simple recitation of the answers to the 5 Ws. Sure, a bot could probably write anything, but what it created wouldn’t have that human touch that makes it interesting or engaging. Good writing entertains and informs, sometimes it even persuades us, which isn’t something that AI seems quite ready to offer.

Finally, with feeling

Last, but not least, while bots can certainly capture the facts of the news, they don’t have the capacity to inject emotion, humor and context into the equation—all things that come with a real human writer. Sure all of this could change, and we could soon be dealing with AI that can crack a joke or tell a good story. But for now, the bots may be aiding journalists with reduced resources, but they aren’t replacing them entirely.