Question: What did the pirate say on his eightieth birthday?
Answer: "Aye matey."
That is a stupid joke. But it's a stupid joke with a purpose. The purpose is to remind you that journalists -- ahem, human journalists -- can be delightfully unexpected from time to time. That's worth something, right?
This week, Automated Insights announced it is launching a public beta of its Wordsmith platform. Wordsmith develops coherent written content using rich data. It is used by the Associated Press to create short articles, and now you too can download and your own robot journalist and send it off on assignment.
"The process is part writing text and part writing logic, with data as the glue that ties everything together," the company said in a statement. "Instead of writing a single story at a time, you create a story structure that can generate an unlimited number of articles. Wordsmith updates the writing process for the era of Big Data-and helps customers boost the return on their data investment."
Automated Insights began working on automated writing (technically known as natural language generation) in 2007. Their current platform can take a story structure and a dataset and generate numerous pieces of content "that sound like a person wrote each one of them individually." Automated Insights (whose initials, not coincidentally, are AI) boasts that Wordsmith has generated more content than any other company in the world.
"In fact, we create more content in a week than all the large media companies combined create in a whole year. Last year alone, Wordsmith generated over one billion pieces of content with a team of just 50 employees."
Much of this content comes in the form of client reports and financial summaries, but Wordsmith is also generating articles for Yahoo and AP on topics such as college sports and quarterly earnings. Ultimately, the company's vision is to change the way content is produced for an audience, moving from a mass market approach to more tailored coverage.
"We focus on personalized content," said Automated Insights CEO Robbie Allen in a press release. "Instead of writing one story and hoping a million people read it, Wordsmith can create a million stories targeted at each individual user and their preferences. It's a story that is totally unique to each user because it is powered by their data."
For now, journos don't need to despair too much. In May NPR conducted an unofficial contest pitting its White House correspondent Scott Horsley against Wordsmith. The objective was to write a short article following the release of an earnings report from Denny's Corporation. Wordsmith finished its article in two minutes while Horsley finished his in seven. But NPR readers preferred Horsley's for its richer style.
Not that I'm getting too comfortable. Automated Insights responded by making it clear that there's nothing preventing its software from deploying more nuanced writing styles in the future as it refines its product.
Which reminds me, I just bought a pair of shoes, but I think the guy who sold them to me was a drug dealer. I'm not sure what he laced them with, but I've been tripping all day.