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Tags: Arria NLG | Automated Insights | Omni-Channel | Robot Writers | Wordsmith

The Coming of the Robot Writers

The Coming of the Robot Writers
(Kirill Makarov/Dreamstime.com)

Richard Grigonis By Tuesday, 24 March 2015 04:49 PM Current | Bio | Archive

For those writers out there who consider themselves ill-paid and overworked, nightmarish news lurks on the horizon: So-called “robot writers” are appearing in major media companies.

Let’s take a brief tour of the field.

Since July 2014, Durham, North Carolina-based Automated Insights, which prides itself on technology that can produce personalized narrative content from Big Data, has assisted The Associated Press by producing U.S. corporate earnings stories. Automated Insights’ Wordsmith platform uses natural language generation (NLG) algorithms to automatically produce 3,000 stories per quarter for AP, ten times the number that the human AP staff can do, according to their press release.

Automated Insights’ Wordsmith also garnered some publicity composing car descriptions for those shopping at Edmunds.com, and it can crank out sports stories and analyses about, in their words, “any real or fantasy sport team, matchup, or league.”

Wordsmith for a few years now has produced content about all college and pro teams in the NCAA, NFL and MLB for Automated Insights’ StatSheet Sports Network of more than 400 websites and 500 mobile apps. Yahoo fantasy football stories powered by Wordsmith are a big favorite, too.

Wordsmith also can post tweets about player and team trivia to more than 2,000 Twitter accounts. Other partners include Comcast and Allstate, some of whom benefit from the company’s social media posting abilities.

A version of Wordsmith called Wordsmith for Marketing is also capable of leveraging Google Analytics to write digital marketing agency client reports identifying trends and patterns.

Meanwhile, Narrative Science in Chicago offers Quill, an automated narrative generator. Quill can look at a disk drive full of data and identify relevant information (trends, thresholds, drivers, relationships, and so forth) and generate an intelligent narrative revealing hidden insights lurking in Big Data. Quill can generate thousands of stories per second if need be.

Another company in this space, Yseop (pronounced “Easy-Op”) is a multinational computer software company with offices in Dallas, New York, London, Lyon and Paris.

Yseop’s forte is software that can analyze structured data and generate impressively succinct financial executive summary reports, personalized prep-to-meeting and sales reports from CRM and/or sales data.

The so-called "Yseop Smart Machine" is not only capable of writing up these items in any one of several languages (English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and German) but can also explain its reasoning processes in natural language.

Then there’s Linguastat in San Francisco, whose technology effortlessly generates and manages millions of optimized product descriptions for retailers, brands and agencies.

Their Marquee™ software produces personalized landing pages crafted to entice target consumers and intensify the impact of product listing ads. Moreover, their flexible "The Omni-Channel" package turns out consumer landing pages formatted for the web, tablets (for salespeople) mobile devices, in-store kiosks and an array of digital signage.

Finally, Arria NLG plc is a UK-based company that claims to have pioneered the field of automatic text generation. (You can’t really argue with that statement — they did write the standard text, “Building Natural Language Generation Systems.”)

Arria’s extremely sophisticated software agents (developed by the University of Aberdeen spin-out company Data2Text) can rapidly convert Big Data into reports that could have been written by an industry expert.

For example, the Shell Exploration and Production Company, a U.S. subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell plc, adopted Arria’s NLG technology to take data from sensors monitoring oil rig pumps and generators running in the Gulf of Mexico and compose reports detailing their status and operational health.

Such linguistic narratives are more powerful than purely visual displays of statistics. According to a study by social psychologist, Jennifer L. Aaker of the Stanford Graduate School of Business, only five percent of readers recollect pure statistics, but 63 percent will remember information in the form of a story.

In one of his YouTube talks, Dr. Yaji Sripada, Chief Development Scientist at Arria NLG and Senior Lecturer in Computing Science at the University of Aberdeen, quotes Anton Checkov: “A story is a problem a writer must solve for a reader.” Big stories are about big problems, not simply Big Data.

Sripada notes that stories tend to have structures, patterns, etc. Like the mind of a data scientist, a natural language generation system needs some kind of sense-maker (the “Einstein” part of the system) that creates potential content for the story which is crafted into a narrative by the Storyteller (the “Shakespeare” part) which is going to build and present the story.

The robot writers and their natural language generation technology have rapidly mastered lower-tier grunt work writing. They may not as yet have worked their way up to replacing more erudite authors and investigative journalists, but we can hear their footsteps getting closer and closer.

Richard Grigonis is an internationally known technology editor and writer. He was executive editor of Technology Management Corporation’s IP Communications Group of magazines from 2006 to 2009. The author of five books on computers and telecom, including the highly influential Computer Telephony Encyclopedia (2000), he was the chief technical editor of Harry Newton's Computer Telephony magazine (later retitled Communications Convergence after its acquisition by Miller Freeman/CMP Media) from its first year of operation in 1994 until 2003. Read more reports from Richard Grigonis — Click Here Now.

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The robot writers and their natural language generation technology have rapidly mastered lower-tier grunt work writing.
Arria NLG, Automated Insights, Omni-Channel, Robot Writers, Wordsmith
Tuesday, 24 March 2015 04:49 PM
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