Journalists Should Welcome Their New Computer Overlords

Take a look at this interesting summary piece describing improving applications of AI to automated writing of news. I couldn’t resist repeating Ken Jenning’s infamous statement after he was defeated by the IBM Jeopardy playing computer Watson, but seriously, I don’t think there is any fear that computers will replace journalists as the writer seems to worry. No computer algorithm is anywhere near the point yet that they can write evocative, insightful prose that encapsulates the experience and reasoning that journalists bring to their jobs.

However, this kind of technology of producing summary posts on a topic in prose could be a useful feature when people are looking for breaking news. Right now if you want to find out about something which is occurring right now and isn’t being covered live on CNN you need to turn to sifting Twitter or google searches yourself manually. To get a good link between the various different feeds you usually need to wait for a human somewhere to integrate those facts together. Much of this initial grunt work of detecting a new story and compiling links can be automated now.

As a tool for journalists these generated articles could even be the initial seeds used to write news stories.  Further writing would always be needed and undoubtedly facts would need to be checked and more detail gathered on interesting aspects of the story. But an initial draft of an article generated by an AI system could actually help improve the quality of journalism by focussing humans on the important parts of the story that need to be filled in rather than spending lots of time gathering links to other sources, tweets and articles which are readily available. Perhaps we could even train the automated news summarizers to filter out less relevant stories and improve the quality of news overall.

Turing Centennial Year

For my Science Sunday post this week I’d like to point out that June 23, 2012 marks 100 years since the birth of one of the most important scientists or mathematicians of the last or any other century. Alan Turing is the father of Computer Science, was pivotal to the defeat of the Nazis in WWII and was tragically persecuted and punished for his homosexuality. This year has been declared Alan Turing year in commemoration and Computer Science conferences and around the world will be running special sessions to honour Turing and Computer Science departments everywhere will also be holding events. The museum at Bletchley Park where Turing worked in WWII to break Nazi codes has received special funding from software companies and others to build up the museum and run events.

Some of the core ideas that Turing considered were: What does it mean to compute something? Can computation ever be used to mimic or reproduce intelligence, and would be able to tell the difference?

You can find out about all the events on at

If you want to go one step further and learn more about what CS is about and how Turing’s ideas changed the world you may still be able to sign up for one of the courses being offered free and online by Stanford University.  The Computer Science 101 course is a good way to start understanding how the computers that make our modern world possible function, a world Alan Turing contributed so pivotally to making possible. For a bit more of a challenge the course on cryptography should address the same issues Turing and his team at Bletchley Park worried about trying break Nazi codes. Turing’s other popularly known contribution was about the relation between computation and intelligence. This would have been best addressed by the course on AI offerred last term which thousands of people registered for. That course is not offered this term, but some related courses this term are offered on machine learning and graphical models which are at the forefront of modern research into artificial intelligence.

Happy  ScienceSunday

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