Fans of late 90s TV may remember the superlative Robot Wars – now gracing our screens once again, over a decade after its first run ended. While the robots on the show haven’t changed (Sir Killalot is still badass), how the wider world perceives robots has completely transformed in that period. What’s more, today’s robots – which are in simple terms pieces of very advanced software – are more often than not, invisible to us. Consider that around a decade ago we were excited about having simple robot vacuum cleaners in our homes. Now, robots are increasingly sophisticated and are being used in ever more innovative ways across all industries. Soon, there will very few areas of our lives that are untouched by robots – from our bank tellers to our ‘smart mirrors’.
But what about journalism? Given not an hour goes by at Spark when one of the team isn’t communicating with a journalist in some way – this is of interest. Journalism requires levels of nuance, critical reasoning, comprehension and skill (much like PR – believe or not!) that robots cannot match. Some media groups are exploring how robots could be used in journalism. One of the world’s largest media outfits, Associated Press (AP), has in fact been using robots for some time. AP has employed software robots to ‘write’ stories based on quarterly financial results; it is publishing a whopping 3,000 such stories every quarter.
As astonishing as that may sound, what does this really mean for journalism? It’s inevitable that automation and robotics will impact journalism in some way, as it will every industry. The instantaneous nature of 24/7 news and online publishing has created such a clamor for constant news – that the future will likely see robots fulfilling this type of demand through the creation of short, formulaic articles. But while the growth of robot reporters may understandably worry the journalism industry in the short term, in the long term there may actually be advantages. Some commentators suggest that freeing journalists from the ‘drudge work’ allows them to devote more time and resources to investigative stories.
Ultimately, it’s hugely important to distinguish between news pieces produced in a standard format based on reported figures, and a long-form article requiring considerable research and analysis. Clearly, robots are incapable of producing such quality work – journalists are safe for now.