They can already play soccer and beat us at Jeopardy—I just didn’t think this day would come so soon.
Narrative Sciences, a start-up in Evanston, Illinois, has developed a sophisticated program that can write articles—typically sports summaries—in under 60 seconds according to the New York Times. Previous iterations of the artificial intelligence used “fill in the blanks” that drew from statistics to automatically generate articles, but the prose felt stiff and reflectively robot-like.
Now the technology’s been refined to the point that it’s able to write with a realistic human-like voice while generating story angles directly from the box score. For example, if a baseball team scores three runs in the ninth inning to steal the game 3-2, the software recognizes the pattern and deems it a “come from behind victory.” It can discern when big victories are a “rout” instead of a “win,” too.
“The quality of the narrative produced was quite good,” says Oren Otzioni, a computer scientist from the University of Washington, speaking with the Times. The technology is already being used by the Big Ten Networks to quickly pen recaps for football and basketball games, which the company says has helped boost their standing on Google by 40% thanks to the A.I’s algorithmically enhanced speed. It’s cheap, too: Companies pay Narrative Sciences a meager $10 per 500 word article. For dwindling newsrooms, the technology presents a way to expand coverage for low costs and fast turnaround.
The Times doesn’t mention it, but a machine probably wouldn’t need things like caffeine in the kitchen to keep it humming along, or donuts once a month to give itself something—anything—to look forward to, either.
But can machines loan you a BlackBerry charger when your phone’s almost out of juice? Can they awkwardly ask you how your weekend went on the elevator ride up to the 23rd floor and nod approvingly with a closed-mouth smile? Does a machine have the courtesy to not ruin last night’s episode of Glee because you didn’t watch it and it was kind of whatever, anyway? Do machines start interoffice email threads and considerately not hit ‘reply all’ when messaging one person? Can machines work overtime and forget to mark it on a time sheet? Does a machine give you gum? Can machines send you pictures of overweight cats with the title “OMG cutest thing ever!!!” even though they know perfectly well that you’re not really a cat person?
I guess they can, and they’re cheaper and faster, too. We’re doomed.