How Will Automation Influence Our Media?

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How Will Automation Influence Our Media?

Mortality, bills, work, violence, unrest, the vastness of the universe, post-Little League failures, health matters, family safety… I’ve got plenty that keeps me up at night. I’m officially adding automation to the list.

The unfettered, inexorable advance of technology is as frightening as it is exciting. Working on the periphery of the trucking industry — which is on the cusp of a profound automation transformation — has forced this issue on to my mind’s front-burner.

The robots are here, and they are, ahem… takin’ ‘er jobs.

Automation is poised to upend, or at the very least drastically reconfigure, most if not all industries in the coming years. That certainly includes our media landscape.

‘Robot journalists’ are already cranking out content for major outlets around the world. You can get a robo-writer for free. AP already has an ‘automation editor’ on staff. Wolf Blitzer, Sean Hannity, and approximately 85% of local news anchors are probably cyborgs.

But seriously—as machines and artificial intelligence become more sophisticated, what impact will this have on journalism? Will writers of all stripes be rendered redundant?

I have a hard time taking a sanguine view of where this age of automation will take us. Largely because, frankly, I don’t have a particularly hopeful view of human beings. Or robots. Also because of that Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror episode where the Pierce Brosnan-voiced smarthouse tries to murder Homer so he can be with Marge.

While part of me wants to grab the ol’ .22 rifle, barricade the cabin and hunker down with our Glenn Beck doomsday kits to ride out the technological storm, there are clearly benefits to be gained from media automation. Here are a few to chew on.

Impartial Storytelling

Are dispassionate, data-driven robots the cure for fake news and misinformation? It’d be wonderful to be able to rely on some sort of neutral truth-telling technology that just reports facts from around the world. A sort of agenda-less, evenhanded arbiter of truth.

But who’s to say bias can’t be baked into these machines? What if the algorithm goes haywire?

Lord knows we need more impartial storytelling. It’ll be fascinating to see to what extent automation can infuse nonpartisan reportage into our media milieu in coming years.

Drudge(ry) Reports

If computers can spit out sports scores, stock market figures, earnings reports, weather forecasts and other mundane stats, theoretically that could free up reporters to do more in-depth, you know, reporting. That is, if that’s not something robots are able to also do.

The prospect of not having to cover another school board meeting or take notes during a football coach press conference ever again is tantalizing indeed. We’re not quite there yet, but reading through the guide to automated journalism makes it seem like we’re close to freeing reporters from the dreadful task of having to initiate dialogue with Nick Saban.

Efficiency

The big boon of automation brings the promise of massive increases in efficiency. Perhaps machines will be able to fill the gaps in under-reported areas around the world, and be the ultimate journalistic wingmen by endlessly providing useful reporting in real time — around the clock.

Hopefully automation will lead us to new heights of efficiency, and help create a bright, free, balanced, enlightened media future. The question is to what extent machines will support, rather than usurp, the role of journalists and media pros around the world.

I asked a local journalist for his thoughts on the matter at hand, he said: “While some media organizations may dabble in this, I don’t see it becoming a threat to real journalism. A robot may be able to give some basic information in a quick manner, such as some stats or weather information, but I can’t imagine a robot being able to produce strong journalism — something with context, quotes and explanation. Those are the kinds of things people really like to see, and I don’t believe a robot can do that.”

Therein lies the question: Can a robot do all that? Will they invent a robot that can write or speak with nuance, context, and — for lack of a better term — human sophistication? Then what happens?

Here’s to hoping that machines don’t take all our jobs. Or reduce us to an aimless, shiftless mass of miserable, pathetic creatures incapable of critical thought or fending for ourselves.

Let’s keep our heads on swivels just in case, shall we? Lest these machines go rogue and try to lop them off.