Google Funds Automated Journalism In UK

Robots may not be pounding the streets and cornering reluctant sources in the search for scoops anytime soon, but they will be generating a giant volume of basic local news in Britain in the near future, thanks to Google.

The technology giant’s Digital News Initiative has awarded a grant of $805,000 to the Press Association, a news agency in Britain, to fund the creation of a new automatic local news generator. The Press Association will develop the software in collaboration with Urbs Media.

According to partners of the software project, known as “Reporters and Data and Robots” (Radar), it will allow local news publishers to crank out up to 30,000 stories per month, drawing on large, publicly available data collections from various government departments. That includes law enforcement and other official sources.

Another automated system will insert video and images into stories.

The Radar software won’t be able to operate autonomously, so the Press Association will hire five journalists who will pick promising datasets to work with, as well as organize and edit the articles created by the system.



Peter Clifton, The Press Association’s editor-in-chief, stated: “Skilled human journalists will still be vital in the process. But Radar allows us to harness artificial intelligence to scale up to a volume of local stories that would be impossible to provide manually.”

Publishers have taken pains to emphasize the new automation initiative is intended to function as a helpful tool for human journalists, rather than a replacement for them. But it won’t be surprising if Radar makes many reporters nervous about their future employment, given the rapid progress in artificial intelligence and machine learning.

The Press Association isn’t the first big news agency to dabble in automated reporting.

In 2015, the AP began producing quick-run financial news based on corporate quarterly reports. It used an automated system created in partnership with a company called Automated Insights.

According to a much-cited study published by researchers at Oxford in 2013, journalists actually have less reason to be worried than many other industries. Reporters and correspondents ranked relatively low on the list of professions at risk of automation, with an 11% chance of being replaced by robots within the next few decades.

However, computerized automation is now advancing at such an impressive clip, this forecast may prove as obsolete as the jobs in a few years.

On that note, a more recent study from PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated that 27.3% of British jobs in the broader “information and communication” category, which presumably includes journalists, were at risk of automation over the next two decades.

The figure is even higher in the U.S., with 45.3% of jobs at risk. A separate report from McKinsey estimates that 36% of jobs in the information category are at risk.

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