20 Mar 2014

LA Times earthquake story first to be written and published by a robot

The LA Times managed to publish a story on the earthquake in LA on Monday just three minutes after it hit – thanks to an algorithm that automatically generates a short article when an earthquake occurs. The algorithm was written by journalist and programmer Ken Schwencke. It works by drawing on sources such as the US Geological Survey and placing the data in a pre-written template. The technique is being increasingly used by news providers across the world, particularly in the areas of crime and sports. In these cases, the robots write the articles and the editors usually decide which articles need greater human attention. What makes this case special, is that this LA Times article was not at all edited – it was able to go out completely as written by the algorithm. Mr Schwencke insists that the process does not replace journalists, it simply makes the data collation and processing simpler. “It saves people a lot of time, and for certain types of stories, it gets the information out there in usually about as good a way as anybody else would.” he said. “The way I see it is, it doesn’t eliminate anybody’s job as much as it makes everybody’s job more interesting.”