Posted by & filed under Artificial intelligence, Business Intelligence, Copyright, education, EXAM ARTICLE.

Description: A Sunday business column in The New York Times looked at the work of a start-up, Narrative Science, that combines computer science and journalism. Its software takes data and converts it into stories — short summary-style articles so far, but ones that don’t really read as if they were written by a machine.

Source: NYT .com.

Date: Sept 12, 2011

The technology Narrative Science is pushing raises Internet-era concerns. “The worry is for a company like Google,” said Oren Etzioni, a professor and artificial intelligence expert at the University of Washington. “If the production of increasingly diverse and high-quality text becomes automated, how will Google be able to detect search spam?”

Search spam typically refers to Web sites, usually with simple answers or lists, that seem to be tailored to try to get high rankings from Google’s search engine, and thus attract ads. Google periodically tweaks its algorithms to drop the rankings of such sites, but it is a never-ending arms race.

In that digital arms race, Mr. Etzoni added, Narrative Science could be a “nuclear weapon.”

Narrative Science says it has not sold its technology to such sites, often called “content farms.”  Read rest of story

Questions for discussion:

  1. Do you think this story was written by a machine? Why?  Or Why not??
  2. What do you see as the top four positive applications of this technology?
  3. What do you see as the top four negative applications of this technology?

28 Responses to “Writing Machines — Their Uses and Meaning”

  1. Jared Henry

    I do not think that this was written by a machine because it is a biased article obviously favoring the development of this program, unless of course it was programed to do so.
    In that case i will start with some goods
    1. It interprets information and makes it valuable to a larger population
    2. Increases timeliness of reports
    3. Less room for error
    4. Less expenses due to less need for professionals to interpret
    Negatives
    1. If used for articles it is taking away the point of writing which is to express a value belief or idea
    2. May give more information than needed
    3. Information will not be as personally catered to the needs of those receiving it
    4. Takes away jobs of different professionals

  2. Taylor Elderton

    I think there is a chance that the article was written by a computer. It has all the aspects of the very thing it was describing. “Short summary articles, but don’t read like they were made by a computer.”

    Four advantages of this technology would be a better understanding of data as a computer collects it. Another advantage is all the articles written, unless influenced by some outside source, would be completely unbiased. There would also be less error in, since the only errors that occur would be based on human input. A fourth benefit would be the amount of articles that exist for our reading pleasure would go up exponentially.

    However, the main disadvantage of this would be a loss of jobs. There is a whole job market for people just writing the smaller articles in newspapers and magazines. If one computer could replace ten workers, that leads to a smaller work force. Another disadvantage would be that they are not immune to outside influence, such as somebody at the controls. If people know that an article was written by a machine, it will seem much more unbiased, even though somebody could have tampered with it. Of course with any technology there will also be bugs, and on a machine made for writing it would be tough to distinguish a mistake from fact. Lastly, the articles will not have as much depth, so the reading will not be as enjoyable.

  3. Sydney D

    I definitely think this story was written by a machine, how else would they market it? The first paragraph states that the narrative technology computes short summaries, which is what the whole article is. If a human wrote this, there would be more substance, thought and emotion put into it. It would be more detailed and more informative.

    I think this is a terrible technology. If we let technology do everything for us, such as generate thoughts and interpret information, what are we here for and why are we are we learning?

    We take classes to learn how to interpret information in many different forms so we can expand our knowledge. Computers can generate data information by spitting out charts, graphs, and trends but this information needs to be evaluated and analyzed by professionals. If we let this technology narrate data, there would be a lot of lost jobs. I also believe this would be a very costly technology to introduce to businesses, as the technology would have to customize the narrative feedback to each specific company and what they are looking for in terms of results.

    I believe this is definitely a double-edged technology and would need a lot of reviewing to be widely used.

  4. Corina Nelson

    I read this whole article hoping there would be a hint that showed whether it was written by a human or a machine. I thought it could have been written by either. However I do hope that it was written by a machine because if the machines can write that well they will be sure to be a success.

    The first advantage of this technology is the fact that it is a fast and efficient way to translate data. A computer can have so many processes going at one time while a human can only focus on one thing at one time. Another benefit is that once you put the initial money in for the machine, the cost is a lot lower than paying a staff member for years. Thirdly, if the computers translate accurately then it will make it a lot easier for people to understand information they might not have been able to before. And finally my last point is that computers would be able to focus more directly on the main points.

    A negative point to using these machines is that it will take away jobs from humans. Also if people start to rely on the machines then if the machines break down people might not be trained to be able to translate. The third negative is that we have to trust that the machines will translate the information accurately. And last is the machines will probably be expensive to require, and after they are purchased if they break down or need a new part that could potentially be expensive as well.

  5. Thomas Davies

    Do you think this story was written by a machine? Why? Or Why not??

    In this case, I do not think this story was developed by a machine. Mainly because this story is based upon certain opinions and views, which cannot be represented by data. How is computer software able to intrigue the minds of humans by providing a opinion which is viable and meaningful.

    What do you see as the top four positive applications of this technology?

    1.) As mentioned in the article, one positive I can see for several large organizations using this is for transferring the ideas of producers which are used to create advertisements. Considering the amount of ads being broadcasted currently, having this as a tool would possibly reduce costs by not having to pay a company to publish ads.
    2.)This could be beneficial to a human resource department while constructing employee profiles.
    3.) Customer service call centres could benefit from this to enter small sections of customer complaints/feedback to spit out a report.
    4.) A reduction of spelling, grammar etc would be expected by using a computer based software like the one mentioned in the article.

    An obvious negative to having this technology being used would be;
    Not enough of the human element being used in writing. Too little substance put fourth into the article would have it become boring, dull and uninteresting.

  6. Daniel Bird

    I find it very difficult to believe that this article was written by a machine. The article explains that there is such software that can convert data into a summary style story. While I understand this to be a possibility, I find it hard to believe this technology has advanced fast enough to read as smoothly as what I read in this article. I also think that if this article was the work of a machine, this fact would be included at the end of the article as proof of how well the technology has evolved.

    Whether or not this “narrative” technology has advanced to this extent, there are still obvious advantages and disadvantages as there are with most new technological advances. I feel advances in this type of technology may be more controversial than other technological advancements. I believe that if I was reading text written by a machine, I would be annoyed by the lack of human emotion behind the text. It would pain me to know that I was spending my time reading the work of a computer.

    Google, other search engines, and us as internet users will soon have a large amount of spam to deal with if this technology has advanced as much as this article has said it has. This would be the main negative implication of this technology and I hope we do not have to deal with this annoyance.

  7. Regan Smiley

    After reading this article I really couldn’t conclude whether it was written by a human or a machine clearly. I mean I would really doubt that a machine could write that, then again these days anything really is possible. I would like to see an article that was confirmeed to be written by a machine and see what kind of writing skills they have!

    The positives that this technology could provide businesses would be the fact that it would basically make their jobs a lot easier. They wouldn’t have to hire and train employees to do the job. They wouldn’t have to pay employees yearly salaries, once the machine was paid for it would be a done deal. Machines would most likely be more efficient then humans would be in the fact that humans struggle at multi-tasking to a certain degree whereas computers and can a lot of things at once and increase productivity.

    Clearly in my mind there is one big negative to technology such as this. It would eliminate jobs! Not only eliminate jobs but we are talking about jobs that people would actually go to school in order to learn for. In an economy where it is already hard to find work eliminating jobs is never the answer. Add to that that it would probably dumb down our society as a whole!

  8. Jesse Wall

    I can’t seem to make an educated conclusion on whether or not this was written by a machine but I think it could go either way. There are parts that I can see being machine automated but other points that have human views and judgments. Those of which can only be from a human as computers can’t generate opinions. This article is swaying you to think writing machines are a great idea so that’s bias and I don’t think a computer can accurately portray that.

    The obvious advantage to this technology would be that it is faster than the human brain therefore being a very efficient way of translating data. It also lowers expenses because we are eliminating the need for humans to actually do the writing themselves.
    A disadvantage of this technology would be that important information could easily get buried in the article. A computer doesn’t have the ability to organize thoughts in a logical manner that humans will understand and take interest to. Yes, the computer can generate data into writing form but it may include boring facts that we do not care about. Another negative of the computer technology; you are trusting that the data the computer comes up with is true and accurate.

  9. Richard Infante

    I do not believe that this article was created by a machine, mainly because even though they are discussing advanced technology, currently I don’t believe that this technology is sophisticated enough to quote people or use sayings like, “fire could cook your food or burn your house down.” although it’s passable to have advanced programs like that someday, this technology is stated to be in its elementary stage.

    – making it easier and more efficient for certain professionals to translate their research
    -this technology is a stepping stone for even more advanced technology in the future
    -the more businesses that use this technology the more synchronized they become making it easier for people to understand since it uses the same medium
    -gives another way to communicate certain types of data and prioritizing it so it states what is most important first

    Negatives
    -causes problems for search spam
    -may cause issues with businesses and sites because it’s in the early stages
    -takes away the human element
    -may take away knowledge because people may rely on this technology too much rather than learning how to write and interpret the data themselves

  10. Jian Li

    I don’t think this story was written by a machine because the Writing Machines are more likely to be used to convert data. Also, the articles converted by Writing Machines should be a short summary style.
    Positive applications of Writing Machines: 1.This technology creates a new area, a new market may exist, so it is good for the development of technology and also more nopportunities for business.
    2.By using this technology, data is easier to read and understand, therefore people will not be confused by the complications.
    3.Since the Writing Machines also help sift the data, it will make people’s work more effective.
    4.As a result of less difficulties and inconveniences, this machine can also lower down the cost because less people are needed for analyzing data.

    Negative applications of Writing Machine: 1.This technology may not sophisticated enough for all kinds of data, there may be some bugs.
    2.There is more competition, there is threat for companies like Google.
    3. As the development of this technology, there may be more problems exist, like security(the potential of being hacked).
    4. The technology do more and more people’s job, people may lose some abilities(like calculating, analyzing, and sifting, etc).

  11. Andrew Douglas

    I do not think that this particular article was written by a machine, as it said that it tends to analyze a summarize large amounts of data, and with this technology being so new I don’t think there would be that much data to analyze and summarize on this topic. Also, I am sure the cost of using this machine, at least at the moment, outweighs the cost of hiring a writer to write this article. Therefore, I think it is much more likely that a human simply wrote the article.

    I think this technology is exciting for areas such as market research for large companies, stats analysis in various sports, sales projections, and even analysis of voters in upcoming elections. Basically anything where there is a large amount of data that needs to be processed and displayed in such a way that it is easier to understand. There is a constant need for this and automating the process will allow for a more thorough analysis in a much shorter time period. I am also excited for the direction this seems to be taking technology, specifically, how computers and humans interact. This is on track to create much more “intelligent” computers in the future, where computers can understand what you want and you can talk to it, like you would a human being.

  12. adam smith

    To an extent I agree but for the most part I do not. Yes there is a whole lot of data out there and we do need technology to gather it and make it useful so for that I feel it’s a good thing but taking it all the way to spelling it out in stories for the most part takes it too far. I’m going to school to be an accountant, and most occupations has years of schooling that one needs to go through to become a professional. Lots of this schooling is aimed at training us how to read and interpret this gathered data in our minds not needing it to be spelled out, so to make this data into a reader friendly version would undermined professionals ability to understand the data themselves leading to potentially not needing the training this professionals go through in school which would make it way easier and less challenging to get into the professional field so the field would end up with less educated and less qualified people. But if you do it at the final stage it could benefit for companies or government relaying the out comes from which the professionals have worked toward and relay that out come to the public that has a stake in the results, such as share holders in a corporation should know about the financial statements and things like that so putting those into words and stories in that regard could have its benefits

  13. Erin Mitchell

    I do believe that this article was written by a computer. It just has no emotions behind the words. As I was reading it in my head, the voice reading was very monotone and I wasn’t able to pick up on any emotions behind any of the words. This article also describes for to me a fear that I have been coming to realize. That computers will soon take the place of people. If we are relying on computers to take data and make it “more useful” then we are therefore giving up our ability to do it for ourselves. I realize that computers save time and energy and money, but they also take away certain aspects of humanity such as compassion, emotions, and empathy. They only have the ability to think with their “brains” and not their “hearts” which is what makes us human.

  14. Lindsay G

    2.What do you see as the top four positive applications of this technology?

    I believe that there would be several advantages to using this technology (in no particular order):

    1) There would be a reduction in time spent compiling information into a narritive format by a journalist, as data entry is the essential component. Any sort of wording/phrasing would be accomplished by the program.

    2) It may also be easier to understand the content of the data being analyzed. Sometimes numbers can be quite tedious to examine and difficult to interpret into useable information. This, in turn will reduce the time necessary to understand the article.

    3) It will also make it easier to focus on the more pertinent information and prevent the reader from getting lost in a “sea of data”, which can sometimes happen when all the statistics of an area are included in an article, rather than just the ones that are necessary for the topic at hand.

    4) I would also assume that there would be a reduction in any spelling or grammar errors. I am sure that most people have encountered such errors occuring in word documents, but I feel that if the program was “writing” the entire article, it would know which spelling of a word to use…

  15. Kashika Bhatia

    One question which popped up in my head while reading this article is that fact that if we allow machines to start doing everything for us, what is left for us to do? I agree that over the years machines have made our lives easier and allowed us to save hours of our time and energy, but should we start depending on machines to start thinking for us as well? A machine which combines technology and journalism is one which I do not think is needed. If machines start thinking for us and start replacing humans, there would be no need for us to get an education in areas such as literature, finance, or anything in that matter. The Narrative Science is just the beginning in softwares like this. Like any other technology, as time passes, we will be able to improve the program and allow computers to do even the most complex tasks where we might not even need any highly qualified professionals anymore. Governments and corporations may find this software useful when dealing with statistics, financial reports and so forth, but I believe that we should still find beauty in how the human mind thinks. Data and stories can be analyzed and interoperated in many different ways, which may or may not be right. This is something which I do not think we as a society should allow technology to take from us with softwares such as Narrative Science.

  16. Blair Watkins

    First off, I don’t think that a machine wrote the article because it says that Steve Lohr wrote the article…unless steve is the name of the machine.
    I think it’s a very interesting concept, and a very original idea. For people like myself it’s nice to have complicated matters such as corporate and government data analyzed and simplified so that a regular jo can understand what the message of the data is. It also makes getting the information a lot easier and faster which in turn yields better and more accurate information.
    On the flipside i do agree with several other comments that have been made on this blog. I do think that it will make matters worse for the economy. Instead of creating more jobs technology like this will eliminate jobs, and by doing so will hinder the economy and the people directly affected by the new technology.

  17. Brenn Smith

    I think it is an interesting technology, but if it were to pretty knock Google’s effectiveness, as a search engine, out I would have to disagree with the software. Too many people use Google daily being them students, teachers, businesses or anyone looking for knowledge. If this technology let into the wrong hands Google and other search engines would become obsolete as they would just be giant spam ads. Although the creators do not want this to happen it seems inevitable that it would be used for these purposes unless a way was made to detect this new type of spam.
    The idea of having a computer writing my daily stories also worries me. Humans would just become data input devices without the creativity that, from what I understand, is what journalism is about. It would be interesting to see how well written these “computer articles” compared to humans though.

  18. Iryna Guzhva

    1. Do you think this story was written by a machine? Why? Or Why not??
    I think the article was not written by machine for the following reasons:
    It has special words that machine could not generate and use them in proper place in context (“flood of new data” or “fire could cook your food”). Writing machine could not generate an opinion.
    What do you see as the top four positive applications of this technology?
    1. Language translation software could be considered as a part of this technology and it’s helpful for those who learn new language. It comes in form of online dictionary that translates separate words and as a translation engine that translates whole text.
    2. This technology is a reduction of grammar and spelling mistakes,
    3. It is fast and efficient.
    What do you see as the top four negative applications of this technology?
    1. The technology will eliminate jobs,
    2. There is no “human touch” in articles written by machine.
    3. There is a cost to implement this technology.

  19. Liang Guo

    I don’t think this article is finished by the machine. After I read the article, one question emerged from my brain. Can machine do everything for people ? machine is inflexible. people can be flexible. the cultural differences can affect the efficient use of writing machine. people are losing some of their abilities gradually. For example, if a person always stay in air conditioner room, when he or she stay in a cold or hot temperature, he or she will get sick. wo hope people should do more thing by themselves. The use of writing machine may reduce the work chances. more competitions will emerge.

  20. patricia ojuderi

    from read the title of the article one question popped into head, will this affect writing in school? but as i read the article i found out that it had nothing to do with school or writing for students. i do not think that his story was written by a machine, the article says it makes sportstats house datas etc easier for humans to understand, and this does not seem like any of those to me.
    positives
    It interprets information and makes it more useful to the public
    reports would be handed in on time
    there would be less errors in reports
    students could use it to better understand their courses.
    Negatives
    may not justice to the value of the articles written
    more companies and scientists would produce the app or software causing competition
    could provide excess information than what is need
    less job and career opportunities

  21. patricia ojuderi

    from read the title of the article one question popped into head, will this affect writing in school? but as i read the article i found out that it had nothing to do with school or writing for students. i do not think that his story was written by a machine, the article says it makes sportstats house datas etc easier for humans to understand, and this does not seem like any of those to me.
    positives
    It interprets information and makes it more useful to the public
    reports would be handed in on time
    there would be less errors in reports
    students could use it to better understand their courses.
    Negatives
    may not justice to the value of the articles written
    more companies and scientists would produce the app or software causing competition
    could provide excess information than what is need
    less job and career opportunities

  22. patricia ojuderi

    from read the title of the article one question popped into head, will this affect writing in school? but as i read the article i found out that it had nothing to do with school or writing for students. i do not think that his story was written by a machine, the article says it makes sportstats house datas etc easier for humans to understand, and this does not seem like any of those to me.
    positives
    It interprets information and makes it more useful to the public
    reports would be handed in on time
    there would be less errors in reports
    students could use it to better understand their courses.
    Negatives
    may not justice to the value of the articles written
    more companies and scientists would produce the app or software causing competition
    could provide excess information than what is need
    less job and career opportunities

  23. Meagan

    This idea does have negative effects. First of all this technology isn’t perfect. There is still room for errors and there is no guarantee that what the computer writes will sound like a person wrote it. Until this technology is perfect you shouldn’t use it in a professional manner. Second by using computers instead of people you are essentially causing the unemployment rate to increase, because if the computer can do all the work for you what is the need for employees? This can cause people to lose jobs in many departments and cause computers to take over all major functions and therefore don’t need humans at all and this will make us obsolete. Thirdly making machines do all the writing and all the thinking, you are making the people who use this technology to become lazy and to become less motivated to do anything themselves. When this happens more technology will be designed so that everything we do is done by computers and make people have no reason to think for themselves and will soon make us incapable to do anything without machines. Lastly if everything we write is done by machines how can we tell if something is truthful or if it is fake? Some people will abuse it like spam for example, how will you know if you are really talking to a person and if what they are saying is correct. This can help people make tons of money illegally if it gets into the wrong hands.

  24. IveS

    The article was not written by a machine even though it kind of feels like it was in some parts. It is a clear informative article and it makes sense, for the way it has been written, to say that a person was the author. One of the advantages of a writing machine would be that (like almost every technology) it would ease people’s lives by getting one more task out of the way. For scholars and writers it would mean that something else gets to do the work for them. I wonder though if that would give plagiarism a whole new meaning. I don’t agree with the usage of writing machines for journalism purposes or school work. It almost feels to me that it would end up destroying what we think of literature and narrative and it would take on the position of many writers. It is important to remember that we can’t let technology take over something that is naturally ours, at this rate we’re going to end up, at some point, letting machines do all the thinking for us and what would be the end of it? Men slaves of their own technology? …But then again, at the end of the day machines don’t have brains like we do and they wouldn’t do nearly as much of a good writing job than the one we could do.

  25. Hassan

    Well I believe this story was written by a Steve Lohr as indicated in the beginning of the article. However, I do not want to say I don’t think there is such thing like a machine writes stories because of the great developments and creations nowadays. Yet, narrative writing and sciences requires a human brain to put all aspects of a story together and deliver it to the other humans in a meaningful way which makes me doubt that a machine could possibly do so without the supervision of a human where it will revoke that fact.
    If I to say it is working and what positive impacts would be resulted from it, then I would suggest that as the article mentioned it will help to better illustrate some of the governmental and corporative data which will more recognizable and helpful for humans. It will also enhance the media business and support it more where it is based on writing narrative. In addition, all information will be gathered and presented in a familiar pattern in simple English rather than spreadsheet, as Mr. Rosenblatt suggests. On the other hand, as Oren Etzioni mentioned in the article it will be a problem for some websites like Google to detect spasm. Also, we will lose the human touch of the writing because of the sense that is included when a human writes. Also, the cost to develop and train for such system and maintain it will be high. Finally, it might face a hard entrance to the market.

  26. Jillian K

    1) According to the article ‘Writing Machines – Their Uses and Meaning’, what is the correct term for simple websites aiming to trick google into high search engine rankings?

    a) Phishing

    b) Worms

    c) Search Engine Optimization

    d) Search Spam

    answer: d

    2) According to the article ‘Writing Machines – Their Uses and Meaning’, what two fields of study are combined to create Narrative Science?

    a) Computer Science and Journalism

    b) English Literature and Computer Science

    c) Computer Programming and Journalism

    d) Algorithms and Journalism

    answer: a

  27. Jenn L

    1) In reference to the Wiley IS Weekly Update article ” Writing Machines — Their Uses and Meaning”, what does Narrative Science software do?

    1. takes data and coverts it into stories
    2.takes stories and converts it to data
    3. writes science fiction novels

    Answer: 1
    2) In reference to the Wiley IS Weekly Update article ” Writing Machines — Their Uses and Meaning”, the early application of the software was used to translate all except what data?

    1. sports statistics
    2.housing data
    3.financial reports
    4.tweets on twitter

    Answer:4

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