The Guardian is running a story about how Microsoft has laid off 27 journalists tasked with writing MSN News, outsourced to PA Media, and replaced them with a series of machine learning algorithms.
Journalism doesn’t seem like a profession that’s about to undergo automation. But MSN News, like many other news portals, is pretty much a rehash of agency stories or licensed items from other media written in a neutral way, avoiding any kind of editorial line, since doing so would mean losing a part of the potential audience. The job consists of providing a panorama of what’s making the news, and from there, summarizing, extracting, and writing in a particularly dispassionate manner.
MSN News is simply a news aggregator. Could an algorithm collate it? Microsoft clearly thinks so and has decided to try. This kind of journalism may not be considered cutting edge, but these kinds of sites are consulted by millions of people every day, many of them appearing automatically when we open our browsers. I wonder if anybody will notice. The stories will be the same, the editorial line will provoke the same indifference and the function of informing ourselves will remain unchanged. In short, 27 people need to find a new job.
By using algorithms, the aggregator can potentially improve the service, which can be updated more frequently and with fewer errors or typos. Greater productivity — algorithms work 24/7 — and fewer errors are what proponents of task automation include in their analysis.
It’s clear that automation is being applied in new areas, beyond assembly lines, supermarket checkouts, coal mines or other monotonous, unskilled or dangerous environments. We’re now talking about skilled workers who were carrying out normal tasks sitting in front of a computer; or stockbrokers, insurance agents, advertising planners, lawyers writing or reviewing contracts, or… what else?
And deep down, we all know that there is no point in trying to fight technology that is capable of doing a whole new range of tasks faster and with fewer errors: technology cannot be uninvented, and very soon, competitive dynamics will mean that businesses that do not use this type of technology will go under. That’s just the way it is. And if it weren’t for the problems involved in finding other things to do for the legions of people about to lose their jobs, or providing them with some kind of financial safety net, we wouldn’t even be talking about it.
Let’s see where we are in a year.
Original post: https://www.forbes.com/sites/enriquedans/2020/05/31/robots-writing-the-news-whynot/?ss=leadership-strategy#2e0ed2336272
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