by DAN SCHWALB
Forget about illegal immigrants taking your job. There is a bigger threat to American employment: machines. Journalists are no exception to this.
According to Business Insider, journalism is one of nine occupations that will soon be replaced by automation. Other jobs facing extinction include store clerks, pharmacists, drivers, and soldiers. Those who are skeptical about robots taking jobs should look no further than phone operators and toll booth attendants. These one-time common occupations are now frequently done by machine.
How can it be that robots will take over the field of journalism? After all, a robot is not capable of writing a story, right? Wrong. There has already been software developed that will generate a story from computer data, without any input from humans.
Narrative Science is one such software, and is used by the Big Ten Network to release college baseball articles. Earlier this year, the L.A. Times released an earthquake story generated by their robot software “Quakebot”. The story hit the Internet three minutes after the earthquake struck, allowing L.A. Times to beat out all of their competitors.
Journalism software functions on algorithms developed by computer programmers. The algorithms give machines a pre-set structure for writing a story. The only thing left for the machine to do is collect data, plug it into this formula, and the story is complete. Think of this process as a computers way of playing Madlibs.
Besides sheer speed, there are other reasons why journalists may be replaced by machine.
1. Journalism can be a dangerous job, with reporters working in violent environments to gather their facts. Last week was a reminder of this when American journalist James Foley was beheaded on video, by an ISIS terrorist. With American lives at risk, major media outlets may elect to use robots for collecting data, filming footage and conducting interviews. This information could then be transferred to narrative software, for an instant story.
Should journalists live in fear of our entire industry becoming automated? Not exactly. Although robots are capable of writing news stories, they can only generate pure facts, data and information. A robot will have no creativity involved in their column (as far as we can tell!). Furthermore, a robot will not be able to write why an issue is important, or how it could affect us in the future. These questions will still left for human journalists to answer.
Journalism jobs won’t disappear completely, but they will require different tasks. Whereas today’s journalists collect facts and put them together in a story, future journalists will need to write creatively and abstractly. Society will still look to their human counterparts for opinionated articles, future predictions, political stances and movie reviews. The future journalist must be capable of thinking outside the box, going above and beyond the raw facts. Because robots will have that covered.