Do you doubt it? Could it be that this chock full of ideas and emotion editorial is not written by me, but instead is the creation (using the term loosely) of yet another computer program, one that is designed to make its stories reek of the sweat, strain and deep thought that results when a human mind directs its fingers in a dazzling sweep across the beloved qwerty?
No, it’s me…right? I think?
Me, who can’t remember phone numbers anymore because I don’t have to, just tap the screen. Me, who streams Fresh Air through the iPhone, listening to the compressed sound of the earbuds while working out? Me, who talks to a Siri-like voice in the car, though we’ve never been formally introduced?
Me, who contemplates taking financial advice from a computer program? Well, why not? A human financial advisor takes one to two percent annually, many require minimums of investment that have to be a half-million or more; some human brokers take a cut from the mutual fund he is steering you toward (Bloomberg says this can be a problem…)
Me, who clings to this job at this so-called outdated dinosaur, a cultural outpost, pondering every word, every punctuation mark and meaning that you in this hallowed niche consume as we try to understand how it is that we can possibly dwell in some harmony in this small community, this region, this nation, such a world?
The New York Times, still written, mostly I’d suspect, by humans, tells us that “The Associated Press uses Automated Insights’ Wordsmith platform to create more than 3,000 financial reports per quarter. It published a story on Apple’s latest record-busting earnings within minutes of their release. Forbes uses Narrative Science’s Quill platform for similar efforts and refers to the firm as a partner…” And “Kristian Hammond, Narrative Science’s co-founder, estimates that 90 percent of news could be algorithmically generated by the mid-2020s, much of it without human intervention.”
We’ve accepted that we do tons of research online, that our archives are electronically searchable in seconds, that the computers allow us to design our pages, correct our stories, change typefaces instantly…yes, that’s OK, because it’s still a person’s work.
So the program can write a perfect lead (will we have to do away with those old newspaper ways of saying things, like lede, folo, hed, sub-hed…) and maintain perfect objectivity. Get the facts straight, recall instantly what FERC stands for, define Gap Elimination Adjustment. But can it discern a person’s tone, sarcasm? Will it report that a person making a statement is near tears? Will it thrill to a last second interception in the Super Bowl, or the rescue of trapped miners? Despair over the toll of war?
Because those are the things that we need in our reports, that we hear and see by those bearing witness, even through a reporter’s jaded objective eyes. So spit out your instant reports and charts. But give me a real reporter, even someone who can be fooled sometimes, because it’s part of the story of civilization. The species is unique. Pieces can be replicated, but the whole is much greater.
I wrote this. Really.