Sunday, September 11, 2011

Heads Up Writing Teachers! The Machine is coming for you too!

... and you, Dear Adjunct, were worried about text analysis based grading and editing software replacing you. Today, journalism: tomorrow, romance novels, content mill articles and student essays. When students submit machine written essays, just send them to another machine to grade. Students, teacher, all middlemen ~ superfluous? Forget the Terminator narrative: could this be how machines really start talking to one another? 

This story, surely a foreseeable next step for text analysis software, surfaced over a year ago in the business press. Later, bloggers and web writers started receiving email offers on software to generate content, not just edit articles but write them from scratch. Now the Grey Lady is running with it in the business section. Is anyone among us so foolish as not see any connection with the much touted free open access Stanford AI Course? Recent articles suggest less transparent motives, Beta testing a platform for mega delivery and assessment modes, may trump touted Open Education impulse.

Narrative Science

"In Case You Wondered, a Real Human Wrote This Column," September 10, 2011, in the New York Times business section

WISCONSIN appears to be in the drivers seat en route to a win, as it leads

51-10 after the third quarter. Wisconsin added to its lead when Russell
Wilson found Jacob Pedersen for an eight-yard touchdown to make the score
44-3 ... .

Those words began a news brief written within 60 seconds of the end of the third quarter of the Wisconsin-UNLV football game earlier this month. They may not seem like much but they were written by a computer.

The clever code is the handiwork of Narrative Science, a start-up in Evanston, Ill., that offers proof of the progress of artificial intelligence the ability of computers to mimic human reasoning.

The companys software takes data, like that from sports statistics, company financial reports and housing starts and sales, and turns it into articles. For years, programmers have experimented with software that wrote such articles, typically for sports events, but these efforts had a formulaic, fill-in-the-blank style. They read as if a machine wrote them.

But Narrative Science is based on more than a decade of research, led by
two of the companys founders, Kris Hammond and Larry Birnbaum, co-directors of the Intelligent Information Laboratory at Northwestern University, which holds a stake in the company. And the articles produced
by Narrative Science are different.
Experts in artificial intelligence and language are also impressed, if less enthralled. Oren Etzioni, a computer scientist at the University of Washington, says, The quality of the narrative produced was quite good, as if written by a human, if not an accomplished wordsmith. Narrative Science, Mr. Etzioni says, points to a larger trend in computing of the increasing sophistication in automatic language understanding and, now, language generation.

The innovative work at Narrative Science raises the broader issue of whether such applications of artificial intelligence will mainly assist human workers or replace them. Technology is already undermining the economics of traditional journalism. Online advertising, while on the rise, has not offset the decline in print advertising. But will robot journalists replace flesh-and-blood journalists in newsrooms?

Read the complete article at

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