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Soon, artificial intelligence will be able to write this article

Posting in Science

Narrative Science, a startup based in Evanston, Ill., is working on artificial intelligence software that can write news articles all by itself.

When we think of artificial intelligence, we think of humanoid robots that perform our daily tasks for us.

Rosie the robot, from The Jetsons? She'll wash the dishes.

C3PO, from Star Wars? He'll serve as a language translator between two cultures. (Then help save the world.)

But that physical entity isn't really necessary. Artificial intelligence at its core is computer code. What if it could mimic a human without ever resembling one?

Steve Lohr writes in the New York Times that Narrative Science, a startup based in Evanston, Ill., is working to put writers like me out to pasture. Founded by Northwestern University researchers Kris Hammond, Larry Birnbaum and Stuart Frankel, the company offers software that takes data -- sports statistics, financial reports, and so forth -- and turns it into articles like this one.

It's like Mad Libs, only it's dead serious.

Consider this paragraph:

Wisconsin appears to be in the driver’s 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.

Lohr's article worries that such artificial intelligence could replace journalists like him and me, but the bigger theme is how artificial intelligence will integrate with our natural lives. Concisely: assist, or replace?

For now, humans remain in the driver's seat, guiding the software to make better selections as it writes more articles. The real litmus test will be when Narrative Science lets its software write its own press releases.

In Case You Wondered, a Real Human Wrote This Column [New York Times]

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Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure