Google’s has awarded €706,000 ($800,000) to the UK’s Press Association (PA) so they can develop robot reporters or news-bots that can generate 30,000 articles a month
Digital News Initiative
The funding is part of Google’s €150m Digital News Initiative, a three-year program in support of European journalism using technology. The initiative is in its third and final year, and lis looking to provide funding for 7 projects in 27 countries.
Codenamed RADAR, or Reporters and Data and Robots, the Press Association project is a joint effort with Urbs Media, a UK startup specialising in automated data journalism.
On the one hand, this is an effective and less labour-intensive way to satisfy the demand for more news. Some sceptics, however, have noted that the initiative could be a handy way for tech and advertising giant Google to help websites to get more readers and thereby gain more advertising business and revenue for itself.
On its website, the PA has issued a statement about RADAR’s role in meeting the growing demand “for consistent, fact-based insights into local communities, for the benefit of established regional media outlets, as well as the growing sector of independent publishers, hyperlocal outlets and bloggers.”
Natural Language Processing Software
For the news bots to generate information and stories, natural language processing software will be used on a grand scale. The PA and Urbs Media will reportedly select a team of five journalists to identify, template, and edit data-driven stories. These journalists will apply the code to publicly available government databases to churn out stories.
Hope For The Local Press
This comes at a most opportune time where Britain's hard-pressed and diminishing local press need to meet the demands for more and more page views, as well as filling spaces in print. PA Editor-in-Chief Pete Clifton has reportedly acknowledged the usefulness of RADAR in terms of cost-effectiveness in providing incisive local stories, and the fact that, although skilled human journalists are still vital in the process, local media would find it very difficult to produce articles in the numbers necessary with the limited number of journalists that they have.
Not Just The Press Association
Although the PA received the largest grant of UK recipients, Google also gave funding to other organisations as part of the initiative. These include Wikipedia (€385,000), City University (known for its popular journalism school (€335,113), fact-checking body ‘Full Fact’ (€300,000), owner of various computing titles ‘Dennis Publishing’ (€160,000), and Al Jazeera (€50,000).
News Bots Already Used In Some Countries
News bots are already being used by some media companies. In China, for example, Xiaomingbot generated hundreds of stories for last year’s Rio Olympics, and The Los Angeles Times’ own news bot, Quakebot, recently made headlines when it generated news of an earthquake off the coast of Santa Barbara, California.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
This kind of initiative is another example of how many businesses are finding ways to promote and harness the power of technologies such as AI to help meet demand, particularly where services e.g. customer service, are concerned, in a cost effective, value adding way. It is also an example of how automation is beginning to be used to replace human jobs.
Research firm Gartner, for example, estimates that up to 85% of customer service centres will become virtual by 2020 e.g. by using more bots, and Facebook announced last April F8 that anyone can now make their own bot using Facebook’s application programming interface (API) known as ‘Messenger Platform’.
Also, in March this year, a report by PwC claimed that over 30% of UK jobs could be lost to automation by the year 2030. How much automation and what kind of automation individual businesses adopt will, of course, depend upon a cost / benefit analysis compared to human workers, and whether automation is appropriate and is acceptable to their customers.