Column: Robot Reporters

 Adam Lord, pictured here, is a sports reporter but not a robot ( as far as I know) Pic by @jabberingjourno
Adam Lord, pictured here, is a sports reporter but not a robot ( as far as I know) 


Maybe I should have seen the wood for the trees while watching The Hoff getting backchat from Knightrider on my 80s telly.

But when I started in journalism 15 years ago we did not have e-mail, let alone the internet, so the warning bells had not yet rung.

Now, the dreaded has come to pass, with the latest journalistic development– robots writing stories.

Though it can be argued that reporters are writing machines anyway ( they certainly need recharging a lot with biscuits) we like to think that you need an actual person for gathering news, writing reports and interviewing.

We would hardly describe ourselves as Luddites, prone as we are to running around accessorised with phones, tablets and cameras as well as our ‘proper journalist’ shorthand notepads and pens, but this latest development, pioneered in (of course) California is making us scratch our heads.

But nonetheless, when a 3.2-magnitude earthquake struck at 5.28am on February 1, the Los Angeles Times published the story eight minutes later – complete with a map of the epicentre of the quake – and with reporter’s byline.

Only thing is the author of the story actually wrote the code that auto-wrote and published the data-led story. He was, I’m sure, picking up smashed ornaments or snoring heavily during the time the computer produced the tale using information from the US Geological Survey (USGS).

After initially visualising tricky interviews where robot-reporters continually froze and had to be switched off and back on again (I’m not sure the Prime Minister would go for it in a press conference although robot politicians are an option too), I realised that human journalists are unlikely to ever be entirely replaced by robots.

For a start I can’t quite see it going down well in court .. . and the press conferences really would be pretty dull – not to mention the newspapers and websites. Also they would short-circuit quite badly reporting on fierce storm-waves down at Morecambe Prom – and melt at the scene of fires.

So I’ll keep human reporters for the mo.

This appeared in the LANCASTER GUARDIAN