Robot journalists set to write the news

Computers could soon be writing your daily news, if a scientist interviewed on the BBC's Today programme has his way.

Dr Kristian Hammond of the Intelligent Information Laboratory at Northwestern University in Illinois told Radio 4 listeners this morning that Stats Monkey, a piece of software developed by his lab, can produce sports reports based on ball-by-ball data from baseball games, without any human intervention.

The results, according to Hammond, are indistinguishable from those of a 'real' journalist (whatever one of those is).

"We have yet to have anybody read a piece of our copy and think it was written by a machine," Hammond claimed. "Our goal is to take journalistic skills, journalistic judgements, journalistic values and embody those in automated systems."

Stats Monkey analyses the changing fortunes of the teams as the game progresses, and employs a 'decision tree' to determine the appropriate spin for the story, from underdog victory to last-minute clincher.

The software then cobbles together a story from a library of stock phrases, much like a real sports journalist.

Hammond admits that the potential of computer-generated journalism is limited. Robot writers are particularly well suited to sports journalism, he says, because it's so statistics-heavy - though he insists the technique offers "exciting" possibilities for financial reporting too.

Asked how it rated the future prospects of its human counterparts, Stats Monkey is believed to have commented:

"They think it's all over. It is now."

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