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Writing Robots: A Threat to Creativity?

Posted December 28, 2016 3:00 PM by MaggieMc

As you may have noticed, I’m a writer (and not a robot), so today I’m here to talk about a technology that may keep me up at night in a few years: Narrative Science and Quill, their “patented artificial intelligence authoring platform.” This program was patented in 2013, and not only is it still around, it’s thriving.

One of the things you frequently hear alongside automation is that as humans we’ll adapt to increased automation by using our freed up time to do bigger and better things. Now, thanks to the potential of Quill, those things might not include writing.

Narrative Science’s co-founder and chief scientist Kris Hammond, who swears up and down that Quill will not be stealing jobs any time soon, recently spoke at EmTech Digital 2016 and the Real Machine Summit.

Quill, which pulls from spreadsheets and other collected data to create narratives, appears to be primarily marketed toward Financial Institutions and other businesses looking to get big data out to their customers, but that wasn’t always the case. Narrative Science began in Northwestern’s Intelligent Information Laboratory, where it made news for writing sports news better than the journalists. The story, which you can hear on NPR, goes like this:

Emma Carmichael, a writer for the sports website Deadspin, publicly suggested “an especially bad account” of a baseball game “had been written by one of [their] favorite robot bloggers” because it had almost completely ignored the fact that the game was a no-hitter. According to NPR, the creators of Narrative Science were so offended they “set out to prove that their program could produce a better story,” and it did because, in the words of Kris Hammond, “how could you write a baseball story and not notice that it was a no-hitter? I mean, what kind of writer or machine would you be?”

In this case, Hammond presented the technology as a way of covering the little league games or middle-school games that don’t ordinarily get very much press. Still, having a computer outperform a human is always intimidating.

Once you get past the shock factor of this technology, it’s incredibly interesting, and it has amazing potential. Hammond is right, big data is huge, and sometimes it’s just too big for us to handle, but at the same time, we rely on what it tells us every day. Narrative Science’s ability to make inferences and create language from all of that data can be unbelievably useful. Hammond would like to highlight the fact that it also, “frees up real humans to do real work” or write the stories they really care about.

One part of a writer’s job that has always been near and dear to my heart is the necessity of “translating” information for their reader—Pulling information from different sources and bringing it together, drawing conclusions, and making it applicable to readers—and the scary part of all of this is that Quill can do a lot of that. As of now, Quill mostly pulls from databases, but its parent algorithm pulled from a series of content searches… just like I do.

Image credits: Jack Fitzgerald and ZDNet.

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#1

Re: Writing Robots: A Threat to Creativity?

12/28/2016 3:39 PM

So...this means what we call "creativity" will be relegated to an algorithm?

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#2

Re: Writing Robots: A Threat to Creativity?

12/28/2016 5:33 PM

I've read some articles that appear to have been written by some AI programs that still need a little more work.

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#3

Re: Writing Robots: A Threat to Creativity?

12/28/2016 8:35 PM

This is very troubling to me.

In an age when many students are cheating to get out of school, haven't we just given them another "tool" to use to cheat?

Doesn't this relieve many writers of the tedium of having to think, and create?

Yes, I of the time when we actually hand to read books and write things in an orderly fashion to convey our thoughts.

Milli Vanilli has come back to sing a new tune.

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#5
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Re: Writing Robots: A Threat to Creativity?

12/29/2016 3:10 AM

"Yes, I of the time when we actually hand to read books".

That sentence could have used a little help.

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#6
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Re: Writing Robots: A Threat to Creativity?

12/29/2016 7:57 AM

No worries, Lyn. What goes on the Internet stays on the Internet.

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#7
In reply to #5

Re: Writing Robots: A Threat to Creativity?

12/29/2016 9:37 AM

Are you reading hand over fist, or hand to mouth? LOL.

Braille? I think I should go ahead and shut up now before I release a ploop.

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#8
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Re: Writing Robots: A Threat to Creativity?

12/29/2016 10:13 AM

Your time will come, soon enough.

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#9
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Re: Writing Robots: A Threat to Creativity?

12/29/2016 10:22 AM

Based on the guys reacting to my comments about the blistering remarks by Mr. Kerry against Israel yesterday, you might be right. I am really considering raising an Israeli flag in my front yard, along with a sign daring any SOB to try to remove it. I may or may not fly an American flag near it (at least until the wrecking crew is removed kicking and screaming from the White House, and President-Elect Donald Trump has been duly sworn in). I am astonished that the Obama crew think they can get away with this stab in the front to our greatest allies.

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#10
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Re: Writing Robots: A Threat to Creativity?

12/29/2016 10:53 AM

Now, now!

Relax. All will be well soon, one way or the other.

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#11
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Re: Writing Robots: A Threat to Creativity?

12/29/2016 9:55 PM

Where are those comments at ? I'd like to read them.

This is what is meant by, " a smooth transition ".

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#15
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Re: Writing Robots: A Threat to Creativity?

12/30/2016 9:44 AM

These were comments in the break room during morning maintenance briefing. They are not available for re-publication, although one of the staunch (stinking) Democrats in the room did tell me to STFU. He and I sort of have an agreement for him to be allowed to say that without offending me, funny thing, he still objects to me standing on his throat.

I think the STFU remark came after I suggested dragging two members of the current administration away from White House grounds kicking and screaming, and stringing them up from the nearest tree.

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#17
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Re: Writing Robots: A Threat to Creativity?

12/30/2016 2:32 PM

Aside from Andrew Westman do any normal people live in Texas?

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#18
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Re: Writing Robots: A Threat to Creativity?

12/30/2016 3:11 PM

No. Besides, for all I know Kerry and Obama might be into that sort of fun.

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#19
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Re: Writing Robots: A Threat to Creativity?

12/30/2016 4:28 PM

This is too radical for me.

<I'm gone>

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#4

Re: Writing Robots: A Threat to Creativity?

12/28/2016 11:03 PM

Given the click-baited rubbish so many online pop-sci rags churn out, any change would be a welcome improvement IMO - whether by robots or wetware. So much of it is so wide of the mark it's not even wrong.

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#12

Re: Writing Robots: A Threat to Creativity?

12/29/2016 10:00 PM

We'd much rather see this,,

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#13
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Re: Writing Robots: A Threat to Creativity?

12/29/2016 10:58 PM

I like the little helpful notes. A few more would be even better:

Keep the brim of your hat as even as your temper.

Be cordial but always ready if things turn sour..keep that trench coat unbuttoned for easy access to your sidearm....and sleeve garders aren't just for keeping dealers honest, it's a sharp way to dress that won't get in the way of your sharp shooting.

No manly man is complete without mustache wax.

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#14
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Re: Writing Robots: A Threat to Creativity?

12/30/2016 2:58 AM

With all these robots on the rise of late, what could possibly go worng?

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#16
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Re: Writing Robots: A Threat to Creativity?

12/30/2016 9:48 AM

...go wrong, go wrong, go wrong. Very good example. How the heck do we know what intentions the AI writers have when they spew forth this synthetic news?

One of my sisters has a degree in AI, worked for GE for a while, where she and team members wrote the customer interface algorithm for drafting power generating station plans that incorporated GE turbines. That was at least 15-20 years ago, now.

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#20

Re: Writing Robots: A Threat to Creativity?

12/30/2016 5:29 PM

"HAL to the rescue!"

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