Chinese robot journalist writes its first 300-word story in just 1 second

20 Jan 2017

Robotic hand at keyboard. Image: Jinning Li/Shutterstock

The career of the news journalist is under threat once again, this time in China, as national media reports the first instance of a robot filing a 300-word story in just one second.

The idea of robots and AI coming to replace jobs has been a topic of heated debate for some time now, but in the past year this has particularly ramped up, particularly during discussions at the recent Davos 2017 conference.

At the beginning of the month, a Japanese insurance firm made headlines after it announced it was to replace 30pc of its workforce with AI based on IBM’s Watson technology.

Now the career of the news journalist is under threat, at least in China, following reports that the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis Daily had published its first news article written by a robot journalist.

According to the China Daily, the 300-word article was a piece reporting on the expected travel complications caused by the arrival of the annual Spring Festival.

Dubbed Xiao Nan by its creators at Peking University, the robot journalist is capable of producing a story in just one second, either a short story or a long report if required.

To ease fears of potential journalists losing their jobs any time soon, the project’s lead Prof Wan Xiaojun has said that humans still possess far greater creative writing skills than any robot today.

Good at data, but not with people

“When compared with the staff reporters, Xiao Nan has a stronger data analysis capacity and is quicker at writing stories,” he said.

“But it does not mean intelligent robots will soon be able to completely replace reporters.”

Adding to this, Xiaojun said that a robot journalist’s ability to report the news is limited, not only by the obvious fact it doesn’t take on a physical form, but it does not have the ability to do interviews and pick up on the relevant points made that can be turned into a story.

Xiaojun said “robots will be able to act as a supplement, helping newspapers and related media as well as editors and reporters”.

This is not the first instance of a media organisation turning to robot journalists to file stories, as back in 2014, the LA Times used a ‘robot’ to report earthquake warnings in the Los Angeles area.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic