Robot journalists get it wrong too. Sure, they’re only human

16 Jul 2015

It appears that human journalists don’t have to fear their jobs being completely ruled obsolete by the rise of robot journalists after a robot journalist got the figures of a recent Netflix earnings report terribly wrong.

Robot journalists are becoming increasingly common among news agencies such as AP, which uses computers to essentially input facts and figures reports – such as financial earnings and earthquake readings – to generate stories in seconds.

Earlier this year, one of the leaders in the sector, Automated Insights, was able to receive significant funding to develop its Wordsmith program, which effectively acts as a basic form of artificial intelligence (AI).

Of course, human journalists have begun to look over their shoulders with the fear that, one day, their job could be taken by a piece of software that can write faster, and more accurately, than a human.

Well, now it appears that robot journalists aren’t infallible after all.

‘There may be an error from time to time’

According to Fusion, AP and other news organisations that publish content generated using robot journalists, appeared to show that Netflix’s Q2 earnings report showed the company was tanking hard, with a 71pc decrease in its share value, which differed from the truth, which showed the company made an increase.

Reporting incorrect stock prices and news surrounding financial results is serious business for the affected companies, which can see serious ramifications if they have been wrongly reported as being in freefall.

The reason for such an error is believed to be due to Netflix’s recent decision to split its stock seven-to-one, which decreased the individual value of each share, which, it seems more than likely, the robot journalist was not made aware of it.

Coming out in defence of its robot journalist program, AP’s vice-president, Lou Ferrara, said mistakes are bound to happen eventually.

“We have a system in which we’re generating up to 3,700 earnings reports a quarter,” Ferrera said. “By the end of the year, we should be up to 4,700. At that volume, there may be an error from time to time.”

Robots.txt image via Anne Helmond/Flickr

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic