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Google training robot journalist to write news articles

Google's Search product is displayed on a tablet computer.
Google’s Search product is displayed on a tablet computer. (Stock image via Pexels, Graphic by The Desk)

Developers at Google are testing a new tool powered by artificial intelligence that is capable of writing news stories based on specific types of information, according to a new report.

The tool, code-name “Genesis,” was revealed in a human-written news article published by the New York Times late Wednesday evening, and was based on interviews with sources who were offered an opportunity to witness the software in action.

The Times said its newspaper and at least two others — identified as the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal — were invited by Google to witness the capabilities of Genesis, which churns out news content based on various pieces of data.

One journalist who was given a demonstration of Genesis said it looked like the tool could serve as a personal assistant for reporters, while another suggested the software was unsettling, the Times said.

A spokesperson for News Corporation, the parent company of the Journal, said the company had “an excellent relationship with Google” and that it appreciated Google CEO Sundar Pichai’s “long-term commitment to journalism.” Officials at the Times and the Post declined an opportunity to comment, and a spokesperson for Google didn’t return a request for comment.

The Google robot comes at a time when journalists are grappling with the best ways to leverage artificial intelligence tools without being replaced by them. Early news-focused experiments have delivered something of a mixed bag of results over the last few months.

In January, Red Ventures-owned technology website CNET was forced to amend several stories after competing outlet Futurism noted that a some articles written by a robot contained numerous inaccuracies. The robot also apparently plagiarized a number of competing websites for its stories, which largely focused on personal finance topics. CNET did not initially disclose that the articles were written by AI software.

Earlier this month, Comcast-owned Sky News said it had run its own experiment with off-the-shelf AI tools to see if it could train a robot to serve as a reporter and editor. The robot reporter was instructed to pitch a series of topics for a possible news story, which were whittled down through “discussions” with a robot editor. The tools successfully created written and video content using the likeness of a real Sky News journalist, but the channel’s technology editor said the overall product lacked the polish of a human reporter.

Other news outlets are using AI-powered tools to perform non-journalism functions. In 2017, the Washington Post unveiled ModBot, which it described as software powered by AI that could help its editing team moderate comments left by readers of its website. On Monday, the website Nieman Lab reported a local television station group called Graham Media was using similar software to moderate web comments as well.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).