Will Computers Replace Journalists?

This post was first published by Brittany Bosacker on March Communications’ blog, PR Nonsense, and may be viewed here.

As technology evolves, so does the journalism industry. But to some, this “evolution” feels more like “extinction.” A career in print journalism seems especially doomed in the modern world, where nearly every piece of news is one short click away. And now, it seems technology is brewing up yet another battle with journalists. I came across an article which posed the question, “Can computers write a better story than humans?”, and, according to the article, computers can now take information and use algorithms to write news stories.

This transition could be a travesty to the journalism profession. In some ways, I can see the benefits of having computers write stories. However, I ultimately don’t think a computer could ever write a better story than a human. A computer can report and retell, but storytelling is an art that involves compassion and attitude – qualities beyond the realm of a machine. A computer could never write a heart-wrenching, captivating story – could it? A computer may be able to rehash the facts and possibly throw in a simple angle, BUT I don’t see how a computer could tell a story with depth and emotion. Do you think a computer could write a moving poem? Or a soul-stirring song? No. Storytelling is an art.

That being said, I will admit that many news stories do not tend to have much depth anyway – they just inform and state the news, without any sort of bias or opinion (which is perhaps the goal at times). Here, it is arguable that computers may be more efficient (and cost effective) than journalists. But, what about the journalists who dedicate their lives to storytelling? Think about the extraordinary journalists working in war-torn countries or the famous journalists who helped the Washington Post out with the Watergate scandal. Is the ever-evolving world of technology going to put compassionate journalists out of work? I certainly hope not.

For public relations professionals, I think this evolution in technology is absolutely relevant. When we pitch an angle to a journalist, they see a story – something worth telling, something the public will care about. If a computer were to replace the journalist, how would it find that story and make it interesting? The news would start to feel like a bunch of spam.

Regardless of my concerns for humanity, artificial intelligence continues to blow my mind. Computers have become more and more refined, possessing humanlike capabilities.  Remember the days of AOL Instant Messenger? You could IM with a computer with the screen name Smarterchild, who would answer Google-able questions and humor you in what you could maybe call a “conversation” when you were really bored. Today, everyone with an iPhone 4S has Siri to ask silly (and sometimes legitimate) questions to. Regardless of Siri’s assistant-like qualities, she is undeniably a convenient and resourceful companion to the iPhone user.

As technology progresses, the world is becoming more and more automated and mechanized, satisfying society’s need for instant gratification. When you walk into your local CVS, you no longer see workers at registers – instead, they have been replaced by self-checkout counters. What’s next? Will the world turn into a real life version of the movie Artificial Intelligence or Wall-E?

What do you think?

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