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A robot writes an L.A. Times breaking news story

Amidst the 4.9 earth quake in Los Angeles Monday morning, a short article appeared in the L.A. Times about the shake-up, reports Ken Schwencke of the L.A. Times in an interview to Slate magazine Monday evening.

CeBit 2014 Technology Trade Fair
Photo by Nigel Treblin/Getty Images

Schwencke had prepared a short article to generate when an earthquake happens by creating an algorithm.

This is not new to newsrooms around the world according to Schwencke who said that ‘Robo-journalism’ is being used in newsrooms around the world for expediency in work effort.

The L.A. Times will utilize trusted reports from trusted sources such as the US Geological Survey and places data into a pre-written template. This advancement to use technology is done in a variety of topics at the newspaper. The earthquake is just one of many types of those topics that have been prepared via an algorithm in advance.

The human factor is the creator of the input into the algorithm and it is the editors who decide upon the use and when to generate such a technology assisted article. Schwencke says that it does not replace a journalist but allows for information to be readily available when a situation occurs. Sports which have statistics (stats) are another example of how to prepare an article of news material worthy of immediate action.

Schwencke explained to Slate magazine late Monday that in this particular situation he was awakened at 6:25 am from a jolt. Immediately he knew that the rumble for 10 seconds was an earthquake, so he went to his computer, pulled up the previously prepared article, input some details and hit ‘publish.’

The news article appeared under Schwencke’s name on the byline but Quakebot a program that he developed over two years ago prepared the first draft for immediate report. Schwencke is a web-developer as well as a journalist. Quakebot went to the U.S. Geological Survey for data which he set to be alerted when an earthquake over a certain size was reported. The USGS data was placed into the pre-written template. The article goes to the L.A. Times content management system and awaits review by the human publication editor.

The process is controlled from start to finish by the humans who create the program, set the parameters and review the story composition. This particular story was updated 71 times and became an in-depth front page story by noon due to Schwencke’s journalist skills.

The basic article which appeared immediately could not provide details of human reaction and activities which Schwencke provided by noon in a complete front page story. Robo-journalism Schwencke notes cannot prepare certain details and compare facts. It is the human that takes the basic information and builds upon the basic information. True journalism requires the human element of making decisions on which details to report in a story and who to interview for that interesting story. It is the element of ‘human interest’ that always makes a story compelling and is read by humans.

To find more information about technology and artificial intelligence view the list below in Author’s suggestions and the video atop this article about CeBit the technology trade fair open this week in Hanvover, Germany.

Twitter: Victoria Wagner@victoriaross888

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