Robot journalist breaks news on California earthquake

Monday morning’s news story about an earthquake in the Los Angeles area was broken by a robot, it has emerged in Slate. Thanks to an algorithm of the LA Times, the article was written and published within three minutes, making it the first report on the earthquake:

A shallow magnitude 4.7 earthquake was reported Monday morning five miles from Westwood, California, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The temblor occurred at 6:25 a.m. Pacific time at a depth of 5.0 miles.

The author of the “Quakebot” algorithm, programmer and journalist Ken Schwencke, found the text ready to be published when he was awoken from the earthquake.

“…this post was created by an algorithm written by the author.”

In contrast to the perceived threat that robo-journalism poses to human journalists, Schwencke thinks of his Quakebot as supplemental to his work.

“The way I see it is, it doesn’t eliminate anybody’s job as much as it makes everybody’s job more interesting,” Schwencke told Slate.

By speeding up the research process and collecting all the necessary facts, reports can be published faster and more accurately.

The LA Times uses a similar algorithm for reporting homicides, proving that automated journalism has the potential to expand into various fields of reporting.

Automated journalism undoubtedly has a long way to go when it comes to conducting interviews and journalistic variation. But the Quakebot’s awareness that a 3.0 magnitude is not the most dramatic news report, shows significant potential for intelligent composition

Feature image: Illustration of a robotic computer operator typing via Shutterstock. Copyright: Paul Fleet

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