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The Rise of the Storytelling Machines

In 1965, Stanislaw Lem imagined in his science fiction book Cyberiad a machine that could write stories and poems. In 2015, we can confidently forget about the "fiction" bit and focus  on the "science" part: computers have already taken up writing.Automatic writersMachine storytelling, or the power of computers to sift through massive amounts of data in order to produce highly structured and compelling narratives. Basically, this would mean an almost complete automation of the writing process. Here are some examples from this Forbes.com article:“Take the recent Wimbledon tennis championships. […] [The] data can […] be turned into automated stories or Twitter messages to ensure Wimbledon are the first to break news stories about the results.”

In 1965, Stanislaw Lem imagined in his science fiction book Cyberiad a machine that could write stories and poems. In 2015, we can confidently forget about the “fiction” bit and focus  on the “science” part: computers have already taken up writing.

Automatic writers

Machine storytelling, or the power of computers to sift through massive amounts of data in order to produce highly structured and compelling narratives. Basically, this would mean an almost complete automation of the writing process. Here are some examples from this Forbes.com article:

“Take the recent Wimbledon tennis championships. […] [The] data can […] be turned into automated stories or Twitter messages to ensure Wimbledon are the first to break news stories about the results.”

Or this one:

“[…] an application which reads the stock market and attempts to spot when unusual highs, lows or volume spikes could have important implications.”

Translating raw data into everyday words

There are already a few companies that generate “natural language.” Narrative Science have come up with a platform called Quill. Another company, Automated Insights, features a platform called Wordsmith.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXszD1Q-26E&w=560&h=315]

As these platforms convert data into language, their scope is pretty limited at present and can only cover precise and well-defined areas. Game comments, quiz questions, web analytics put into written reports may not threaten anyone’s job just yet, but there’s no question that the language will become more sophisticated and more versatile. Combined with the ability to constantly improve its command of natural and creative language, a well-defined app could, in theory, write a narrative that’s indistinguishable from a human’s.

What’s next?

Kris Hammond, co-founder and chief scientist at Narrative Science, says that Quill excels not at finding stories, but in putting stories together from precise data sources. However, in 2012 he made a claim that in 5 years a computer would be able to write a piece of journalism worthy of a Pulitzer prize. We still have another two years to see if his prediction holds true.

Does this seem plausible to you? Or do you think it’s just another example of wishful thinking? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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