Take-home exam proposal

Advances in robotics and computer technology are likely to cause large increases in job automation during the next few decades. Creative jobs like journalism may seem immune, but in the last few years, that notion has also been challenged.

The Chicago-based company Narrative Science has created a computer algorithm that can write news stories. The algorithm is able to scan large sets of data, pick out the important facts, and create a cohesive written story based on them. The stories aren’t just lists of factoids, but cohesive, well-written stories that are often difficult to distinguish from human writing. While the algorithm focuses on data-based stories like sports and finance, advances in technology like voice-recognition software could someday allow computers to conduct interviews.

New developments in automated journalism raise issues found in any similar situation, whether we should allow unpaid automatons to put paid humans out of work being the main one. But automated journalism also raises it’s own questions. Can a computer really show creativity without human intervention? Can a robot be trusted to get the facts right? But the most important question concerns the nature of journalistic ethics itself: how can an algorithm-based computer program make the same ethical calls a human reporter would make?

For this issue, I have identified three major alternatives. The journalism industry can wholly reject automation, dodging the question of computer ethics and allowing humans to keep their jobs, but potentially making the industry lag behind technologically and economically. On the other extreme, journalism can wholeheartedly adopt automation, allowing computers to take human jobs and possibly causing an ethical crisis. Finally computerized journalism and human reporting can coexist and complement each other. This seems like the most likely option, but the question of the extent and scope of automation in this scenario create issues themselves, which I intend to explore.




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