Tuesday, July 1, 2014 | Categories: Features
(Photo by J. Wilds/Fox Photos/Getty Images)
There's an old theory that if you gave an infinite number of monkeys an infinite number of typewriters, eventually they would produce the entire works of Shakespeare. We can't vouch for that, because our own experiments in that area has so far only produced a badly damaged typewriter in a putrid room, and a half-finished novel that, frankly, is very weak on character development. But then we only have the four monkeys.
Of course, nowadays, technology can fill in for the infinite monkeys. And we don't need it to produce a masterpiece; all we ask of it, apparently, is to report the percentage by which a corporation's net income has risen or fallen.
On Monday, the Associated Press (AP) announced that it would be producing many, many more stories on corporate earnings, by automating them. That is, software from a company called Automated Insights will be used to spit out approximately 4,400 stories every quarter -- instead of the measly 300 produced currently, by a glitchy, crash-prone old technology called "humans." This is obviously ludicrous. Read, for example, this excerpt from an AP story published last week:
Obviously, that was written by a human. The poetic parallel use of the word "rose" to describe both net income and revenue. The sly scattering of prepositions -- "to", "with", and "from."
Okay, fine. I guess a computer could have written that. Even if we can't get over the sense that -- like our own experiment with monkeys -- something about this automated-article thing stinks.