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Robots Are Writing the News and Nobody’s Talking About It

Elias Marat

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Robot Reporters

As journalists face increased layoffs despite the growing appetite for up-to-the-minute, timely news, a new trend has quietly been disrupting the news industry.

Enter the automated reporter.

News organizations are increasingly turning toward artificial intelligence (AI) for production, using a variety of new automated systems to pump out content with minimal need for direct human input.

According to a report by the New York Times, Bloomberg News relies on a system called Cyborg to produce about a third of its articles.

Most of Cyborg’s output takes the form of company earnings reports that are rife with percentage, charts, and other financial data that can be crunched down into a news story quickly and accurately.

But Bloomberg isn’t alone. Increasingly, major news agency like Reuters and Associated Press, along with a number of newspapers such as Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, are using algorithms to crunch out news on everything from local minor league sports games to earthquakes.

Even Patch, which publishes local news nationwide, relies on AI to draft anywhere between 5 to ten percent of its stories for the 800 communities that it serves.

Last year, the Washington Post took first place in the category of “Excellence in Use of Bots” at the Global BIGGIES Awards for its use of Heliograf, a robot reporter that was used in the Post’s coverage of the 2016 Olympic Summer Games and that year’s election. The judges hailed Heliograf’s work for the Post, noting that its “set of examples and explanations are eloquently written and backed. The results also seem quite promising. Very impressive.”

News industry executives claim that while the use of automated, labor-saving technology may cut the journalist out of the production process, it also helps free their hands and their minds for tasks that demand the analytical, emotional, and creative talents of a human reporter.

Indeed, for many journalists, reporting the banal details of sports games or financial reports is a tiresome, monotonous task that takes up bandwidth and spares little room to flex talent like they would on more in-depth, analytical writing.

Lisa Gibbs, a news partnership director for AP, told the Times:

“The work of journalism is creative, it’s about curiosity, it’s about storytelling, it’s about digging and holding governments accountable, it’s critical thinking, it’s judgment — and that is where we want our journalists spending their energy.”

Nick Evershed, a data and interactives editor for The Guardian Australia who created the company’s own system called ReporterMate, offered similar reasoning, explaining:

“Journalists would prefer to be spending time on deeper, more meaningful investigations, such as why the climate is changing, and how does it affect people? Or which politicians are abusing the expenses system?”

The use of AI has long been a part of the reporter’s toolkit in terms of speeding up production, whether it comes in the form of AP Stylebook compliance software, spellchecking and grammar apps, or even transcription and translation software.

But many fear the danger that increased automation can pose not only to quality journalism and human journalists, but to job markets in general.

A study from the University of Oxford found that 47 percent of U.S. jobs are at risk of falling prey to technological unemployment due to the rapidly-developing automation of various vocations, especially those jobs “mainly consisting of tasks following well-defined procedures that can easily be performed by sophisticated algorithms.”

Animals

Police Rescue Dogs Trapped In Car on Sizzling Hot Day, Owners Complain About Broken Window

Elias Marat

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Police in the UK acted quickly to save a two dogs locked inside a car in sizzling hot temperatures by smashing open a window, upsetting the car’s owner over the damage.

Officers responded Sunday to reports that a beagle and another dog were trapped in a car parked in the seaside British city of Brighton on a day of boiling heat.

In video captured of the incident, an officer can be seen jamming his baton through a rear window before finally shattering it to free the pooches.

This prompts the car alarm to go off as the car’s owners can be seen rushing toward it, upset over the police intervention.

A woman, standing with her shocked family, says: “You broke my window out!”

One of the officer responded: “It’s a hot day. You shouldn’t be leaving the dog in the car in this weather.”

The incident happened on a day when people across the region flock to the seaside resort city to dip into the beaches amid surging hot temperatures.

The onlooker who filmed the incident noted that the owners seemed unaware of the dangers posed to their pets by weather conditions.

“Where they had parked there is just no shade,” they told The Sun. “It’s directly on the seafront in 25°C (77°F) weather outside – I’ve got no idea what it was inside the car.”

The family was indignant over what they claim was an overreaction by the police.

“At first it was ‘what the f*** are you doing, why did you break my car window? I was only gone for 10 minutes,’” another witness explained.

“The bloke obviously thought he was completely in the right,” they added. “He didn’t really seem to have much empathy.”

According to UK animal welfare group RSPCA, outside temperatures of 22°C (71°F) can reach a brutal 47°C (116.6°F) inside a car within an hour.

“Police officers attended and tried to get a contact number for the owners of the car but were unable,” a Sussex Police spokesperson said. “Officers had no choice but to smash the side window to gain access and a kind member of the public donated a bottle of water.”

Authorities added that the officers let the pet owners off with a stern warning, without ticketing the family or separating their dogs from them.

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Scientists Prove What Causes Aurora Borealis for the First Time

Elias Marat

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Since the dawn of time, humans have been mystified by what causes the aurora borealis or northern lights. However, a group of scientists have finally uncovered what causes the dazzling lightshow that has captivated people for so long.

Researchers at the University of Iowa have proven that the shimmering auroras are the result of powerful electromagnetic waves during geomagnetic storms, according to a newly published study.

According to the study, phenomena known as Alfven waves propel electrons toward Earth and cause the particles to produce the brilliant display of northern lights seen in the higher latitudes of our planet,

“Measurements revealed this small population of electrons undergoes ‘resonant acceleration’ by the Alfven wave’s electric field, similar to a surfer catching a wave and being continually accelerated as the surfer moves along with the wave,” Prof. Greg Howes, a co-author of the study, told CNN.

Scientists have long understood that the aurora was the likely result of electrons surfing across the electric field, at least since the theory was introduced in 1946 by Soviet scientist Lev Landau.

However, the University of Iowa professors were able to finally put the theory to the test through a simulation at a lab at the Large Plasma Device (LPD) in the Basic Plasma Science Facility of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

Using a 20-meter-long chamber to simulate the magnetic field of the Earth through state-of-the-art magnetic field coils, scientists were able to generate plasma similar to that which exists in spac.

“Using a specially designed antenna, we launched Alfven waves down the machine, much like shaking a garden hose up and down quickly, and watching the wave travel along the hose,” said Howes.

While this didn’t result in the type of auroras we might see in the sky, “our measurements in the laboratory clearly agreed with predictions from computer simulations and mathematical calculations, proving that electrons surfing on Alfven waves can accelerate the electrons (up to speeds of 45 million mph) that cause the aurora,” Howes noted.

Scientists across the country were elated by the results of the experiment.

“I was tremendously excited! It is a very rare thing to see a laboratory experiment that validates a theory or model concerning the space environment,” said Patrick Koehn, a scientist in the Heliophysics Division of NASA.

“Space is simply too big to easily simulate in the lab,” he added.

Researchers are hopeful that a greater understanding will allow forecasters to better understand weather conditions in space.

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Arizona Restores Gas Chamber Where ‘Nazi-Era’ Gas Will be Used for Executions

Elias Marat

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Arizona has restored an old gas chamber retired during the 20th century in a bid to continue executing its inmates on death row, renewing criticisms about capital punishment and a method of execution the United States once rejected for being excessively cruel and unusual.

The gas chamber, which hasn’t been operated since it executed its last inmate 1999, has been refurbished to ensure that it can properly function as an option for death row prisoners to choose, reports Associated Press.

The move comes after the Grand Canyon State made a large purchase of ingredients to manufacture its own hydrogen cyanide gas.

The same chemicals Arizona plans on using were also used by the Nazis during the holocaust under the brand name Zyklon B. News articles about Arizona’s plans have provoked outrage among survivors of Nazi death camps in Germany and Israel.

“Whether or not one supports the death penalty as a general matter, there is general agreement in American society that a gas devised as a pesticide, and used to eliminate Jews, has no place in the administration of criminal justice,” wrote the American Jewish Committee said in a statement. 

The federal government has also used the gas in past executions of prisoners.

Arizona’s revival of the old execution method comes as prison authorities across the country continue to grapple with problems over another form of execution decried by critics as brutal, namely the use of lethal injection.

Once depicted as a more humane and painless form of killing prisoners, lethal injection has often led to slow, torturous and excruciating deaths. Additionally, many of the chemicals used in lethal injection drugs are impossible to attain due to the refusal of drug makers to continue manufacturing them – effectively cutting off the “choices” given to death row inmates about their preferred method of death.

In South Carolina, a recently-passed law would see inmates being forced to choose between firing squad and an electric chair, reports NPR.

In the waning days of the Trump administration, the outgoing president also vigorously pushed to fast-track the use of death by firing squad and death by electrocution.

At the time, former federal prosecutor Miriam Krinsky, who also heads the Fair and Just Prosecution advocacy group, said:

“As we find itself in the midst of a national reckoning with racism and our history of racial violence, ending the death penalty must be part of our transformation … Abolishing the death penalty would be a signal that the Biden-Harris administration is committed to fairness, equity, and evidence-based justice — and the time for this definitive move is long overdue.”

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