Some—with more extreme concerns about the future of

Some—with more extreme concerns about the future of
the industry—are even worried that robots could one day become proficient at
the task of writing original content. The Washington Post is arguably the
leader at the forefront of innovation at the intersection of journalism and
artificial intelligence. Before Jeff Bezos—the man who founded Amazon.com in
1994—purchased the Post in 2013, news that had generated by artificial intelligence
was coming for just a few, small, companies. At the time, the content those AI
tools could produce was number-heavy, and mostly was only used in the stock
market, sports sections, and other applications where statistical analysis was
most important. However, Bezos his employees at The Washington Post envisioned
an AI tool that could generate more editorial content that was well written, well-sourced,
and interesting for news consumers.

According to an article written by Joe Keohane of
Wired Magazine, the “Heliograf” was introduced by The Washington Post in 2016
and was first used to auto-publish stories during the Summer Olympics in Rio.

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In late 2016, a more sophisticated version was deployed to cover the upcoming
election. According to Keohane, editors form a basic template or story board for
the articles they are hoping to generate. Editors and reporters can input key
phrases and plug the system into sources of organized data. From there, the
Heliograf isolates significant, matches it with the key phrases used, fuses the
sourcing (the data) with the key phrases (the prose), and then generates and distributes
distinctive versions on The Washington Post’s various platforms. According to
Keohane the system can also discover statistical anomalies in the data sets it
analyzes, which in the case of political reporting, can be a great way to get a
tip about changes in polling, for instance.

Essentially, news organizations have two primary
goals when it comes to their AI tools. The first is to use AI in order to grow
their audience. Secondly, news companies hope that AI tools will not ultimately
replace reporters, but rather make their newsrooms more efficient by allowing
their reporters to spend time on stories that AI can’t tackle. Traditionally,
news organizations had to target a relatively large audience with a relatively
small number of time-intensive stories written by human beings. With an AI
system that can create compelling content, organizations can target multiple
smaller-sized audiences with a massive number of articles written by AI about
niche subject matter. Larger news organizations are also using AI tools to
generate more localized content. With many local news organizations struggling,
larger organizations are hoping to use their AI systems to generate the local
content that consumers are increasingly without.