Google is giving the Press Association news agency a grant of €706,000 ($806,000) to start writing stories with the help of artificial intelligence. The money is coming out of the tech giant’s Digital News Initiative fund, which supports digital journalism in Europe. The PA supplies news stories to media outlets all over the UK and Ireland, and will be working with a startup named Urbs Media to produce 30,000 local stories a month with the help of AI.
The editor-in-chief of the Press Association, Peter Clifton, explained to The Guardian that the AI articles will be the product of collaboration with human journalists. Writers will create “detailed story templates” for topics like crime, health, and unemployment, and Urbs Media’s Radar tool (it stands for Reporters And Data And Robots) will fill in the blanks and helping localize each article. This sort of workflow has been used by media outlets for years, with the Los Angeles Times using AI to write news stories about earthquakes since 2014.
“Skilled human journalists will still be vital in the process,” said Clifton, “but Radar allows us to harness artificial intelligence to scale up to a volume of local stories that would be impossible to provide manually.”
The money from Google will also be used to make tools for scraping information from public databases in the UK, like those generated by local councils and the National Health Service. The Radar software will also auto-generate graphics for stories, as well as add relevant videos and pictures. The software will start being used from the beginning of next year.
Some reporters in the UK, though, are skeptical about the new scheme. Tim Dawson, president of the National Union of Journalists, told The Guardian: “The real problem in the media is too little bona fide reporting. I don’t believe that computer whizzbangery is going to replace that. What I’m worried about in my capacity as president of the NUJ is something that ends up with third-rate stories which look as if they are something exciting, but are computer-generated so [news organizations] can get rid of even more reporters.”