Google is funding the creation of software that writes local news stories

Google’s Digital News Initiative has committed £622,000 ($805,000) to fund an automated news writing initiative for UK-based news agency, The Press Association. The money will help pay for the creation of Radar (Reporters And Data And Robots), snappily named software designed to generate upwards 30,000 local news stories a month.

The Press Association has enlisted UK-based news startup Urbs Media for the task of creating a piece of software that turns news data into palatable content. Once up and running, the team is hoping the software will be able to fill in some of the gaps that are currently being under-serviced as the universal financial strain being experienced by newsrooms around the world deepens.

It’s similar to a model The Associated Press has employed for a while now here in the States, mostly tackling financial and niche sports stories. A quick Google News search of the tell taletagline This story was generated by Automated Insights” reveals hits from news outlets across the U.S.

In a news release heralding the financial commitment, Press Association Editor-in-Chief Peter Clifton called the move a “genuine game-changer,” stressing that the partnership will focus on stories that might not otherwise be written up as local newspapers continue to die off in this massive fourth-estate extinction. Of course, he was also quick to add that the move won’t do away with the human touch entirely.

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“Skilled human journalists will still be vital in the process,” he explained, “but Radar allows us to harness artificial intelligence to scale up to a volume of local stories that would be impossible to provide manually.” People will be involved in the curation and editing of the stories and, hopefully, help limit the possibility of accidentally publishing incorrect information in an era when “fake news” is an equally barbed insult on all sides of the political spectrum.

Will robotic writers replace or simply support the work of their human counterparts? A little bit of both, probably. Human news writers regularly point out that AIs tend to lack nuance and a flare for language in the stories they churn out. That’s probably a fare criticism, but it’s easy to see how the rise of robotic news could be a justification — if not a direct cause — for further job loss in the industry. If writers are going to be let go anyway, surely having some software to fill in the gap will help cushion the the blow.