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Mar 14th 2002
From The Economist print edition
Journalists may become redundant. But not just yet
WHILE some boffins are busy catching plagiarists (see article), others are inventing software designed expressly to rip off words and ideas. At Columbia University, a group of computer scientists with a flair for linguistics has opened a website that writes news.
Newsblaster, as the site is known, uses language-processing software that is fed news stories written by wire services, newspapers and magazines. The software first classifies the stories into six categories: United States, World, Finance, Entertainment, Science and Sports. Then it groups together stories on a single theme, say Enron's financial travails. That done, it summarises each cluster by looking for repeated phrases and structures. The result is an abstract a few lines long.
Kathleen McKeown, the group's leader, released Newsblaster a few days after September 11th, in the hope that it would provide a way to cope with the mass of news reports of that day's events. Although not perfect, Newsblaster seems adept at summarising politics and finance:
Sometimes, though, the software trips up in its choice of inputs. A summary of reports of a Chicago snowstorm quoted perhaps too liberally from a source article that was itself a wrap-up of the news:
The science module also seems to require some improvement. Here is part of Newsblaster's take on recent reports of an error made by astronomers:
Quite so.Copyright © 2002 The Economist Newspaper and The Economist Group. All rights reserved.