Home   About   Resources   Investors   Businesses   Members   Admin

Resources Menu

General Resources

Entrepreneur and Business Resources

Investor Resources

Integral Methods and Technology

Asset Management Industry

Governance and Investor Responsibility


Industry Sectors and Issues


Books and Video


Automatic newswriting

Mechanical prose
Mar 14th 2002
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:

After months of fruitless partisan bickering, the House on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a stripped-down bill to bolster the economy by providing new unemployment benefits and modest business tax breaks, including one eagerly sought by the high-technology industry.

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 storm had given the Marquette area 17.6 inches of snow by Sunday afternoon. Israeli troops shot dead three Palestinians during a raid in the Gaza Strip and stormed into a West Bank. A late-winter storm cruising through the Midwest on Saturday snarled airport traffic.

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:

I would welcome suggestions. ‘‘Whoops! They averaged the colour values for all the light and converted it to the primary colour scale seen by the human eye. Glazebrook said the underlying data was correct. We did not expect it to get so big.” Red-faced astronomers said Thursday they were mistaken when they reported that the universe is light green.

Quite so.

Copyright © 2002 The Economist Newspaper and The Economist Group. All rights reserved.

Top of page.

Home   About   Resources   Investors   Businesses   Members   Admin