September 11, 2011

New Advances in “Works for Hire” [2:37 pm]

Computer-Generated Articles Are Gaining Traction [pdf]

The company’s software takes data, like that from sports statistics, company financial reports and housing starts and sales, and turns it into articles. For years, programmers have experimented with software that wrote such articles, typically for sports events, but these efforts had a formulaic, fill-in-the-blank style. They read as if a machine wrote them.

But Narrative Science is based on more than a decade of research, led by two of the company’s founders, Kris Hammond and Larry Birnbaum, co-directors of the Intelligent Information Laboratory at Northwestern University, which holds a stake in the company. And the articles produced by Narrative Science are different.

“I thought it was magic,” says Roger Lee, a general partner of Battery Ventures, which led a $6 million investment in the company earlier this year. “It’s as if a human wrote it.”

Experts in artificial intelligence and language are also impressed, if less enthralled. Oren Etzioni, a computer scientist at the University of Washington, says, “The quality of the narrative produced was quite good,” as if written by a human, if not an accomplished wordsmith. Narrative Science, Mr. Etzioni says, points to a larger trend in computing of “the increasing sophistication in automatic language understanding and, now, language generation.”

As usual, the reason it’s impressive is that it works at all, not that it’s producing deathless prose. But, it seems like it would be a great tool for first pass writing, with a human cleaning it up afterward. Of course, at that point, the question of whose writing it is also starts to get very murky….

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