back to article I, ROBOT ~ YOU, MORON. How else will automated news work?

They want to replace me with a robot. This is an excellent idea. In a world of unlimited connected information, it’s about time that the middleman stopped getting in the way. Things happen, facts materialise, they end up online, then you read them. Simple, really. What’s a journalist for? Even better, El Reg commentards will …


  1. x 7

    Alistair Dabbs? I always though his articles were already written by a robot. A robot named Marvin

    1. TheOtherHobbes

      Or maybe Roomba - picking up trivia, going around in circles, and always giving itself a plug.

    2. Spikehead

      Someone beat me to the robot comparison. I was going to go for a different angle. Maybe a robot generated article will be a better read. All AD's articles are conceited egotistical drivel. Don't think I've got past the first paragraph of any of his pieces without thinking "Jeez, what a moron!"

      1. Alistair Dabbs

        Re: egotistical drivel

        Thumbs up from me. I'd complain to your MP if I were you.

      2. Corinne

        "Don't think I've got past the first paragraph of any of his pieces without thinking "Jeez, what a moron!""

        So why do you keep on reading, and spend even more effort in posting that you think this?

        1. gkroog


          everyone MUST KNOW what he thinks, and why he's so much better than the author of the column.

    3. TitterYeNot

      "A robot named Marvin"

      Dabbsy? Marvin? Shirley not, he's far too chipper for someone with a terrible pain in all the diodes down his left side...

    4. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      A robot named Marvin

      More like a passive-agressive version of R2D2.


      1. P. Lee

        >> A robot named Marvin

        >More like a passive-agressive version of R2D2.

        I was thinking, Number 5.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    auto task list

    1. Implement robot journalism

    2. Get invited to cover Apple events

    3. ???

    4. Jamaican retirement

    1. Primus Secundus Tertius

      Re: auto task list

      Dartmoor retirement, more like it. (An infamous British prison.)

  3. Ketlan

    Robo-penpushers of the world unit

    You been reading The Tin Men by Michael Frayn, Dabbsy? It takes robo-journalism to dizzying heights (and is bloody funny, too).

    1. Kubla Cant
      Thumb Up

      Re: Robo-penpushers of the world unit

      Upvoted. Everyone ought to read The Tin Men for robotics and academic infighting, and Towards the End of the Morning for journalism.

  4. Pete 2 Silver badge

    To inform or to entertain?

    What do people want from their "news"?

    If we watch TV news, it's pretty clear that the primary goal is simply to keep viewers watching. This is done by a combination of vivid (lurid?) images - sometimes inserted more for their shock value than to convey information (though in factual programmes almost NO information comes from the video stream: just turn away from the picture and you STILL get the whole, errr, "picture" - the same cannot be said for turning the sound off). And to keep viewers from switching over with promises of stories about loss (since fear of loss is probably the greatest motivator of all), hints about celebs and other small furry animals and SPORT. Just keep watching the boring stuff about bad things happening in far away countries, and we'll get to the juicy stuff ... after the break.

    For newspapers, the intention seems to be to push a point of view (and also to get them to watch the advertisements). Since the article uses The Guardian's Comment is Free monicker (it's not BTW. It's very heavily censored, as any commentard who even suggests that their angry-women columnists might only be using a selected version of the facts) we can use their text as examples. The Gruaniad''s pieces appear to be (very carefully) crafted to encourage clickage, attract eyeballs and generally maximise advertisement revenue. They do this by putting their own political slant on their pieces - which one wouldn't really call "journalism".

    If you want "information" from the news media, then the simple way is simply to skim the headlines. In most cases this tells you all that is known about a breaking story. The rest of the piece being merely guesswork, conjecture or a rehash of what people on twitter are saying about it. Google News does this very well - and it's so quick to use. It also seems that journo's are writing their stories to be GN friendly, with all the facts in the first sentence or 2.

    Understanding and background can be found. But that usually requires the "expert" to arrive. So for depth regarding stories, one generally has to wait a day or two. But by then it's all been forgotten and the next set of 140-character news-bites has washed away any important but dull stores and we're back to cats playing with celebs (or what colour is a dress) again.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: To inform or to entertain?

      I don't even want to be informed anymore.

      I̳̖̻̙͖͉̳ ̵̘̗͚̥̮J̮U͓̲̪̖̕S͉̬̲͙T̵̫͖̟͔̼ ͎͈̥̹̫͡W͈A͜N̻͓̙̻T̛̙̪͈̜̻ ̗̤̳͕͟T̢͚O̬̻̗͍̙ ̴̺̖̟̖ͅC̻͍͇̝̝͈̺O͚̪͚̖̲͔̟͢N̴̺̙̭͕̪S̪͜Ù͓͍̙M̜͈͉̘͎̕E̸̘̜͈̯ ̤̮̬͕̗͞R̥͍͔͔̰̣͚͞A̞̤̗W ͙̣̭̠̯̼̕ͅD͖͠AT̪͔͔̬Á̫̟̮̟̘

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: To inform or to entertain?

      I'm not sure if you're paid to promote Google News or are just a bit short in the logic department, but to me, a headline grabber is not exactly unbiased either, exactly because they need to make a choice for each event they report.

      If Google News chooses, for instance a Guardian headline over that of, say, The Times, you already have prioritised one spin over another. Given that Google is also a business selling stuff I can well imaging that the magic algorithms behind Google's selection also have a particular lean to one side.

      Personally, if I find a story I'm interested in I try to read all the available coverage, not just from one source, and where possible I try to get as close to the original story to gather all the facts - and after that I will make my own interpretation. That still doesn't guarantee I have a complete view, but it gets me closer to what is really happening. Google News certainly is not part of that process, any more than Huffington Post is (to name another aggregator).

      1. Havin_it

        @AC Re: To inform or to entertain?

        >If Google News chooses, for instance a Guardian headline over that of, say, The Times[...]

        ...then it's of little consequence, because grouped right next to it are all the other articles that (appear to) cover the same story. This is exactly why GN is my go-to for digging into a story: you're never more than a couple of clicks away from every single article they can find on the subject, and (this point is subjective, but hey) I've never gotten the sense that the "minority report" was omitted, or buried way down the list. It's pretty much always there among the first few, if it exists.

        Yes, they are prioritising the sources, but AFAICT they're mainly doing so to appeal to your perceived preferences/bias based on their tracking data. (I've commentarded about this very thing in the last week or so.) This has its own risks if you are not alert to it, of course (essentially a positive feedback loop), but you can hardly blame them for prioritising the stuff they think you're most likely to want to read (and thus click on).

        None of this prevents you digging deeper by yourself of course, as I'd expect a meat-sack journalist to do, but I'm just a lazy current affairs maven with limited time on my hands and I can't count the number of times I've read the first article about something, formed an opinion, and been very glad I also examined the other half-dozen versions at the top of GN before I started fulminating a load of underinformed bollocks all over the intertubes.

        @Pete 2: Dabbsy already addressed your point about journos writing "for" GN, but it's always amusing to see when this has been unintentionally thwarted by the webmonkeys. For example, the scraped "summary" often contains the text of an advert that precedes the rubric, or the caption of the unnecessarily large and semantically irrelevant header image (well done on dodging that one, ElReg!).

        My favourite at the moment is the Independent, where the scraped thumbnail is usually not from the article, but from the annoying tangentially-related-sometimes image slideshow they shove in half way down the rubric: witness an article about human rights abuses adorned with a pic of some grinning Japanese chaps emptying buckets of snow over their semi-naked selves (new season of Takeshi's Castle filming, I surmise). Great fun.

        As to TFA, I think Dabbsy's overlooked the very virtue of robojournos: they have no bias apart from what is programmed into them. They also can't be bribed or coerced to spike or misrepresent a story, so actually they could make better investigative journos than any meatbag. Above all, they bring a standard of scepticism that no human can match: something they are told is either provably true, or it isn't. They can, if they're allowed, flag the article with "This could all be utter bullshit, by the way."

        So it comes down to ownership, just as with the fleshies. If we could set up an open-source aggregator/miner bot with smart enough algos and somehow guarantee that it was neither tampered with by its masters nor could be hoodwinked into accepting lies as facts (now there's a challenge), I'd read it.

    3. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      Re: To inform or to entertain?

      Amen to all of that, Pete 2. The unvarnished truth in all of its naked glory.

      But such has been long enough well enough known ......

      I'm not upset that you lied to me, I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche

      "All news is lies and all propaganda is disguised as news."-- Willi Munzenberg

      The most dangerous man, to any government, is the man who is able to think things out for himself…Almost inevitably, he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane, and intolerable.”—H.L. Mencken, American journalist

      And now added to the mix for a future fix?!:-) ..... It is the absolute right of the State to supervise the formation of public opinion. …… Joseph Goebbels ….. and to mentor and monitor ITs phormation of programs and projects for Global Operating Devices for Remote Command and Virtual Control of Manipulative Systems be a Quantum Leap for Man and Giant Step for Mankind in CyberIntelAIgent Fields of SMARTR Exploitation and Alien Exploration in Systems of Operation. ... amfM [1406090157]

    4. Alistair Dabbs

      Re: To inform or to entertain?

      It also seems that journo's are writing their stories to be GN friendly, with all the facts in the first sentence or 2.

      That's just how news is written. It has nothing to do with online: newspapers have been doing this since their invention.

      1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        To inform or to entertain with a statement of fact

        Words create and control and collapse worlds, Alistair Dabbs, and media has to decide what puppets and muppets it is going to support and collude with.

        And that aint no question. It is what exclusive executive sysadmins are battling and losing against spectacularly.

    5. Compression Artifact

      Re: To inform or to entertain?

      It's not just the news. I've seen a lot of one-hour science documentaries that are just animated computer graphics infotainment with actual content that could be explained in about two minutes.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    the software review turned out to be a word-for-word copy from the back of the box. Really, we ought to have seen this coming: the same writer had previously sent in a review of an OCR package, so he probably didn’t even need to retype the blurb by hand.

    Hahaha - love it :).

  6. John Miles

    Don't worry not long after we'll be getting something like Douglas Adams' Electronic Monk ( ) to read the news for us, so it'll be robots commenting you've wasted their time.

  7. Elmer Phud

    Robo-Journo? Easy

    If that pile of poo known as 'Wordle' is used to collect the most significant words and phrases used on newsgroups and the like, then takes a selection of the most frequent, it should be relatively simple to connect the words and phrases together in a load of blather that resembles red-top 'reporting'.

    Oh, hang on.

    'populist' soundbites used to construct 'news' items.

    that'd be Faux News, the Scum or the Fail.

  8. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "And Those Initial Capitals Are Annoying"

    But not as ANNOYING AS THESE

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      No, titles written using initial capitals are more annoying because the yanks don't know what title case is.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        What is title case?

    2. Havin_it
      Thumb Up

      Doc, I'd upvote you ^65535 if I could.

      But I CAN'T!


  9. jonathanb Silver badge

    "The public offering of Amalgamated Durables hit a peak of £2.79 at launch."

    You need to reprogramme your robot to tell it that UK share prices are quoted as 279p unlike the rest of the world, unless of course you want to send the hedge funds' automomated trading bots into panic mode because they think it has crashed to 2.79p (£0.0279).

  10. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Automated News Works to XSSXXXX is a Novel HyperRadioProActive Market Weapon

    This is posted earlier elsewhere but is an indication of the the way things have gone and will be, but whether something to risk life savings on, well that is quite another trillion dollar question.

    amanfromMars … Sat, 02/28/2015 - 00:34 having a say on

    Is Ray Dalio's $165 billion AUM hedge fund Bridgewater, the new Dennis Montgomery eTreppid Technologies wannabe, and a right dodgy vapourware vendor supremo of Ponzi markets? ........

    1. auburnman

      Re: Automated News Works to XSSXXXX is a Novel HyperRadioProActive Market Weapon

      I like how our resident robot has strong opinions on robots writing news. Can't tell what those opinions are, but I guess that's par for the course.

  11. Zog_but_not_the_first

    Start with something simple

    You could write the Daily Mail using robots. Actually, you could do it with little more than basic organic matter.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Start with something simple -You could write the Daily Mail using robots.

      But not with Asimov's robots because that would violate their directive to do no harm to people.

  12. Pisartis

    "it sets out to identify the moronic gullibility of social network users rather than catch liars in the act of making speeches in the House."

    Spotting liars in the House is easy though - the robot just has to identify moving lips.

    But then, identifying moronic gullibility on social networks should also be easy. Spotting intelligence and erudition there, now that's tricky!

    1. Primus Secundus Tertius

      Lying recognition

      I gather computer scientists have proved that it is impossible to write a program that will accurately recognise another program as a virus - some kind of extension to Turing's Halting Theorem.

      I conjecture (like a mathematician; scientists hypothesise) that it is equally impossible to recognise every kind of lying.

    2. Alistair Dabbs

      But then, identifying moronic gullibility on social networks should also be easy. Spotting intelligence and erudition there, now that's tricky!

      I thought Leonard Nimoy's final tweet was nice.

  13. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    The robots are amongst us

    Long ago my job used to involve taking laboratory results which needed to be interpreted in probabilistic terms and try to express these so than non-experts could appreciate the nuances involved. A colleague and I had a standing joke about writing a program which could be fed the data & generate reports in terms such as "not entirely inconsistent with" or "guilty as charged".

    As part of my great escape plan I had a job interview with an agency that used psychological tests in using forms consisting of statements & check boxes for reactions. The interviewer took the results into a back room, fed them into an optical mark reader & returned with the resulting profile written in narrative form just as we'd joked about.

    What I'd like to find now is a sort of reverse Turing test, one which will tell the difference between a call centre agent and a badly programmed bot.

    1. cosymart

      Re: The robots are amongst us

      "What I'd like to find now is a sort of reverse Turing test, one which will tell the difference between a call centre agent and a badly programmed bot."

      Simple, I can understand what a badly programmed bot is saying.

  14. Sarah Balfour
    Thumb Up



    There, FTFY.

    And I likes a bit of Kraftwerk, I does.

    I've often found myself wishing I was Kryten, so I could swap heads if the current one quit functioning. My head often quits functioning. It'd be nice to be able to replace it occasionally. M

    Although, at the mo, I need a new body, too…

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Football…

      %s/ball/replica of an inflated pig's bladder/

    2. MondoMan

      Re: Kraftwerk

      I, for one, would welcome editorial meetings that were thinly-disguised retro Kraftwerk concerts!

    3. Havin_it

      Re: Football…



      (Credit: Charlie Brooker I think)

      I humbly submit that there are plenty of sports journalists, not to mention fans, pundits, stewards, etc... who feel exactly that way about football alone. It's not sport, it's Monopoly with tin scottie-dogs that fall over by themselves but only run if you buy them a Park Lane mansion.

  15. PhilipN Silver badge

    Robo-journalism? Bring it on!

    I do not see why anyone should be wary of AI. Look at the World. Human "intelligence" is a bloody sight scarier.

  16. Stevie


    Beep beep error beep

  17. VeganVegan

    It wouldn't bother me if robots wrote the news

    I have a robot web crawler gather the news from all over the place, and try to summarize the trawl.

    This is all for chuckles anyway, because I never look at the results.

    I'm down at the pub having a good time. You humans out there, care to join me for a brew?

  18. Chris G

    Humaniform uniform

    I am pretty certain that much of the world is already being run by bosses who are humaniform robots, it's just a shame the programming is such crap.

    They tend to spout the same old rubbish day in and day out as if they are stuck in a loop, still, I suppose that would work well for 99% of the news.

  19. ecofeco Silver badge

    It had to be said

    Skynet became self-aware on August 4th, 1997

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: It had to be said

      The feel when that was nearly 20 years ago.


  20. SysKoll

    Why go back to Nixon?


    Did you already forget the famous "if you like your plan, you can keep it" uttered about 30 times by Obama, right as he was working to dismantle existing health insurance plans? I think a robot would have remembered...

    1. Alistair Dabbs

      Re: Why go back to Nixon?

      I was looking for old and new non-contentious examples. That Nixon lied his head off while sending young Americans to their death is a matter of public record, as is blatant truth-bending by Britain's chief accountant. Opinions on Obama's healthcare stumbles, however, remain politically loaded and open to interpretation


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