Will robots ever replace journalists?

In a matter of days, my son has moved from one end of the scale to another.

He was a waiter – a job where workers face a 90 per cent chance of being replaced by a robot in the next two decades.

Now he works in IT, where the risk rate has fallen to 22 per cent, according to new research.

But what about journalism?

According to the BBC’s interpretation of the Oxford University/Deloitte research, there is an eight per cent chance of an editor’s job being taken by a robot in the next 20 years. Writers and authors look even safer, although – irritatingly and tellingly – not as safe as PR managers.

Computer-generated copy is already being used in the USA for some business and sports reporting.

Interestingly, the limited research there has so far been suggests that some people actually trust the stuff written by computers more than the words carefully crafted by real life human beings.

I spend a fair bit of my time encouraging reporters to make their writing livelier, smoother and less predictable – with robotic pretty much a term of abuse.

The US experiment has shown that there might well be a place for very factual writing to be handed to a computer program.

But my football-loving son was aghast at the possibility of the expert match analysis, transfer speculation and tactical insight that he loves to devour being provided by anyone other than a real sentient reporter.

And so am I.

The very best writing comes from the heart – an organ that clearly neither robot nor computer possesses.

And it is also built on intangibles such as instinct and curiosity, as well as very personal qualities of empathy, determination and charm.

In the newspaper office where I was yesterday, I witnessed a news editor sensitively but effectively dealing with the moral minefield of funeral coverage, while two experienced reporters brandished battered contacts books which had been the passports to countless splashes.

It might be that robot writing has a veneer of impartiality and straightforwardness.

But real trust, real authority, and the real journalism that changes hearts and minds will always stem from real people.


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