Robot journalist outwrites human sports reporter

Looks like it's game up for many sports reporters
By NPR Staff

A while back, All Things Considered brought you the story of a
breakthrough technology: the robot journalist.

Okay, so it's not really a robot. It's actually a software program.
You feed it data, it processes that data, and it spits out a news
story putting those numbers you gave it into context — just like you'd
see in your local newspaper.

In the beginning, it was used exclusively for sports stories and a lot
of people were skeptical — namely, real-life sports journalists.

"I always imagine kind of the robot you imagined in the third grade
with the boxy body and the antennae arms, standing in front of a
keyboard," says Emma Carmichael, a writer for the sports website
Deadspin. She and her colleagues at Deadspin took a few digs at the
idea, and this spring, when they came across a particularly bad
account of a baseball game on the official George Washington
University athletics website,, they assumed it was

The University of Virginia's Will Roberts had pitched a perfect game
against George Washington. The story on neglected to
mention that fact until the second-to-last paragraph. "That was
shocking," Carmichael says. "This was the first time this had happened
in the NCAA since 2002. And when it happens, you expect to see it in
the headline and you expect to see everyone talking about that aspect
of the game."

The writer of that story — it turns out — was a living, breathing
human being. But the creators of Narrative Science, a news-writing
software program, took Deadspin's assumption as fighting words. They
set out to prove that their system could produce a better story.

"We actually got hold of the information director of the school, we
got the raw material, the numbers around the story," said Kris
Hammond, chief technology officer of Narrative Science. "And we fed it
to our system, which wrote the story, where the headline and the lead
were focused on the fact that it was a no-hitter. Because how could
you write a baseball story and not notice that it was a no hitter? I
mean what kind of writer or machine would you be?"

And, here's the machine-generated copy Narrative Science sent in to
Deadspin: "Tuesday was a great day for W. Roberts, as the junior
pitcher threw a perfect game to carry Virginia to a 2-0 victory over
George Washington at Davenport Field. Twenty-seven Colonials came to
the plate and the Virginia pitcher vanquished them all, pitching a
perfect game. He struck out 10 batters while recording his momentous
feat. Roberts got Ryan Thomas to ground out for the final out of the

Tom Gately came up short on the rubber for the Colonials, recording a
loss. He went three innings, walked two, struck out one, and allowed
two runs. The Cavaliers went up for good in the fourth, scoring two
runs on a fielder's choice and a balk."

Deadspin conceded. It published a follow-up saying that — in this case
— the machine did write the better story.

"The image of the robots typing wins me over for sure," says
Carmichael. "And on top of that, in some cases, as we've seen with
Narrative Science's story, they actually can produce the stronger

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