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Automated Insights’ WordSmith challenges NPR’s finest to a writing race

As technology becomes more advanced, we become less relevant. Well, our jobs, that is. With the rise of automation and a growing dependence on computers, it sometimes feels as though no industry is truly safe from the all-powerful computer. Not even the most human task of all – communication. Tech company Automated Insights has developed a program called WordSmith that is capable of writing basic news stories at breakneck speeds. And last week, National Public Radio, the well-established bastion of journalism, put this new technology to the test.

Commissioning one of their fastest and finest, Scott Horsley (the White House correspondent), to a direct head-to-head competition with WordSmith, NPR wanted to see just how fast a computer really could be. The parameters of the race were simple – both would churn out a radio story based on Denny’s earnings report. The clock started once the report was released, and ended once one contestant finished writing.

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As impressive as Horsley’s time of seven minutes was, it was still more than three times longer than WordSmith, which finished the report in just two minutes. But that’s not all. While WordSmith was writing the Denny’s story, it also had the capacity to simultaneously write 9,999 other stories. And even the most accomplished of human multi-taskers would have to admit defeat to such overwhelming statistics.

But the rules of the competition weren’t based solely on speed. Rather, style and general eloquence (and let’s face it, sounding like a human being) were also taken into account. The following are excerpts the two finished products – can you guess which is which?

Denny’s Corporation on Monday reported first-quarter profit of $8.5 million. The Spartanburg, S.C.-based company said it had profit of 10 cents per share.

Denny’s Corporation notched a Grand Slam of its own in the first quarter, earning a better-than-expected 10 cents a share as restaurant sales jumped by more than 7 percent. The growth in sales suggests consumers are opening their pocketbooks for pancakes, eggs and hash browns.

If it wasn’t obvious, Horsley was responsible for the latter, and the computer for the former. The full excerpt of Horsley’s article was also more coherent than the robot, identifying and reporting relevant facts sooner and providing more context.

So while it was a no contest win for WordSmith in the efficiency department, stylistically, the human still holds an edge. Automated Insights did note to NPR that WordSmith could be programmed to write with a bit more flair in order to spruce up its bare bones approach, perhaps even throwing in a few jokes here and there. But for now, we’ll just have to rest assured that we homo sapiens still have something our computer counterparts don’t – a voice all our own.