bibliofeminista:

Forbes has joined a group of 30 clients using Narrative Science software to write computer-generated stories.

Here’s more about the program, used in one corner of Forbes‘ website: “Narrative Science has developed a technology solution that creates rich narrative content from data. Narratives are seamlessly created from structured data sources and can be fully customized to fit a customer’s voice, style and tone. Stories are created in multiple formats, including long form stories, headlines, Tweets and industry reports with graphical visualizations.”

The New York Times revealed last year that trade publisher Hanley Wood and sports journalism site The Big Ten Network also use the tool. In all, 30 clients use the software–but Narrative Science did not disclose the complete client list.

…The Narrative Science technology could potentially impact many corners of the writing trade. The company has a long list of stories they can computerize: sports stories, financial reports, real estate analyses, local community content, polling & elections, advertising campaign summaries sales & operations reports and market research.

Here’s an excerpt from a Forbes earnings preview story about Barnes & Noble, written by the computer program:

While company shares have dropped 17.2% over the last three months to close at $13.72 on February 15, 2012, Barnes & Noble (BKS) is hoping it can break the slide with solid third quarter results when it releases its earnings on Tuesday, February 21, 2012.

What to Expect: The Wall Street consensus is $1.01 per share, up 1% from a year ago when Barnes & Noble reported earnings of $1 per share.

The consensus estimate is down from three months ago when it was $1.42, but is unchanged over the past month. Analysts are projecting a loss of $1.09 per share for the fiscal year.

The company originated with two electrical engineering and computer science professors at Northwestern University. Here’s more about the company: “[It began with] a software program that automatically generates sports stories using commonly available information such as box scores and play-by-plays. The program was the result of a collaboration between McCormick and Medill School of Journalism.

To create the software, Hammond and Birnbaum and students working in McCormick’s Intelligent Information Lab created algorithms that use statistics from a game to write text that captures the overall dynamic of the game and highlights the key plays and players. Along with the text is an appropriate headline and a photo of what the program deems as the most important player in the game.”

This, to me, is more game-changing for the publishing industry than all of the innovations in e-books and e-readers combined. Think of genres (like bodice rippers and some sci-fi or children’s books) could be written with some basic narrative inputs! Think of sports recaps or breaking news stories that could easily be generated with a few inputs! 

I’m not saying this is ideal, because I can certainly see there would be a large margin of error with any program like this (not even touching on the whole job loss issue and fact that these stories would lose the “human” touch of writing and much personal opinion), but it’s interesting to see how programs like this will play out in the future.

Just imagining this getting applied to genre writing, like fantasy, is scary. Hopefully it won’t put writers out of business!