Role of Writers in the Modern World

Machines are making people obsolete. Robots have already taken over jobs ranging from medical to legal. Imagine going into surgery and having no one around to hear your heartbeat because even the surgeon is a computer. Millions of jobs have been cut since the invention of robotics and more are set to disappear with more sophisticated computers.

But these machines will never be able to take over a process as human as writing, right? Wrong.

Automated Insights has invented a program called WordSmith that can write ten-thousand news articles in merely two minutes.  Scott Horsley, one of NPR’s top reporters, was challenged to a race. Horsley and WordSmith were assigned to write a story on the Denny’s quarterly report. Horsley won on style, playing with the words “grand slam” as a clever reference to both the company’s earnings and their most popular meal. But WordSmith beat him by five minutes and let’s not forget that while Horsley’s brain was 100% invested in the challenge, the computer was multitasking, pumping out thousands of other stories.

So, the computer can get the job done, but does it lack the style of professional writers? Automated Insights says that WordSmith’s style can be programed. In this situation, it had been told to mimic the detached style of the Associated Press. It can also be told to mimic the heart of a NPR story.

As student journalists, the idea of computers being trained as efficient writers both excites and terrifies us. It is undeniably amazing that a computer can surf the web for relevant information and compute a story. As aspiring journalists it is a bit intimidating to consider computers taking over the entry level stories usually assigned to beginning reporters.

Journalists have the ability to connect and make a relationship with the source, a bond, that makes the source spill the information of their lives. Computers do not.

Take for example, the controversial piece 60 Minutes did on the cigarette industry in 1996. Around this time, the industry was trying to deny the fact that nicotine was addictive. Former Brown & Williamson executive, Jeffrey Wigand, was featured on the show explaining that yes, nicotine was addictive and claiming that executives were hiding the truth from consumers. Wigand risked all to reveal the truth. As a result Americans were able to make more educated decisions about smoking.  Without the bond between Wigand and journalist Lowell Bergman, and the very human drive to work towards what is best for the American people, this story never would have seen the light of day. A computer will never be motivated by morals to dig into a story that has the potential to change society.

Also consider the impact documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, who ate at McDonald’s restaurants three times per day, eating every item on the chain’s menu at least once. Spurlock gained 24½ lbs. and experienced mood swings, sexual dysfunction, and fat accumulation in his liver. His aim was to call attention to the increasing spread of obesity. He argued that like tobacco, fast food is intentionally addictive and equally harmful to the Health of Americans. This film had a huge impact on the industry. In response to public outcry, fast food chains did away with the “super sized” options offered at check out and added healthier options like salads and fruit.

There is surely a place for computers. “Computers are going to take over from humans, no question. If we build these devices to take care of everything for us, eventually they’ll think faster than us and they’ll get rid of the slow humans to run companies more efficiently,” Steve Wozniak said in an interview with Paul Smith for Australian Financial Review.

For as long as anyone can remember, humans have been finding “easier” ways to do simple tasks. These solutions are found within the meandering wires of technology, and these wires have become the noose of creativity.

As writers in this modern world, it is our calling to be the collective memory of our people. To help drive others towards a more human approach to each other and the world. To consider how our words can help connect us and make us better. No computer will ever be able to do that.

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Educating students for more than 200 years.