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Computer Journalism Start-Up Narrative Science Featured in New York Times

Narrative Science, the company started by two McCormick professors that uses a computer program to automatically generate news stories, was featured in an article in the New York Times.

“(The program) offers proof of the progress of artificial intelligence — the ability of computers to mimic human reasoning,” the article states.

The company was started by Kris Hammond, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, and Larry Birnbaum, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science, to commercialize their program Stats Monkey, 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.

“The innovative work at Narrative Science raises the broader issue of whether such applications of artificial intelligence will mainly assist human workers or replace them,” the article states. “Technology is already undermining the economics of traditional journalism. Online advertising, while on the rise, has not offset the decline in print advertising. But will “robot journalists” replace flesh-and-blood journalists in newsrooms?”

Hammond said he has high hopes for the technology.

“In five years,” he says, “a computer program will win a Pulitzer Prize — and I’ll be damned if it’s not our technology.”