Artificial intelligence can’t solve every problem in the media, but it can take care of these

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Machine learning and Artificial Intelligence are slowly but surely getting ahead in some newsrooms around the world, but how are they effectively shaping the life of one of the biggest news agencies in the world?

Francesco Marconi, Manager of Strategy and Corporate Development at the Associated Press in New York focuses on media strategy in Virtual Reality, Artificial Intelligence and Data. He will be part of the panel ‘It’s raining bots: Four best practices to make the most of automation’ with co-panelists David Alandete, Managing Editor of El País, Robert Unsworth from News Republic, with moderator Noriko Tagikuchi of, discussing the involvement of machine learning in personalised news, at the GEN Summit 2017 in Vienna, 21–23 June.

©Associated Press

How do you see Artificial intelligence and immersive technologies shape the future of news?

Streamlining workflows, taking out grunt work, crunching more data, digging out insights and generating additional outputs are just a few of the mega-wins that have resulted from putting smart machines to work in the service of journalism.

Artificial intelligence can enable journalists to analyse data; identify patterns, trends and actionable insights from multiple sources; see things that the naked eye can’t see; turn data and spoken words into text; text into audio and video; understand sentiment; analyse scenes for objects, faces, text or colours — and more.

Broadly speaking, AI promises to reap many big rewards for journalism in the years to come. Greater speed, accuracy, scale and diversity of coverage are just some of the results media organisations are already seeing.

A robotic camera used by The Associated Press to capture unique images from angles not normally seen by the public.

How will immersive technologies and AI affect a publication’s business model or strategy?

These technologies are opening up new territories and changing journalism in ways no one might have predicted even a few years ago. And they arrive at a time when journalists and media companies are searching for new solutions to the challenges that the digital revolution has imposed on the news business. Not only is it imperative to save time and money in an era of shifting economics, but at the same time, you need to find ways to keep pace with the growing scale and scope of the news itself.

However, Artificial intelligence can’t solve every problem. As the technology evolves, it will certainly allow for more precise analyses, but there will always be challenges the technology can’t overcome.

Francesco Marconi

What type of automation can be used optimally in a newsroom? Is there any resistance in adopting these?

AI enables the automation of repetitive tasks such as writing news articles that follow a very “templated” structure. The Associated Press is currently automating earning reports as well as sports articles. We have increased our output by 10x and reduced the error rate.

AI can also enable journalists to sift through large corpuses of data, text, images and videos. We recently teamed up with MIT to analyse twitter data pertaining to the American public’s response to US President Donald Trump.

From the Associated Press

In addition to increasing news coverage (automation) and extract hidden insights from data (augmentation), AI can improve processes such as automatically tag photos, generate captions for videos and even deploy AI powered cameras to capture angles not easily available to journalists (which AP did during the Olympics)

This new wave of technological innovation is no different than any other that has come before it. Success still relies on how human journalists implement these new tools. Artificial intelligence is man-made, meaning that all the ethical, editorial and economic influences considered when producing traditional news content still apply in this new age of augmented journalism.

To best leverage and responsibly use artificial intelligence in news, the first step is to understand the technology itself.

How best to use machine learning and automation for news?

Tip 1: Be aware that when technology changes, journalism doesn’t. Artificial intelligence can help augment journalism, but it will never replace journalism. AI might aid in the reporting process, but journalists will always need to put the pieces together and construct a digestible, creative narrative.

Tip 2: Journalists can best leverage AI once they understand the technology. Artificial intelligence is complicated, and there are many ways it can be implemented in a newsroom, but just like any other technology, the more you know about a tool, the more effectively you can use it.

Tip 3: There are ethical considerations inherent in journalism’s use of AI. Again, just because the tools of journalism change, that doesn’t mean the rules of journalism change. As AI works its way into newsrooms, it is important to adhere to our existing standards and ethics.

What trends do you see arise in new technologies for journalism?

These are some of the key trends (these are not in any rank order):

  • Trend 1: Conversational interfaces and distribution of news across voice enabled devices such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home.
  • Trend 2: Utilise blockchain technology to protect and monitor digital content and intellectual property.
  • Trend 3: Messaging bots and automated push alerts to engage readers on platforms such as Whatsapp and Facebook messenger
  • Trend 4: Over the top video and distribution to new platforms such as Netflix, HBO, Hulu and other major video portals.
  • Trend 5: Emergence of micro-payments and new paid subscription models as a key monetisation strategy.
A VR experience by the Associated Press

What are the most exciting or outstanding VR/MR/AR or AI news projects or initiatives you have seen recently?

Cortico is a nonprofit in collaboration with the MIT Media Lab that applies artificial intelligence and media analytics to map and analyse the public sphere.

In AI, the Associated Press collaborated with Cortico, a media analytics nonprofit recently launched from the Laboratory for Social Machines at the MIT Media Lab, to analyse a large dataset of tweets related to the first 100 days of the new administration using machine learning techniques. The result of this collaboration between AP journalism and MIT data scientists proved both fascinating and insightful, ultimately allowing for a better understanding of President Trump’s activities on Twitter and the subsequent public response to those activities.

In VR, we recently produced an immersive experience exploring invasive species including specific types of insects, venomous fish and reptiles. This virtual reality experience is hosted on the web and enables participants to explore how non-native species cost the world hundreds of billions of dollars a year. This story also explores how creative, high tech techniques may finally be turning the tide, however, with tools like underwater tasers, electrified nets and robots that zap and vacuum up venomous lionfish.

About Francesco Marconi

Francesco Marconi is AP’s strategy manager and co-lead on automation and AI. He is also a fellow at Columbia’s Tow Center and an affiliate researcher at MIT Media Lab. He will be publishing his new book, Live Like Fiction, this July by Frontier Press. The book is a guide about finding purpose and inspiration through storytelling.

Artificial intelligence can’t solve every problem in the media, but it can take care of these was originally published in Global Editors Network on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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