An Algorithm Wrote The LA Times Story About The City’s Earthquake Aftershock Today

As reporters around the country scrambled to push out stories on early-morning earthquakes that awoke southern California, The LA Times had a machine write its piece. “This information comes from the USGS Earthquake Notification Service and this post was created by an algorithm written by the author,” explained the news story, posted 20 minutes after the USGS registered a 2.7 aftershock that hit Westwood.

“Algorithms can help you find and report the news,” LA Times reporter Ben Welsh told about a similar earthquake piece last year. “You can write code that will ask and answer the common questions that a reporter would ask when looking at that same dataset.”

As artificial intelligence becomes more sophisticated, automation is increasingly coming after jobs that require higher-order thinking. Algorithmic journalism has been relatively limited to simple plug-in-play stories, such as sports scores, financial press releases, or natural events.

“That’s not to say that computer-generated stories will remain in the margins, limited to producing more and more Little League write-ups and formulaic earnings previews,” explained a blog post on the futurist, Ray Kurzweil’s, website. Google’s Eric Schmidt also warned a crowd at SXSW last week that robots will probably replace most jobs that aren’t related to “creativity and caring” — including reporters.

Perhaps most importantly, an algorithm doesn’t stop in the middle of a news story to hide under a desk: