Technology

Teaching robots how to write

Reporters at Aftonbladet have been producing articles for close to 188 years. Now comes one of the biggest revolutions in the history of Schibsted. From now on robots will write and offer readers hundreds of articles every day. Sweden’s biggest media house is increasing its service to readers with this latest technology.

A text robot will be producing content for the coverage of traffic and weather in addition to creating texts for the football coverage in the section Sportbladet. This project is carried out in cooperation with United Robots, which is leading in artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language generation (NLG) in producing publishable articles using large data sources.

The new service will work as a complement to the traditional journalistic work and will create content to an extent never reached before at Aftonbladet. The automated writing of texts means that there is no limit to how many texts can be produced in a day. Furthermore, the automatically written articles can mean more time for the paper’s reporters to concentrate on the biggest and most important stories as the robot deals with more mundane matters.

The first section to use the new technique will be the reporting on traffic and weather together with football pieces. The traffic robot will produce articles about situations and warnings from roads all over the country and report estimated delays that follow. Together with the texts, the robot will send a satellite picture highlighting trouble spots.

Taught by journalists

But how can the robot tell us what is happening on the roads of Sweden?

This is how it works:

  • An incident or a blockage occurs.
  • The state-run Swedish Transport Administration (Trafikverket) sends data to the robot containing facts such as type of incident, number of vehicles involved, GPS coordinates and at what time the road is estimated to be clear again.
  • The robot creates a text using the wording it has been “taught” by Afton­bladet journalists to sound as natural as possible. In order for the texts to be varied, the robot can describe the same incident in several different ways.
  • The text is filed to Aftonbladet and is automatically published on aftonbladet.se. When there is a major incident, a push notification can be automatically sent.

As for the weather reporting, the service is based on warnings issued by the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute (SMHI). With the help of the robot service, Aftonbladet will be able to provide more content and a wider coverage. That means better opportunities to personalize products and, with geo positioning, increasing possibility of giving readers relevant information. The robot can also facilitate the work in the newsroom by issuing alerts drawing attention to major events such as accidents with several vehicles involved. Algorithms will analyze all the available data looking for deviations, connections and events that could lead to a wide coverage and alert the newsroom.

When the whistle blows

Text robots were used already in the spring of 2018 as Sportbladet increased the depth and width of its Premiere League reporting. Traditionally, the coverage in Sportbladet has consisted of live reporting from matches together with texts, mainly about the top teams. With the help of the robot, and with its global sports data source Sportradar, Sportbladet can now publish articles at the moment the referee blows the final whistle – from every game that has been played.

Together with TV highlights from Viasat and match facts from Sportbladet’s goal service, it gives the reader the chance to read about his or her team’s match instantly. “With all the deep data we have from major leagues such as Premiere League, the robot knows a lot about what has happened during the match”, says Sports Editor Pontus Carlgren. “That, together with the speed a robot offers, gives our coverage a new dimension.

Thanks to the possibility to subscribe to texts through the follow function on the site, supporters won’t miss a single article about their team”, Carlgren says, adding that “The fact that the robot produces texts that are finished at the final blow of the whistle,will give our knowledgeable reporters and columnists more time to work on thought-through articles and columns for the benefit of our readers.”

NAME: Michael Poromaa

TITLE: Managing Editor, Aftonbladet

YEARS IN SCHIBSTED: 20

I LOOK FORWARD TO: Our weather robot starting to report on the winter and snow.