When A.I. takes over, editors-in-chief will be the first to go

The thought that computers are and can be ‘intelligent’ seems to become more and more commonsensical. The same goes for the rising fear of our intelligent counterparts taking over human jobs. Is the human journalist turning into an endangered species as well?

Looking at journalism, a recent and impactful technological development is web analytics: “the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of Internet data for the purposes of understanding and optimizing web usage.” (Digital Analytics Association 2008, 3). Through web analytics, journalists know their audiences better than ever before. Following, Dutch newspapers use web analytics to determine which articles ‘work’ and which do not.

Looking from a technological deterministic stance, this would be a very clear example of technology (web analytics) determining the behaviour of journalists.

Obviously, this is just the beginning. Today, the computer shows the numbers to the journalists, and the journalist still gets to deduce which are the hot topics, or what kind of headlines draw readers the best. With current A.I. development, however, and again from the technological deterministic viewpoint, it seems only logical to state that it is only a matter of time before this ‘deductive role’ of the human will taken over by computers just as well. With a few upgrades, updates and enhancements, the software will be more knowledgeable and sophisticated at telling us which stories are really hot, and what headline really works the best.

Let’s distinguish modern journalistic practice into three stages: analysing readers behaviour (1), choosing topics / stories (2) and creating content (3). Today, (1) is done already by computers, while (2) and (3) still remain in the hands of, respectively, the editor-in-chief and reporters. Future A.I. development will make editors-in-chiefs – in their classical determinative sense – the first to get sacked. By that time, some human imagination will still come in handy to actually write the stories, but having a human decide what’s relevant? That will be so 2017.

Maarten van Gestel

Literature: Tandoc, Edson C., and Ryan J. Thomas. “The Ethics of Web Analytics.” Digital Journalism 3.2 (2015): 243–258. Taylor and Francis+NEJM. Web.


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