Sports stories written by algorithm

Have you suspected for some time that most writing about sporting events is formulaic? Well, suspect no more! It is possible to have a computer write a sports story merely from the box score.

No seriously. It is.

And there is some pretty interesting business economics in that example. Some professors from Northwestern figured out how to get a computer algorithm to write a story about a sporting event, like a baseball game, merely from the minimal statistics, like a box score. It is described in this article.

Now, seriously, there are two ways to read this article, and one of them is substantially more right than the other. The first interpretation would foresee a massive replacement of sports writers with computers, a.k.a. the substitution of computing for labor. The second interpretation would foresee the growth of a new service, the creation of stories for events that previously did not receive them — such as local high school games.

I think we will see more of the latter in the next few years.

First of all, the computers do not yet employ that extra verve or wordplay or attitude that makes for great sports writing. Someday computers may be able to imitate human sarcasm and punning and passion, but not yet, not whimsically. So the best sports writers are in no danger of losing their uniqueness, the voice that gives their writing value. Second, there is considerable demand for the second type of service. There are lots of sporting events played all over the country. A routine sports story would enhance a web page, and add just a nice element to a summary. Lots of places will pay ten dollars for that (which is what the price is today), and that price will decline with time.

Think about it: Much of sporting news follows a routine canon, a contest with ups and downs and comebacks and heroism and more. These are played out every day on high school playgrounds and in many others places, but the only stories ever written are those written in the heads of the right fielder. Now we have another source.

Onward to a new form of journalism!

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