This Chinese AI-powered robot wrote 58 stories in one day during the Olympics

By Souvik Das | Updated 9 Sept 2016
This Chinese AI-powered robot wrote 58 stories in one day during the Olympics
  • Efficiency that we humans may never reach.

Now that we are done marvelling at Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps’ unprecedented success at the Rio Olympics 2016, we’ve come across Xiaomingbot - an Artificial Intelligence-powered robot that was employed by a Chinese news syndication site, Toutiao. Amid increasing participation of artificially intelligent technology in our everyday lives, this AI robot achieved the incredible feat of publishing an average of 30 to 40 stories every day during the recently-concluded Rio Olympics 2016.

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Toutiao, a search engine and news syndication site based in China that reported an average of 530 million total users on its public WeChat account during August, is the co-inventor of Xiaomingbot along with Peking University. This is the first-ever robot to have written extensive news pieces on the universal sports extravaganza, and joins the ranks of AI robots doubling up as sports journalists with Heliograf, Washington Post’s AI bot that contributed with relevant game statistics on Twitter during the Olympic games.

Typically, Xiaomingbot’s stories were about 100 words in length. The bot has been particularly hailed for efficiency, accuracy of grammar and the speed of publishing the stories. For instance, its most-read story, on a Women’s Singles game of Badminton won by Wang Yihan of China, came out within two minutes after the end of the match and garnered over 50,000 views. On fewer occasions, Xiaomingbot also managed to produce longer stories stretching beyond 500 words, although these did not really prove to be popular.

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"On one particular day, it published a staggering 58 stories"

While this is yet another coup for the promoters of artificial intelligence, there remains great room for improvement. Despite the efficiency, Xiaomingbot has been criticised for the distinctly robotic tone of writing and overall bad prose. Upon translation and inspection, Xiaomingbot’s writing indeed seems rather mundane and dull. Nevertheless, where it lacked in flowing prose, it made up with its overall efficiency. On an average, Xiaomingbot published about 40 stories a day on the Olympic games, and on one particular day, it published a staggering 58 stories. On average human scale, even with practically unattainable efficiency, that is worth over 24 hours of work for a single human sports journalist.

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All of this has catapulted Xiaomingbot to the forefront of AI, much like IBM’s film trailer-making Watson or Google’s Go-winning AlphaGo. Xiaomingbot also reminds me of the Associated Press’ automated story bot, trained to publish stories on financial reports in a matter of minutes by implementation of deep learning networks. The automated writing system was trained with AP’s writing style to take the monotony of financial report stories away from manpower, leaving journalists free to tackle stories that require more personal involvement.

While I’m unquestionably impressed by how Xiaomington has fared (even with the robotic phrasing of words), I cannot help but be wary of a day in the future when my seat here will be severely challenged by a similar being.

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Souvik Das
The one that switches between BMWs and Harbour Line Second Class.
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