A Human-less Wonder – by “Emily R”

Monkey on a Keyboard
Image courtesy of the New York Zoological Society

Did you ever hear that theory about how if you give a bunch of monkeys long enough on a keyboard they’ll eventually type Shakespeare? Well, it may not be Shakespeare, but the guys at StatSheet.com have found a way to give us in-depth sports coverage of hundreds of sports teams… sans writers.

How? According to a New York Times interview with founder Robbie Allen, the guys at StatSheet have developed a computer algorithm that can analyze statistical data on a game and turn it into charts and even articles, all in real time as a game is being played. The amazing thing about this model is just how productive it can be: the nine-person StatSheet staff claims to churn out articles at a rate of 10,000/month. Altogether this means up-to-date coverage on 347 teams, and still growing.

Why care? Well, while Mr. Allen touts the site’s ability to cover teams that have essentially never been covered before, I worry about the implications that this sort of human-less writing can have for our future. Wasn’t it only several years ago that Thomas Friedman was telling us in The Lexus and the Olive Tree the famous T.J. Rogers quote:

So, in the information age we’re supposed to get ahead by taking jobs that use our brainpower, but now sites like StatSheet.com have found ways to make one’s brainpower irrelevant, too? Yes I know that this technology will surely require programmers, and I do applaud Mr. Allen’s entrepreneurship, but how comfortable can we be with a new technology capable of edging out humans in a brainpower-intensive field? It may be limited to just sports today, but is it such a leap to imagine armies of computer journalists worldwide?

Just to be sure, I took the liberty of checking out StatSheet’s Yale “Handsome Nation” page. The verdict? Well, a quick preview of the Yale vs. Hartford basketball game yields a 138 word blurb that, while it definitely reads like human writing, comes off a bit stilted and with a series of too-short sentences. Phew. I guess it isn’t Shakespeare, yet.

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