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A real reporter raced a computer. Can you spot the difference?

A real reporter raced a computer. Can you spot the difference?
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For at least two centuries, humans and machines have been battling. From John Henry vs. the steam-powered hammer to Garry Kasparov vs. Deep Blue, humans are trying to prove that they can't be replaced.

Unfortunately, even if humans win the first few times, it isn't long before a machine comes along to pass us up. There are still plenty of ways humans are better than machines, of course, but that list is getting shorter every year. Even skilled doctors like anesthesiologists are threatened.

But so far, we've just been talking about matters of muscle, logic and quantifiable science. There's no way a computer could replace a human creatively, right? That's what NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley decided to find out when he went up against WordSmith.

WordSmith is a program created by a company called Automated Insights, and its job is to write news stories. It mostly handles sports and financial news, but its content has already appeared on Yahoo! and the Associated Press.

The contest was fairly simple. Both Horsely and WordSmith would wait for the latest Denny's earning report to arrive and then write up a news story to appear on the radio.

WordSmith cranked out its story in 2 minutes while Horsely took 7. Not a great start for the human, but let's take a look at what they wrote.

Story #1

Denny's Corporation on Monday reported first-quarter profit of 8.5 million dollars. The Spartanburg, South Carolina-based company said it had profit of 10 cents per share. The results beat Wall Street expectations. The average estimate of four analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was for earnings of 9 cents per share. The restaurant operator posted revenue of $120.2 million in the period, also beating Street forecasts. Three analysts surveyed by Zacks expected $117.1 million. Denny's shares have risen nearly 6 percent since the beginning of the year. In the final minutes of trading on Monday, shares hit $10.90, a climb of 61 percent in the last 12 months.

Story #2

Denny’s Corporation notched a grand slam of its own in the first quarter, earning a better-than-expected ten cents a share, as restaurant sales jumped by more than 7-percent. Operating revenues topped $120 million. Adjusted net income jumped 36 percent to $8.7 million. Denny’s is one of the nation’s largest full-service restaurant chains. The growth in sales suggests consumers are opening their pocketbooks for pancakes, eggs, and hash browns. Earnings were also helped by lower costs for raw materials. Denny’s results were also helped by the re-opening of the high-volume location inside the Las Vegas Casino Royale restaurant. After sales grew faster than expected in the first three months of the year, managers raised their sales forecast for the remainder of 2015.

Can you tell which one is the machine? You'll be relieved to know that the first story is WordSmith and the second, much better, story is Scott Horsley's.

However, there's a wrinkle. Automated Insights points out that WordSmith is programmed right now to write in AP's drier style. If it spent some time analyzing NPR's stories, it could come much closer to matching Horsely's writing style.

Could this be the beginning of the end for human journalism? Would you trust a news site staffed entirely by computers? Let me know in the comments.

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Source: NPR
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