I read an article the other day about jobs most likely to be replaced by robots and computers in the future. Oddly enough, near the top of that list were journalists, reporters and writers.
“How can that be?” you ask. “This is the language of Shakespeare. The English language is full of nuances and subtleties where the right choice of nouns, verbs, adverbs and adjectives makes the difference between Hemingway and a laundry detergent label.”
I guess so, but it is also the language of Twitter and Facebook, so OMG we are SOL.
My mastery of the English language may not be on the order of Goeffrey Chaucer. I was never sure why we had to diagram sentences or clear on the difference between a participle and past participle.
Truth be told, I have a number of my former high school and college English teachers who say they read my work every week. I cringe every time I hear those words.
“I think you used too many passive verbs. I think my red pen ran out of ink.”
“A preposition is something you should never end a sentence with.” (Get it? That is a grammar joke since “with” is a preposition.)
Seriously, these instructors stop me and tell me they enjoy reading my work. Take that, HAL 9000.
But, many of these posters and tweeters have no concept of grammar, spelling and syntax. This is definitely not the English drilled into my skull by those teachers in Ellinwood all those years ago.
Forget Cliffs Notes, now we have to tell Lennie and George’s story from “Of Mice and Men” in 140 characters.
Some would say “Hogg, your a journalist, what do you know about language?” True, I like short sentences and short paragraphs.
I had a sage news writing teacher once tell me a news story should be like a girl’s skirt – short enough to be interesting, but long enough to cover everything. This seems like an ideal fit.
All this being said, could a machine do a better job of penning something like this column? You may not believe this, but I sometimes toil away for hours or days coming up with this stuff.
I get up in the middle of the night and scrawl notes on coffee-stained envelopes, use my phone to record memos to myself or use my fumble fingers to type and send an email to myself.
Ideas come in the shower, on a bicycle, in the bathroom and other inconvenient places. I have the short-term memory of a guppy, so remembering these until I can jot them down is a challenge.
Sure, a robot could maybe do this in five minutes, but would it be as polished? It would probably have fewer typos, but I wouldn’t want to trust the spell check.
True story. Several years ago, a Tribune computer system long gone wanted to change the name of a prominent local official to an unflattering body part.
I wonder what my English teachers would say to a computer handing in a term paper?
“You have the mechanics down pat, but there just is no feeling.”
“Are you sure this is your original work?”
However, “bots” as they are called continue to make inroads into reporting. The Washington Post has used bots to generate (I refuse to say write) stories about elections and the Rio Olympics, and the Associated Press uses them to crank out monotonous stories on industrial quarterly earnings reports.
“A machine will win a Pulitzer one day,” predicts Kris Hammond from Narrative Science, a company that specializes in “natural language generation.”
We will see.
I have sat through many meetings and presentations as a reporter that I would have been tempted to turn over to a machine.
I do keep an open mind and, in the sake of experimentation, I pondered allowing a computer to write a portion of this column. But I nixed the idea.
I recalled HAL in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Skynet in “Terminator,” and Joshua in “War Games.” We all know how those worked.
“I’m afraid I can’t do that Dave. Just what do you think you’re doing, Dave?” – HAL 9000 after it caused the death of Dave’s crewmates.
“Want to play a game?” – Joshua as it initiated the countdown to a thermal-nuclear war.
Perhaps our days are numbered, but joining wordsmiths in this journey to technological extinction are sales people, accountants and bookkeepers, announcers, and doctors. There are already self-driving cars and some are working on self-flying airplanes.
So, I guess none of us are safe.
But, to quote the Terminator: “I’ll be back.”
Dale Hogg is the managing editor of the Great Bend Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.