Tuesday, September 13, 2011

On “Roboreporting”

On RoboreportingThis morning my friend and fellow poker scribe Brad, a.k.a. “Otis,” drew the attention of his Twitter followers to a post by Derrick Goold titled “The Robot that wants to be a Sportswriter.”

Goold’s piece is itself drawing his readers to another article, one by business writer Steve Lohr that appeared in the New York Times over the weekend. Lohr’s article, titled “In Case You Wondered, a Real Human Wrote This Article,” is about a tech company called Narrative Science that focuses on creating computer-generated content, with their latest advances including writing programs that can actually produce full-length articles.

In his tweet, Brad specifically addressed “poker writers and publishers” to take note. And if you follow the links above, I think you’ll readily see why he did.

Goold points out how in Lohr’s piece the article given as an example of computer-generated copy happens to be a sports story. Not coincidental, thinks Goold.

“Sportswriting is the natural place for the roboreporters to start their revolution,” says Goold. “Games are easy to distill into numbers, right down to the integers that are the very definition of sport -- the final score.”

Goold goes on to share how even though the articles produced by “roboreporters” are “formulaic,” “stilted,” and “rely on cliché,” there is already evidence to support that such articles are drawing more Web traffic thanks to their successful negotiation of all-powerful SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

You can see how all of this might be of relevance to those who write about poker. Or to those who pay those who write about poker.

The book-writing machine at the Academy of LagadoThese new article-writing programs remind me of that bit from Part 3 of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels when Gulliver visits the Academy of Lagado and is shown what is in essence a book-writing machine.

It’s a huge contraption, “twenty feet square” and made of wires, blocks of wood with paper pasted on their sides, and iron handles. The professor responsible for the machine shows Gulliver how his students turn the forty handles protruding from the machine’s sides, thereby altering the arrangement of words written on the pieces of paper.

Gulliver is told how whenever phrases of more than a few words were created, scribes took them down, and eventually the results were published in book form. As the professor explains, those volumes “he intended to piece together, and out of those rich materials, to give the world a complete body of all arts and sciences.”

Swift is of course spoofing the idea of such short cuts to knowledge and/or the production of literature, kind of exaggerating the position and/or approach taken by some of the “moderns” of his day -- a group that included both writers and publishers. It’s a position opposed by Swift and other “ancients” in the “battle of the books,” the conflict’s name supplied in the title of another of Swift’s satires.

To get back to poker reporting, it obviously wouldn’t be hard to construct a program with which one could enter names, numbers, and other data and thus -- by pressing a button (rather than cranking forty handles) -- produce reports of results and even key hands such as knockouts, hands resulting in significant exchanges of chips, hands resulting in new chip leaders, and so forth.

In fact, I think there’s probably a not insignificant percentage of people -- among readers and even some writers -- who’d prefer such “roboreporting” from poker tourneys.

For me, though, it has always been the stories and characters that not only make poker fun to play and/or watch, but which give it value that goes beyond simple calculations of ROI. In other words, the human stuff that the hands and pots and bustouts and triumphs help demonstrate.

But getting to that stuff that takes time. And effort. And, well, money. And there’s not a lot of any of that, not here in the modern world.

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Blogger PokerLawyer said...

The stories, the characters - the "human stuff," man, that's why I read. I understand a love of stats, but absent the person behind the stats (and the writer reporting same), well, it just doesn't even seem newsworthy, imo.

Glad you're writing the stories I read.

9/14/2011 12:19 PM  

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