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Man vs machine: the evolution of a newsroom

As part of Mindshare Huddle 2017, Newsworks held a session concentrating on the ways that artificial intelligence (AI) affects the journalistic process. Newsworks’ client services director Niki West led the discussion, posing questions relating to the present and the future of journalism’s relationship with this fascinating and constantly evolving field. Niki was joined by PwC’s Euan Cameron, Mirror Online’s Sophie Curtis and the Guardian’s Alex Hern.

Cameron began with an overview of AI, dispelling rumours that we were going to spend 45 minutes talking about ‘metal humans’. Rather, AI was described as a system that censors information on a large scale, makes a decision based on rules but critically then via a feedback loop, uses the consequences of the decision to inform future decisions.

The session explored AI in both its business and human context. The guests discussed the ways that technology is used to affect the human experience of various journalistic process; to aid discovery through data interrogation, to predict outcomes of upcoming events, to optimise systems and to interact with people. Overall, the consensus from this fascinating session seemed to be that AI has a fundamental place in dealing with the extraordinary amount of data available in the modern media landscape. With various listening technologies allowing for the monitoring of information, there’s space for AI to do jobs at the bottom of the journalistic ‘pyramid’.

However, fortunately for any journalists reading this, an overarching theme of the session was that AI cannot replace journalism. It can and will undoubtedly augment the journalistic process in many ways, changing the day to day experience of working, but computers by and large lack emotional intelligence and creativity, unable to bring multiple cognitive disciplines together. This emotional intelligence was deemed essential to understanding both the appropriate editorial context as well as the reader.

In summary, there was agreement from the expert panellists that AI will revolutionise journalism, but these systems will ‘supercharge’ humans not supersede them.