Tuesday, August 29, 2006

"A few more adjectives"

1. Philippe Vasset, author of the intriguing short novel ScriptGenerator (Serpent's Tail), sent along this article from the August 17 Financial Times (for our "connection" purposes, and with regard to the somewhat illegible blue font, you can skim a bit, then jump to the part in bold):

Computers write news at Thomson

By Aline van Duyn in New York

First it was the typewriter, then the teleprinter. Now a US news service has found a way to replace human beings in the newsroom and is instead using computers to write some of its stories.

Thomson Financial, the business information group, has been using computers to generate some stories since March and is so pleased with the results that it plans to expand the practice.

The computers work so fast that an earnings story can be released within 0.3 seconds of the company making results public.

By using previous results in Thomson’s database, the computer stories say whether a company has done better or worse than expected.

“This is not about cost but about delivering information to our customers at a speed at which they can make an almost immediate trading decision,” said Matthew Burkley, senior vice-president of strategy at Thomson Financial.

“This means we can free up reporters so they have more time to think.”

Mr Burkley said the computer-generated stories had not made any mistakes. But he said they were very standardised. “We might try and write a few more adjectives into the program,” he said.

Thomson started writing computer programs for different types of stories, at a cost of $150,000-$200,000 (£79,623-£106,190) per project, to try to catch up with rivals such as Reuters and Bloomberg.

Thomson has also hired hundreds of specialist reporters to boost its news operations.

Reuters said it automatically generated some stories, while Bloomberg said it did not.

The desire for speed reflects the growth of automated trading. Many hedge funds want direct feeds that can be plugged into programs and used for trading.

Thomson’s automatic stories are being generated mostly in the US market.

2. From my late-breaking, late-summer read:

"Adrian's bewilderment was extreme. It seemed to be his fate today to mix with eccentrics, and in the case of this one, he had no hesitation whatever in discarding the adjective 'genial.' In describing Tubby Vanringham, it was the last word a precisian like the late Gustave Flaubert would have selected." —P.G. Wodehouse, Summer Moonshine


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