Somewhere in the greater Washington D.C. area, there’s a sportswriter for GWSports.com who likely wants to crawl under his or her desk and not come out for a while, lest they be mocked for being bested by a robot.
Sports site Deadspin highlighted a story on GWSports, a typical baseball box score story but for one thing: The losing team’s pitcher threw a perfect game, a feat the NCAA has not seen since 2002. GWSports’ writer didn’t mention the achievement until the article’s penultimate paragraph, instead focusing on other, more commonplace details of the game.
Deadspin speculated that the un-bylined story had been written by a robo-sportswriter, like the ones being developed at Narrative Science. The idea is that certain stats and data from a sports game can be run through a program (it’s not so much a robot in the arms-and-antenna sense, more an ordinary computer) and the program will generate copy to recap the game — without human clutter like writers block and typos.
As it turned out, the story was written by a human, but even so, Narrative Science bet they could one-up the writer.
“We actually got hold of the information director of the school, we got the raw material, the numbers around the story,” Kris Hammond, chief technology officer of Narrative Science, told NPR. “And we fed it to our system, which wrote the story, where the headline and the lead were focused on the fact that it was a no-hitter. Because how could you write a baseball story and not notice that it was a no hitter? I mean what kind of writer or machine would you be?”
Sure enough, the robot article outsmarted the human copy, mentioning the no-hitter in the lede of the story. (Compare the two stories on Deadspin.)
Here’s the top of the computer-generated article:
Tuesday was a great day for W. Roberts, as the junior pitcher threw a perfect game to carry Virginia to a 2-0 victory over George Washington at Davenport Field.
Twenty-seven Colonials came to the plate and the Virginia pitcher vanquished them all, pitching a perfect game. He struck out 10 batters while recording his momentous feat. Roberts got Ryan Thomas to ground out for the final out of the game.
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