Following are the opening sentences of two sports stories. Can you tell which one was written by a human being and which was generated by a computer algorithm?
“Things looked bleak for the Angels when they trailed by two runs in the ninth inning, but Los Angeles recovered thanks to a key single from Vladimir Guerrero to pull out a 7-6 victory over the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on Sunday.”
“The University of Michigan baseball team used a four-run fifth inning to salvage the final game in its three-game weekend series with Iowa, winning 7-5 on Saturday afternoon (April 24) at the Wilpon Baseball Complex, home of historic Ray Fisher Stadium.”
Yeah, me, neither. For the record, a machine gernerated the first one, and a human wrote the second one. According to the story, 90 percent of news could be algorithmically generageed by the mid-2020s. I suppose when you can plug in an opinion, editorial writers won't be needed, either.
It’s mainly robo-journalism now, but it doesn’t stop there. As software stealthily replaces us as communicators, algorithmic content is rapidly permeating the nooks and crannies of our culture, from government affairs to fantasy football to reviews of your next pair of shoes.
And of course this is just one part of a much larger story:
Our phones can speak to us (just as a human would). Our home appliances can take commands (just as a human would). Our cars will be able to drive themselves (just as a human would). What does “human” even mean?
With technology, the next evolutionary step always seems logical. That’s the danger. As it seduces us again and again, we relinquish a little part of ourselves. We rarely step back to reflect on whether, ultimately, we’re giving up more than we’re getting.
Then again, who has time to think about that when there’s so much information to absorb every day? After all, we’re only human.
I realize that similar concerns have been raised every time something new in automation or other technology comes along. The more dependent we become on our tools and our toys, the less human we become in some way, yada, yada, yada. But it does seem more than ever like we're on some slippery slope to someplace scary.