Narrative Science: Can computers write convincing journalism stories?

Computer applications can drive cars, fly planes, play chess and even make music.

But can an app tell a story?

Chicago-based company Narrative Science has set out to prove that computers can tell stories good enough for a fickle human audience. It has created a program that takes raw data and turns it into a story, a system that’s worked well enough for the company to earn its own byline on

Kristian Hammond, Narrative Science’s chief technology officer, said his team started the program by taking baseball box scores and turning them into game summaries.

“We did college baseball,” Hammond recalled. “And we built out a system that would take box scores and historical information, and we would write a game recap after a game. And we really liked it.”

Narrative Science then began branching out into finance and other topics that are driven heavily by data. Soon, Hammond says, large companies came looking for help sorting huge amounts of data themselves.

“I think the place where this technology is absolutely essential is the area that’s loosely referred to as big data,” Hammond said. “So almost every company in the world has decided at one point that in order to do a really good job, they need to meter and monitor everything.”

Narrative Science hasn’t disclosed how much money is being made or whether a profit is being turned with the app. The firm employs about 30 people. At least one other company, based in North Carolina, is working on similar technology.

Meanwhile, Hammond says Narrative Science is looking to eventually expand into long form news stories.

That’s an idea that’s unsettling to some journalism experts.

Kevin Smith, head of the Society of Professional Journalists Ethics Committee, says he laughed when he heard about the program.

“I can remember sitting there doing high school football games on a Friday night and using three-paragraph formulas,” Smith said. “So it made me laugh, thinking they have made a computer that can do that work.”

Smith says that, ultimately, it’s going to be hard for people to share the uniquely human custom of story telling with a machine.

“I can’t imagine that a machine is going to tell a story and present it in a way that other human beings are going to accept it,” he said. “At least not at this time. I don’t see that happening. And the fact that we’re even attempting to do it — we shouldn’t be doing it.”

Other experts are not as concerned. Greg Bowers, who teaches at the Missouri School of Journalism, says computers don’t have the same capacity for pitch, emotion and story structure.

“I’m not alarmed about it as some people are,” Bowers said. “If you’re writing briefs that can be easily replicated by a computer, then you’re not trying hard enough.”

Project Glass


Google says, “We think technology should work for you—to be there when you need it and get out of your way when you don’t. A group of us from Google[x] started Project Glass to build this kind of technology, one that helps you explore and share your world, putting you back in the moment. We’re sharing this information now because we want to start a conversation and learn from your valuable input. So we took a few design photos to show what this technology could look like and created a video to demonstrate what it might enable you to do.”


Homeless People WiF HotSpots at SXSX in Texas



New York ad agency BBH has teamed up with SXSW this year to present its Homeless Hotspots initiative. The controversial, charitable movement offers a new take on the old Street Newspaper model: Rather than selling print papers to earn money, boost moral and spread awareness about poverty-related issues, the Homeless Hotspots project hopes to achieve the same effects by providing people with the opportunity to sell a digital service, instead.

Homeless Hotspots has “hired” 13 people from Austin’s Front Steps Shelter to participate in the campaign. Donning wireless routers and t-shirts that read, “I am a 4G hotspot,” these “Hotspot Managers” will be around the city offering wifi to festivalgoers.

As the Homeless Hotspots site explains, “SXSW Interactive attendees can pay what they like to access 4G networks carried by our homeless collaborators. This service is intended to deliver on the demand for better transit connectivity during the conference.”

The best part? The “Hotspot Managers” get to keep all of the money they make. Donate at the fest or online at Homeless Hotspots.


Armenian Grandma Shuts Down the Internet

Back in April, Internet service in all of Armenia was cut off for several hours when a 75-year old Georgian woman inadvertently cut the main service line between the two countries.  She was scavenging for scrap metal and hacked into primary fiber-optic cable that runs through the two countries.

“She found the cable while collecting scrap metal and cut it with a view to stealing it,” Georgian interior ministry spokesman Zura Gvenetadze told AFP.

90% of Armenian users lost access for nearly 12 hours while neighboring Georgia and some areas of Azerbajian were also affected.

Are we living in a computer simulation?

Read in this New York Times article how Nick Bostrom, an Oxford University philosopher, reasons that it’s mathematically likely that our universe is simply someone else’s computer simulation.  But according to Bostrom,  the situation isn’t even as hopeful as that portrayed in The Matrix.  He argues that our existence is simply a network of computer circuits.