MEDIA
07/09/2014 12:36 pm ET Updated Jul 09, 2014

Newspaper Publisher Predicted Robot Journalists Almost 50 Years Ago

YOSHIKAZU TSUNO via Getty Images

Robot journalism may feel like a new and futuristic creation, but one newspaper publisher may have had the idea almost 50 years ago.

Gizmodo's Matt Novak transcribed a speech given by Otto A. Silha, publisher of the Minneapolis Star and Tribune newspapers in 1968, in which he details in great length the use of robots to write the news. Silha tells his peers about a new "automated" program that "uses the computer to shorten a story, literally without human intervention."

"Basically, the Research Center has developed a program so that the computer reads a story, places a numerical value upon each word in the story and through mathematical formulas determine what is most important in the story and then regenerates the story into the length that it was instructed to do."

Almost 50 years later, and the methods described in Silha's speech are just now coming to fruition. The Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times are just two of the news organizations that have begun incorporating automation technology to break stories faster and in greater quantities.

Much of what Silha spoke about back in 1968 is unbelievably similar to what is actually happening in journalism today. He stressed that the technology would not eliminate journalists but "greatly ease the load of the wire editors." Such reassurance sounds a lot like AP's recent statement that using robot journalism would simply "free journalists to do more journalism and less data processing." Silha also noted that robot journalism would significantly cut down on story editing time. Sure enough, robot journalism helped the LA Times to report on a California earthquake in March before any other news outlet.

Read Silha's entire speech here.

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