The one interesting thing I've heard so far at Davos this year is that
the world doesn't have too much content. It has too little. So says
Philip Parker of INSAED, who is doing fascinating work with automatic
creation of content. He's not doing it for evil purposes: content
farms and spam. He is doing it to fill in knowledge that is missing in
the world, especially in smaller cultures and languages.
Parker's system has written
tens of thousands of books
and is even creating fully automated
radio shows in many languages, some of which have never been used for
weather reports (they don't have words for "degree" or "celsius"). He
used his software to create a directory of tropical plants that didn't
exist. And he has radio beaming out to farmers in poor third-world
I'm fascinated by what Parker's project says about our attitudes
toward content: that we in the West think there's too
of it (we're overloaded); that content is that which content
creators create; that content has to be owned; that it has to be
inefficient and expensive to be good and useful.
In the U.S., there already is a company that automates
the writing of sports
stories (another straight line). Thomson Reuters has been
formatted financial stories since 2006. So this is nothing
new, except that Parker is putting the notion to new use.
I'm intrigued by the potential uses of Parker's content extruder. For
example, I am on the board of Recording
for the Blind & Dyslexic
, and I imagine this technology could be
used to deliver content, especially more current content -- aurally --
to its clients, whom I say don't have learning disabilities but who
Now tie that notion to the third world and we can even come to define
literacy differently. If we can inform and educate people in their own
languages through listening -- rather than insisting on reading text
-- then haven't we expanded the world of the literate greatly? Don't
we have better-informed nations and economies?
Academics from the University of Southern Denmark say that we are
passing through the other side of the Gutenberg
, returning to oral exchange and distribution of
knowledge. Parker can serve that shift with his audio content.
He also helps us expand the reach and use of content, for his
technology can gather bits of information from here and there that fit
together and put them in a new form that is newly usable. It's the
Wikipedia worldview. Indeed, I suggested to Parker that he could help
Wikipedia meet one of its key strategic goals
-- creating deeper content in more languages -- through the automated
generation of the first draft of articles, paving the way for editors.
Parker looks for content that is formulaic. That's what his technology
can replace. He studied TV news and found that 70% of its content is
formulaic. No surprise. Most of it could be replaced with a machine.
That's not just my joke and insult. The more efficient we make the
creation of content, the less we will waste on repetitive tasks with
commodified results, and the more we can concentrate our valuable and
scarce resources on necessity and quality. Certain people
will likely screech
that such thinking and technology further deprofessionalizes the
alleged art of creating content. So be it.
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