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This just in: Robots are terrible sports writers

Posted by Jesse Singal  November 30, 2010 05:23 PM

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bender.jpgHaven't journalists been through enough? Now we have to compete with robots? Via Deadspin, the Times had an article on Saturday about StatSheet, a company that does sports statistic analysis. Oh, and creepier stuff, too:

This month, StatSheet unveiled StatSheet Network, made up of separate Web sites for each of the 345 N.C.A.A. Division I men’s basketball teams. Beyond statistics galore, each site has what the company calls “automated content,” stories written entirely by software, including write-ups of the team’s games, past and future. With a joking wink, StatSheet’s founder, Robbie Allen, refers to these sites as the “Robot Army.”

Allen told the times that "his story-writing software does not perform linguistic analysis; it just uses template sentences and a database of phrases that numbers about 5,000 for now."

Scary stuff, especially for embattled journalists. A visit to the site soothed my nerves, however. Here's what the Robot Army has to say about tomorrow night's Duke-Michigan State college basketball matchup:

There are two performance categories where Duke can exploit Michigan State and others where they come out ahead. The Blue Devils boast an advantage in scoring, 91 pts/game to 79 pts/game, for a stronger offensive position. In addition, Duke leads in steals, 9 per game to 7 per game. And lastly, the Blue Devils take turnovers, with just 14 per game to their 17 per game.

You've got to give it to those Blue Devils — they certainly do take turnovers.

Here's the Army's take on Illinois from a couple of weeks ago, during the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer tournament:

Bruce Weber's is in his eighth year as the head coach at Illinois and has one of his most talented programs ever. The Illini opened the 2010-11 season as a host of regional action for this event and made light work of both UC Irvine (79-65) and Toledo (84-45). Illinois followed that up with a third straight game in Champaign, destroying Southern Illinois last Saturday, 83-65.

Of course, the point of this isn't to create decent writing. It's to create writing that is just readable enough to suffice for the sake of game previews and recaps, and to in turn drive traffic by lighting up Google and other search engines. And who knows? Maybe StatSheet's robots will succeed, and their work will appear near the top whenever you search Google for a college sports score.

We're far from the point at which computer programs can churn out copy that is anywhere near as readable as humans'. Or, as the Robot Army might put it, in this matchup humans have several advantages that they can exploit over their robot opponents and many others where they come out ahead, such as writing things that are easy to read.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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