How Do You Know Who Wrote This?

Technology is giving us a scare once again.

  • “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.”
  • (Try the official New York Times quiz for more: “Did a Human or a Computer Write This?” – New York Times Quiz)

Can you tell which sentence is written by a machine and which by a human? Well, if you have no idea, you’re not alone, as study respondents to the experiment had not even an inkling of which was which. (Machine first, human second, for your information.)

Nowadays, probably more than half of what we read is created by computer algorithms. Though it may be easy to naturally assume that the resources online are all human written, with a second thought it seems reasonable that such technological inventions are being utilized. “The multitude of digital avenues now available to us demand content with an appetite that human effort can no longer satisfy,” says Shelley Podolny, a journalist working for the New York Times.

These algorithms and natural language generators work in highly sophisticated ways. When they are fed simple data, such as statistics for a baseball game, a narrative pops out in mere seconds. The more surprising fact is that they assemble these pieces of writings in different human voices. From “staid to sassy”, they are able to fabricate narratives in different tones depending on the intended audience.

Though these intelligent machines have been around for a while, technologists have been refining them in speed as well as quality. This is exactly how these digital sources are able to release articles seconds after the event, as if on a race with the ticking clock. Such developments free humans and enable them to focus on reporting, not only data processing.

Yet, this transition from humans to robots concerns some of us. The rapidly advancing technology in our world seems to be sometimes too sudden for us to deliberately mull over the dangers of technology. Robots are taking over many aspects of our life—not only online media, but also books, phones, home applicants, and cars. Where will the insights of a human mind be found in such articles? We must think again about the advantages and disadvantages of technological development.

– Serim Jang (’16)
Header: Roger Lecuyer/Getty Images

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