Rise of the robot sportswriter
This may be the last column I ever write.
If it's not the very last column I write, I'm surely nearing the end of my run as a published writer. Because robots.
In case you missed it, the takeover has commenced. Robots already started writing quarterly earning reports for business publications last summer -- and now their red eyes have set their laser sights specifically on sportswriting.
The Associated Press has announced a partnership with a tech company called Automated Insights that will craft automated stories on Division I baseball starting this spring. Next on the robot's soulless death march of sportswriting annihilation: Division I women's basketball; Division II and III men's basketball; and then Division II and III football. Before long, every press box at every sports venue in the world will be replaced by docking stations.
"At AP, we have been looking at automation with anything involving data, as we did with corporate earnings reports," AP's Vice President and Managing Editor Lou Ferrara told the Huffington Post. "Sports have been in our DNA for a long time and automation for certain sports seems like a logical move."
A "logical move." This is how we always knew the robot uprising would begin, when humans allowed those with the most "logic" to rule.
"We are smarter and more powerful than you. You must die." -- Robot
"Well, it is the logical outcome. Why fight it? I am ready to be exploded by your zap gun, superior robot overload." - "logical" human
The AP and Automated Insights (or AI - Hello! Artificial Intelligence anyone? They're not trying to hide it!) insist that this will not put sportswriters out of work. Riiiiiight. Just like in all apocalyptic movies, the alien/robot invaders initially insist they come in peace. "Hey, we just want to be interstellar pals! Really!" Then, one scene later ... EVERYONE IS DEAD. THERE'S FIRE EVERYWHERE!
Robot writing creep is inevitable because, while at very same time Automated Insights and the AP are saying no sportswriters will lose their jobs, they're gloating about how much better robots are at writing. The AP says it has has been able "to go from writing 300 reports to 3,000 [quarterly] reports each quarter, and many of those without any human intervention at all." The robot articles also contain "far fewer errors," despite being produced instantly after a game ends, while human stringers need at least 15 minutes to get their mistaken-laden prose out there.
Traditional sports beat writers are doomed. That's a fact. It starts this spring with Division I college baseball, but soon Major League Baseball, the NFL, NBA and NHL will have robot-written game stories, too. It's not hard to program a ReportBot to ask questions like: "Are you disappointed in this loss?" and non-questions like: "Talk about [something that occurred in the game]." On the bright side, cliched questions will surely sound like auto-tuned Kanye songs.
Traditional sportswriters are done. Over. The coding is on the wall.
But the rest of us, the opinion makers, the hot take givers, the talking heads ... we're fine, right? No robot could do what we can, yes?
We're all doomed. Pick any prominent provider of sports hot takes. Keith Olbermann? Sure. He was just suspended by ESPN for replying to a Penn Stater's link to the school raising $13 million for pediatric cancer research with "Pitiful."
Olbermann later said he didn't open the link about the fundraising, and only replied "pitiful" because of Penn State continuing to put football above all else. Fine. Maybe it was an honest mistake. But a robot would never would have been tripped up like that. Robots give only cold takes, cold as the steel and rare earth minerals they are made of. A robot would have instantly read the entirety of the Penn State link and decided -- wisely (and in the very same instant) -- not to respond with vitriol. No robot suspension would have been necessary.
But it's not just that robot talking heads would be less prone to foolish mistakes, it's that their takes would be significantly colder than any hot takes we've become accustomed to across the sportswriting landscape. And not simply because of their built-in cooling systems.
Even the Skip Baylesses and Stephen A. Smiths of the world must occasionally have a twinge of doubt or a pang of conscience when they're about to tear apart on national television the character of a person they've never met over his performance in a game. Why? Because they're human. Somewhere inside, they still are.
Robots, however, have no such consciences. No souls. No empathy. No humanity. No regret. Their cold takes would be devoid any such tomfoolery.
Robots wouldn't play favorites with players they know or root for. They wouldn't pull punches. They couldn't, if programmed correctly. Every take on every athlete, coach, team and fanbase would be bent on complete anesthetization. "First Take" with Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith would be trounced in the ratings by "Terabyte Takes" with SkipBot and StephenA.I.
Doubt me? It's already happening right in front of us.
Pick up your phone. Type in "Flacco". What does it try to auto-correct to? "Flaccid", right? Now type in "Goodell". Note that one of the auto-correct option is "Goodwill". That means your phone - a fairly simple computer, and surely not a robot designed simply as a sports hot take delivery system - is already saying, without the slightest bit of hesitation, that Joe Flacco is weak and ineffective, while Roger Goodell simply has the best intentions in mind for everyone. Those are frigid takes that you take as fact because they came by the auto-correct on your phone. YOUR PHONE.
Robots could even do sports humor better than humans. Think about it: there's no better way to get yourself lots of LOLs and RTs than by posting a picture of Lance Stephenson blowing over someone, anyone, anything that has recently been felled. You don't think a brainless pile of circuitry could be equally clever and timely? Come on.
We are helpless in the face of the coming robot onslaught. No sports media person will survive, from the humble beat writer to the most famous needle-moving opinion makers.
It's best to just give in now and let it happen. We stand no chance against them. Give up. Relent. And that's me saying this, a human, not a robot. And totally not a human who was threatened and probed repeatedly by robots over the past week until I agreed to write this.
Totally not that.
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