Does Automated Content Technology Hold Promise for Chatbots and Intelligent Assistants?

I recently wrote about a presentation I saw by Erik Brynjolfsson, Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business. In the presentation, Erik mentioned Narrative Science as an example of a technology company that uses artificial intelligence to automate activities that were recently thought to be the exclusive domain of humans. In the case of Narrative Science, the company’s technology is able to generate articles, stories, and other content automatically based on an analysis of various datasets. To put it another way, a computer algorithm takes raw, unformulated data as input and turns it into paragraphs of natural language that read as if they had been written by humans. Narrative Science’s “robot writer” is called Quill. The underlying algorithms were developed at Northwestern University and the first story was generated based entirely on the batting statistics from a baseball game.

Automated ContentAutomated Insights is a competitor of Narrative Science with a product called Wordsmith. They too analyze sports scores and statistics to generate readable stories about sporting events. But both companies create content well beyond sports news. Their products are used to create a wide array of content, including financial reports, product descriptions, and marketing content. It appears to be a growing and profitable market.

On the Automated Insights website, there’s a brief overview of how the Wordsmith technology works. The four steps in generating stories from data are described as:

  • Retrieving data from various sources
  • Analyzing the data to classify it and identify trends and context
  • Identifying insights, comparing them against other data, and making them actionable
  • Structure a narrative around the insights to tell a story
  • Publish the content via a cloud-based infrastructure

After writing earlier this week about the shortcomings of chatbots that are based on pattern matching templates, a question arises. Could the same or similar algorithms that generate automated stories be used to support more compelling virtual agent conversations? Conversations are, after all, at least partly about storytelling. If you’re chatting with an intelligent assistant and ask it about sports, wouldn’t it be good if the assistant could talk to you in a conversational style about the latest games played by your favorite teams? If it can do this with sports, it should be able to create dialog about many other topics that are data driven, such as current events, company news, stock updates, weather, and so forth. It’s just a thought, but it might be interesting to further explore how automated content technologies might be leveraged to improve today’s artificial conversational agents.

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