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Journalism can survive artificial intelligence

by

Kyodo

Japan is one of the world’s most advanced countries in the field of artificial intelligence and robot industries. At the Group of Seven summit Japan hosted in May, world leaders looked amused and fascinated as they watched a robot performing at the International Media Center. At the same time, because of the technological advances and advent of robots, the leaders are concerned that many people in their countries will lose their jobs and cry out for assistance from governments.

This kind of downside to innovation has always been a part of modernization. Innovation brings fundamental change, but the impact of AI will be on a far larger scale than ever before.

The most visible sector in which robots are bringing considerable change in Japan is the carmaker industry. GPS, inter-vehicle gap keeping, obstacle avoidance and pedestrian protection systems will all be loaded in new cars. Nissan Motor Co. has developed an AI system to memorize people’s driving habits. By adjusting to them, the system can drive the car in a relaxed but brisk cruising mode. Major Japanese automakers are aiming at introducing fully autonomous cars by 2020.

Japan faces an increasingly serious labor shortage. We do not absorb large numbers of immigrants, and robots and AI are expected to make up the difference.

However, there is a downside, which is losing menial jobs to robots. The Nomura Research Institute (NRI) published in collaboration with Oxford University a shocking report in December saying that 49 percent of jobs in Japan will technically be able to be performed by robots within 10 to 20 years. The report predicts robots will be able to replace workers such as reception clerks, bank tellers, security guards, assembly workers, supermarket clerks, delivery workers, train operators, cleaners and those in many other unskilled jobs.

The report also lists jobs that will survive the era of robots — doctors and health care staff, artists, musicians, actors, critics, stylists, lawyers, teachers, TV broadcasters, photographers and writers.

The NRI report does not use the word “journalists,” but we are happy to see jobs in journalism seemingly survive. But are we sure? Aren’t we on the doorstep of an era when human beings will no longer be necessary to do a journalist’s job? Automatic scripts for writing based on processing raw data are being used by many news organizations around the world. Drones provide stunningly impressive pictures of areas struck by disaster. News writing robots do not need holidays or weekends. They never miss deadlines and they generate content at a minimal cost.

So what should we do now? We can see some common characteristics in the jobs robots can’t take over. These jobs cannot be preprogrammed and need creativity and social intelligence such as high communications skills.

Consider these three characteristics in the case of journalism. Creativity needs ideas and an artistic sense that attract an audience. You need high communications skills to understand the complex modern world and explain it to others.

AI and robots can steal thousands of preprogrammed jobs. AI has the ability to process massive databases in a couple of minutes in a preprogrammed way. But the real world that journalists work in is more complicated, and we need to be able to react and adjust ourselves to unforeseen, non-unpreprogrammed situations. Journalists need to be able to think for themselves, not from databases.

If you apply carefully the three characteristics, you find that some jobs in journalism will disappear. It is logical to conclude reporting of routine governmental announcements, mundane statistics and the like will be taken over by AI and robots. On the other hand, humans will still perform investigative reporting, provide deep analysis and produce profile stories with rich human emotions.

When you write a story about a daily economic index, you don’t need any of the three characteristics. AI can replace your job. But if you write an analysis about the same index, your journalistic sense and communications skill make your story valuable. AI may think it does not need an analytical story, but a human reporter can find an important new economic trend worthy of deep analysis.

Etona Ueda, project leader at the NRI, said: “A baseball writer who can write human profile stories about Ichiro with a deep analysis of his words and deeds will survive. Stories reporting only facts such as scores may not.”

Last but not least, we have to keep in mind that what humans do have and AI does not are motivations and passions. We have to strengthen our motivations and passions. Only with these qualities can we utilize advanced technologies for better reporting.

Nowadays it is said that AI can conquer human intelligence. In fact, AI has won in such games as chess, Japanese shogi and Chinese go over humans. However, AI can only play such games after it gets instructions from we humans.

I think this will be the case for journalism as well. It is human journalists with strong motivations who can make AI and robots work well. Passions and motivations are always the most important thing in journalism, even in the era of robots.

Hiroki Sugita is the chief editorial writer of Kyodo News.