A.I. on AM, or Waiting for Chappie
March 6, 2015
I was all prepared to give you my analysis of this week's Infinite Dial study release, but when I sat down to finally write it, I realized that I'd done it already. Digital making inroads, younger audiences going digital, podcasts growing and reaching a more affluent and educated audience, smartphones becoming practically ubiquitous... I've written about those for years, and it's great to see the research bearing it out. (You should, incidentally, go look at the study, because there's a lot in there that's relevant to your business.) As much as I end up repeating myself -- YOU try writing a weekly radio column for 15 or so years and not repeating yourself -- I hate to do it. So, sadly, I went off to find another topic.
Finding another topic, in my case, means wasting time randomly browsing a zillion tweets and websites until I give up, slam whatever comes into my head onto the blank screen, and call it a column. This time, in the course of that process, the news came across that Associated Press is going to start having robots cover college sports.
Robots! Yes, in case you haven't seen it, they're going to experiment with software from a company called Automated insights, which will take NCAA statistics and generate game stories, first with Division I baseball and then with other sports. And they've been doing this with corporate earnings stories already, and sports agate, and NFL player rankings posts, so...
So, it's here. Content is being generated by computers, not just the way radio's done it with voicetracking, but actually crafting content by plugging stats into stories on an automated basis. It's meant to allow coverage of events like small college sports without the need to pay a stringer. But, I can hear you saying, what about the human element? This can't replace the wit of a Jim Murray or the insight of a Red Smith or the seen-it-all wit of a Dan Jenkins, can it? No, but if the public only wants to know what happened in the game, it doesn't need to replace a Hall of Famer; it only needs to tell you who, what, when, where. How and why might not even make the cut.
Can this happen to talk radio? See, that's where I'm going to ask you: Is the content you're creating special? Or is it the same thing everyone else is doing, and that you've always done? If you're doing the same "big" topics, playing the hits, parroting the party line, hitting the talking points, I can see a day when a computer could simulate you. Seriously, for all of you who tell me that (Name of Certain Syndicated Host) does the same show every day and is totally predictable, don't you think that someone could create TalkRadioBot and program it to have predictable reactions and cite the same sources as the real thing? If the voice was made to be natural, and that's coming, too, would anyone notice?
Which is another reason to get off the predictable talk radio Indignant Angry Guy bandwagon and do something different. No, TalkRadioBot is NOT around the corner; if someone cared enough to push hard in that direction, it could be here sooner than later, but I don't think anyone DOES care enough. (If they won't pay YOU much to do talk radio, why would they invest in robotic technology to save that little?) It should, however, make you think about whether what you do could survive in the event artificial intelligence takes over the Earth. It's another way of asking: What makes you so special? What's different about what you do? Why should people come to you for their talk radio entertainment?
Because an app might be able to do your job if you're NOT special. If you don't want to be replaced by The Chappie Show, it's time to give people a reason to come to you instead of that bucket of bolts.
Free quality topic prep? With topics and kickers and stuff you won't find anywhere else, or you'll find here before anyone else? Why, that's All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics, with hundreds of items and ideas to make your show better. Find it by clicking here. And the Talk Topics Twitter feed at @talktopics has every story individually linked to the appropriate item. Also, this week, it's "10 Questions With..." Joe Giglio, who parlayed his victory in WFAN/New York's Fantasy Phenom talent competition into work at the Fan, WIP/Philadelphia, and online; he's worked hard doing whatever it takes to make headway in sports radio, and doing multiple things to make your mark is a particularly 2015 story.
Full Disclosure: I also serve as Director of Programming for Nerdist Industries (a division of Legendary Pictures), which includes the Nerdist Podcast Network, one of your major podcast entities. And I'm still a radio guy. Not picking sides.
It occurs to me that if AP is using bots to do sports stories, it's only a matter of time before automation takes over other writing gigs and [INSERT LAME CLOSING JOKE HERE].