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10:34 23 June 2016

OPINION: AI and journalism

By Hiroki Sugita
TOKYO, June 23, Kyodo

Japan is one of the advanced countries in the AI and robot industries. At the Ise-Shima G-7 summit meeting in Japan in May, world leaders looked amused and fascinated when 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 jobs and cry out for assistance from governments.

This kind of downside to innovations has been well recorded in the history of modernization. Innovations bring fundamental changes to many traditional business procedures, jobs and professions. But the impact AI will generate is said to be on a far larger scale than previous innovations.

The most visible industry in which robots are bringing considerable change in Japan is the automobile manufacturing sector. Global Positioning, Inter Vehicle Gap Keeping, Obstacle Avoidance and Pedestrian Protection systems will all be loaded in new cars.

Nissan Motor Co., a giant Japanese car company, 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 automobile companies are aiming at introducing fully autonomous cars by 2020.

Japan faces a rapidly growing labor shortage caused by its aging population and low birthrate. We do not absorb many immigrants as the United States and European countries do. Robots and AI are expected to make up for the decreased workforce.

However, there is a downside, which is losing menial jobs to robots. The Nomura Research Institute, a prominent Japanese think tank, published in collaboration with Oxford University a shocking report in December last year.

The report says 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 many other unskilled laborers.

The report also named jobs that will survive in 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 the minimum cost.

So what should we do now?

We can see some common characteristics in the jobs which robots cannot take over. These jobs are non-preprogrammed jobs and need creativeness and social intelligence such as high communication skills.

Let us think of the three characteristics in the case of journalism. Creativeness needs ideas and artistic sense which attract readers and an audience. You need high communication 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-preprogrammed situations. Journalists need to be able to think for themselves, not from databases.

If you apply carefully the three characteristics, you find some jobs in journalism will disappear. It is logical to conclude reporting of routine governmental announcements, mundane statistics, and many other tasks will be taken over by AI and robots.

And some will remain as valuable jobs which only human reporters can perform. These are investigative reporting, exposing hidden problems, deep analysis, profile stories with rich human emotions, and reporting about new fashion and social trends.

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 communication 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 worth writing a deep analytical article about.

Etona Ueda, project leader at the NRI, said "a baseball writer who can write human profile stories about MLB hitter 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 our motivations and passions 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 us human beings. It is us, humans, who give them instructions.

I think it is the case in journalism as well. It is us 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.)

==Kyodo

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