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In Era of Journalism Cutbacks, a Chinese ‘Robot Reporter’ 

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More Chinese newsrooms are starting to use so-called “robot reporters,” but developers say their capabilities remain limited.

Te-Ping Chen reports: China has found itself in the midst of a full-blown robot obsession in recent years, with everything from robot monks to robot waiters grabbing headlines.

Now, the robots are writing the actual headlines, too — in certain newsrooms, anyway.

Last week, the Southern Metropolis Daily published its first-ever report written by what the newspaper describes as a “robot reporter.” The story, clocking in at just over 300 words, summarizes what train tickets are most in demand bn-rt602_robot_cv_20170124041448over the Lunar New Year holiday, during which millions of Chinese workers travel home to see their families. It discusses which routes are selling out fast and advises travelers to buy tickets soon, cautioning that for certain routes, all seats are sold out.

“You’ll have to stand the whole way, the route will be more exhausting,” it advises. The Southern Metropolis Daily story is bylined “Xiao Nan Robot,” or ‘Little South’ robot and accompanied with a picture of a white, rotund robot riding atop a thick black pen.

So far, though, the scope of robot reporters is limited, says Wan Xiaojun, a computer-science professor at Peking University who worked to develop the newspaper’s program.

Mr. Wan explains that Xiao Nan is currently programmed only to analyze train-ticket sales, which accounts for the somewhat monotonous nature of its reporting. “There Are Still High-Speed Rail Tickets From Guangzhou to Numerous Destinations for Lunar New Year’s Eve,” ran one robot-produced headline today. “Hard-Seat Tickets on the 26th From Guangzhou to Zhengzhou Are Still Available,” ran another yesterday.

[Read the full story here, at China Real Time Report – WSJ]

Sports are another fertile area for robot coverage: another robot-reporter program Mr. Wan worked on was used by news publisher Toutiao during the Rio Olympics last year, producing more than 400 news briefs, he said. Those briefs were built off published game statistics or summarized the transcribed narration of sports broadcasters, seeking out keywords such as “goal,” “red card” and more. Read the rest of this entry »

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‘Quantified Self’ Technology: Humans are Gradually Becoming Cyborgs—and That’s a Good Thing

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SA Forum is an invited essay from experts on topical issues in science and technology. This column was produced in collaboration with the World Economic ForumJustine Cassell is director of the Human–Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. Read the full article here, and read more about Cassell here

For Scientific AmericanJustine Cassell writes:

Justine Cassell

Justine Cassell

Imagine you have a great-aunt, a vibrant woman in her 70s who refuses to be trapped in a rocking chair. In fact, she holds a full-time job and insists on walking there and back, a couple of miles each way. She says it keeps her young, but you can’t help worrying. No one is healthy forever.

Like many people her age, your great-aunt follows a set routine. Before her trip to work, she stops at a nearby café for a cup of

So far, most QS sensors remain on wristbands, phones and other wearables.  Credit: Pebble Technology via Wikimedia Commons

So far, most QS sensors remain on wristbands, phones and other wearables.
Credit: Pebble Technology via Wikimedia Commons

tea, and as she walks she phones a friend on her mobile phone. After work, she likes to call another friend to ask about a visit. She picks up a small cake or a few cookies at a shop on the way. Afterward she buys groceries to take home for supper.

A big departure from this pattern could mean your great-aunt is having problems. If you had access to her cell phone records and GPS data, you could see that something was up. It could even help you tell how urgent the situation might be. If she’s quit socializing and is just shuttling to work and back, it might signal depression—you’d make a note to drop by and make sure she’s okay. If she stops leaving the house entirely and doesn’t answer her phone, you know the problem is urgent. If you can’t get over there immediately, you’d better call a neighbor to look in on her. Read the rest of this entry »


Sacré Bleu! Is France Falling Back into Recession?

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Erika Johnsen writes:  Their triumphant return to positive economic (if only just) earlier this year was met with plenty of self-congratulatory optimism on which Socialist President Hollande’s government proclaimed they were fairly confident they’d be able to build, but interestingly enough, it seems that their high-taxhigh-regulatoryregime is in fact preventing them from making any additional progress (weird, right?). Earlier this week, we learned that the euro economy grew by “less than expected” at a mere 0.1 percent, while France’s economy contracted by a tenth of a point. Now, more bad news in the form of slackened businesses activity and weakened consumer confidence across the zone in general and in certain places especially:

Hopes that the euro zone could be emerging from years of torpor suffered another setback on Thursday when an indicator of economic activity in the region slipped unexpectedly and suggested that France could be sliding back into recession.

The indicator, a survey of purchasing managers published by the research firm Markit, fell to 51.5 in November from 51.9 in October, according to preliminary data, as the decline in France offset further improvement in Germany. Economists had expected the composite index for the euro zone, which tracks both manufacturing and service sectors, to rise to 52, according to Barclays.

A reading above 50 is considered a sign that the euro zone economy is growing. But the index for France fell to 48.5 in November from 50.5 in October, the latest sign of shrinkage in the French economy…

Read the rest of this entry »