What Would A Robot Say if It Could Write?

Southern Metropolis Daily Newspaper’s Robot Reporter Goes Live

Southern Metropolis Daily's Robot Reporter, Little Nan

Southern Metropolis Daily’s Robot Reporter, Little Nan. The “ND” in it’s eye screen is short for “Nandu,” the Chinese name for Southern Metropolis.

Recently, I’ve heard of self-driving cars and even automated pizza, but the last thing I expected to see was automated writing. Perspective, interaction, and a human touch are indispensable tools during my own writing process, so when I heard about Little Nan, the robot reporter from Southern Metropolis Daily, I scrambled to get a look for myself.

I took the liberty of translating the Southern Metropolis Daily’s first robot-written piece, which is reported to have been written in 1 second. You can see that it is reporting information and data and its creators say that it may have positive applications for other fields, such as sports and obituaries. As it turns out, writing which is primarily based on data doesn’t require humans after all.

In the comments below the article, readers mirrored common sentiments about artificial intelligence, saying “They’re coming to steal our dinner…” and “All the reporters are going to be laid off.” But the robot’s creator, Wan Xiaojun, a computer science profession at Peking University, advised in an article from the Wall Street Journal that we needn’t worry about robots taking our jobs yet and robot-written articles still require oversight prior to publishing.

If you’d like to get a look for yourself what the Robot Reporter Little Nan has to say, please read their first published article in translation below.


Report from Southern Metropolis’ Robot, “Little Nan”

Still Many Standing Room Only Tickets from Guangzhou to Wuhan on the 20th

Original by Southern Metropolis Robot, Little Nan

17 January, 2017, 20:09

Southern Metropolis News Real Time Report from Little Nan Robot According to the train ticketing website 12306 on January 17th at 20:00:18, many popular train lines departing from Guangzhou station on January 20th are already sold out, including Guangzhou to Beijing, Luoyang, Nanchang, Guiyang. Readers wishing to go to these destinations must find another way.

Tickets from Guagnzhou to Dalian, Zhengzhou, Qingdao, Shanghai, Nanjing, and Nanning are rather tight, with less than 100 tickets left each. Guangzhou to Zhengzhou, Shanghai, and Nanning have the least tickets left, with one ticket available each. Travelers who need these tickets better make their move quickly.

Guangzhou to Nanjing is mainly accessible via high-speed rail and because there are only a small number of business class seats left, the ticket prices are high.

There are plenty of tickets left from Guangzhou to Wuhan, Changsha, and Yueyang, with 1534 tickets from Guangzhou to Wuhan still available, the most out of all three trains. But the majority are “K*” trains and local service trains with standing room only, making the trip rather tiring.

Southern Metropolis robot writer, Little Nan, will continue to bring you coverage of spring festival transporation information, so make sure to subscribe. (Edited by Zhou Ying.)

[*”K” type trains are the slowest of the five common types of trains in China.]


This does strike me as pretty amusing that a robot can write in such fluent language. But all the same, reading this article feels like talking to Siri–it’s good but not human.

What we have here is a useful tool for repetitive information processing–this is a good thing! I imagine journalists might feel afraid of Little Nan the way that I feel afraid of Google translate. But every time I toss something into machine translation tools, I find similar results: again it’s good, but not human. These tools are not, in fact, coming to “steal our dinner,” but instead are here to develop our capacity to produce quality work.

Thank you for reading my translation and article! If you need help with Chinese – English translation project, make an appointment with Rachel Critelli today.

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