Written by a Human (For Now)

Just a quick follow-up to my last post, discussing the possible consequences for constitutional law of the increasing role of algorithms in the (re-)creation of information. While that post, and Josh Blackman’s essay on which it was based,focused on search engines, a post on The Guardian’s website this weekend discusses the “writing” of actual news stories by algorithms.

As the post explains,

Forbes.com already uses an artificial intelligence platform provided by the technology company Narrative Science to generate automated news from live data sets and content harvested from previous articles. What makes it possible is that business news content tends to be formulaic and data-heavy, listing places, stocks and company names. The LA Times, meanwhile, uses robots to report on earthquakes: the organisation relies on an algorithm that pulls in data on magnitude, place and time from a US Geological Survey site.

Sports news might be next on the list, and who knows what after that.

And so the question of constitutional protection for algorithm-generated expression may well be even more important than just the issue of the regulation of search engines (important though it is!) might suggest. So are, of course, other questions about the regulation or potential liability of “robot”-speakers. Should, for instance, the law of defamation take the same shape for algorithm-generated defamatory materials as it does for human-produced ones? The mental state of a defendant (knowledge or malice) can matter in a defamation action, but does an algorithm have a mental state?

I have no answers for now, of course. There is a lot of fascinating work to be done here for lawyers. And maybe for robots too. Who better than them to tell us about their mental states, right? But this blog, at least, will continue to be written by a human being. For now!

UPDATE: At the Volokh Conspiracy, Stuart Benjamin also has a post about articles generated by algorithms (such as the LA Times’ “Quakebot0t”), asserting that they are ― in the United States ― constitutionally protected speech.

FURTHER UPDATE: The BBC also has a brief story on “robo-journalism”.

Author: Leonid Sirota

Law nerd. I teach public law at the University of Reading, in the United Kingdom. I studied law at McGill, clerked at the Federal Court of Canada, and did graduate work at the NYU School of Law. I then taught in New Zealand before taking up my current position at Reading.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: