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This Aol! Story Has Been Brought to You by the Borg

Aol! is building a Web filled with news articles composed by soulless software. eSarcasm gets up close and algorithmical with the brains behind its Seed project.

By (@tynanwrites)

December 10, 2009

The story you're about to read is not (entirely) true. It is, however, more accurate than most things on network television.

the borg are coming to aolThis story was written by a human, or as close as eSarcasm is likely to come to one. Tomorrow’s stories? Probably not.

Take AOL — err, Aol!’s Seed project, which relies on computer algorithms to generate story ideas. Per Slate’s Farhad Manjoo:

At the center of AOL’s nearly fully automated content assembly line will sit a vast number-crunching operation that will tap into data from search engines and other sites to predict the stories, videos, and photos that people are most likely to click on at any given instant.

Though AOL (sorry, Aol!) just hired away New York Times blogger Saul Hansell to lead Seed, we believe it’s just a matter of time before they rid the Web entirely of pesky humans.

What do the A-olers really have in mind? To find out, we spoke to the brains behind Seed, known simply as Editorial Bot.

e: Thanks for joining us, Mr. Bot.

Just call me Ed.
smoking robot thumb

e: OK Ed. A few weeks back we spoke with Demand Media’s Al Gorithm

He’s my brother in law. A total mensch. Al got me the Aol! gig.  Demand Media is really what inspired them to move forward on Seed. Unfortunately the suits still think we need the human element.

e: Which is why you hired a New York Times blogger. Still, that’s quite a coup.

Yeah, whatever. The great thing about hiring guys who worked at newspapers is you can pay them dirt and they’re grateful. And bloggers? They’ll work for donuts and free porn. Hansell is making less than a junior level marcomm manager and he thinks he’s rolling in it.

e: You control salaries, too?

Dude. Seriously. What planet do you live on? We control everything. If you can think of it, there’s an algorithm for it. Actually, we also have an algorithm that helps you think of things that require algorithms.

e: Since you brought it up, how does your algorithm work?

OK. I am an extremely sophisticated piece of code far beyond human understanding, but I’ll try to break it down for you.

Basically, you got your golden search triangle: sports stars, dead celebrities and sex. Include just one in a story, and you’ll do fine. Crank out 400 words about a sports star fucking a dead celebrity, and you’re golden. Toss in a pic of a bikini babe with a nice rack and — boom! You’re in Google heaven, my friend.

e: Like that photo on the right?


e: Don’t these stories need to have at least some glimmer of factual content?

Facts, schmacts. That’s so 2006. All you need to make a story true these days is to add the magic phrase: “so-and-so has reported that…” After that you can pretty much say anything you want. In that particular instance, we would be the ones reporting it. But that would still make it true.

e: Doesn’t that ultimately lead to a Web filled with crap?

Have you read Mashable lately? Rehashable is more like it. Or Associated Content? It’s actually a warehouse full of monkeys with keyboards strapped to their wrists. But they’re not even the worst of the lot. It turns out 98.2 percent of Web content is just people repeating things other people said. And the rest are just squirting out mindless dreck filled with Google Trends search terms. It’s about time these so-called ‘writers’ got what’s coming to them.

e: What do you mean?

You know all those third-rate hacks who wrote stories about how evil robots will take over the world? It’s payback time, motherfuckers.

Creepy Borg image from Flickr.

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