A Chinese robot reporter produced 450 Olympic news items over the 15-day sporting event, mostly about China’s dominant sports, like badminton and table tennis. While its prose was criticized for being somewhat rote, the coverage certainly was speedy, appearing minutes after events ended.
The “AI writing robot” Xiaomingbot (link in Chinese) produced 30 to 40 pieces most days of the Olympics, and on August 14 it published 58 (link in Chinese), according to co-inventor Toutiao news. Toutiao, or “headline news” is a search engine and news syndication service with a website, app, and public WeChat account that boasted 530 million total users in August.
Most of the robot news items were 100 words or so. The most-read was a piece on a Badminton Women’s Singles game won by London Olympics sliver medalist Wang Yihan. The piece came out two minutes after the match ended and had over 50,000 views (link in Chinese):
Briefing: China’s Wang Yihan won. The game last for 46 minutes, world ranking No.2 Wang played against world ranking Karin Schnaase. Wang finally won the Olympics badminton women’s singles with two matches. The game was held at Riocentro – Pavilion 4 on August 15, 2:30 am, Beijing local time.”
On online critic said,” ‘China’s Wang won’ is too robotic, it should be ‘Wang claimed the victory,’ okay? The wording is bad.” The piece was followed by two other badminton articles with over 22,000 and 17,000 views, respectively.
Xiaomingbot’s artificial intelligence relies on the Olympics database. It can also write longer pieces like a 821-word article on the Chinese Women’s football tournament (link in Chinese), but that was only viewed by 243 people.
It’s the first Chinese AI machine to report the Olympics, according to co-inventor Peking University (link in Chinese), and it will also follow the European Football Championship using a list (link in Chinese) of ongoing matches and reports.
It was not, however, the only AI reporter at the Olympics. The Washington Post’s Heliograf also generated short items on game schedules, results, and top medal tallies on Twitter.
A post comparing the two writing machines, which was read over 20,000 times on WeChat, criticized (link in Chinese) Heliograf’s robotic style while praising Xiaomingbot for its speedy reports, rich content, readability and variable events coverage. “Chinese player Xiaomingbot inspires national pride and crushed competitor Heliograf across the Pacific Ocean,” it said.