Robots, what can’t they do? How about content development

Given the rapid advances in the state of robotic technology, we all know it’s just a matter of time until mankind finds itself in service to robot masters. So, in anticipation of that inevitable turning of the tables, Leff Communications has sought to curry favor with our future automated overlords by sponsoring a high school robotics team.

Actually, we like to think of ourselves as forward-thinking folks, and we recognize the important role robotics will play in our future. We also support students’ efforts to prepare themselves to deliver tomorrow’s discoveries, so sponsoring the robotics program at Chicago’s Lane Technical College Preparatory High School was a nice way to help develop some of the technology leaders of tomorrow.

The Lane Tech students have already shown themselves to be well on the way toward developing tomorrow’s advances in robotics, enjoying a great deal of success in various local and nationwide competitions. The group we’re sponsoring, FIRST Tech Challenge Team 5928, “The Turing Machines,” has made it to the FIRST Tech Challenge state championship three of the past four years.

There’s little doubt that these Lane Tech students and their counterparts elsewhere will soon be expanding the use of robots into areas we previously considered unimaginable. Even today, though, we’re seeing robotics being applied to a host of applications, from manufacturing to medicine.

Some have also attempted to apply robots to softer disciplines, tasks typically marked by creativity. I know there are people hard at work on robots that would create music—though I’m expecting these efforts to produce shopping mall music or something like this. But I can’t believe any collection of algorithms will ever be able to produce anything close to the sheer human genius of this.

People are also trying to apply robots to the written word. While it had a team of reporters at this year’s Rio Olympics, The Washington Post used a program to write short data-centric items about the Games for its website, Twitter feed, and other news channels.

Granted, these were just items like scores and medal counts, and there are other newswriting algorithms out there that are being used to write similarly basic pieces. But some are attempting to take those writing robots to a higher level at which they’d produce more complex articles. So far, their success seems limited at best. In an article in The Atlantic earlier this year, Adrienne LaFrance described an unsuccessful effort to develop a robot that would write her magazine article.

Fareed Zakaria did an interesting interview on his GPS program recently with IBM CEO Ginni Rometty discussing IBM’s Watson and the future of technology. In addition to discussing Watson’s involvement with medical diagnoses and other scientific endeavors, Rometty detailed Watson’s use in editing a movie trailer. No word of Watson being used to develop thought leadership pieces, but it’s probably just a matter of time.

Until then, however, I think there are a few things to consider about the value of the human touch in your content development efforts. First is that our work with clients starts with helping them conceive the best types of content for their purposes and continues with helping them develop and design content that not only fulfills their needs but meets the highest possible standards. That process often works best when it’s a collaborative one, with good input from the client and good communications between the client and the creative team during the process.

Our creative team can also help you get the biggest bang for your content development effort, helping identify multiple ways to use the content you’ve created across various channels or formats.

And, of course, there’s the fact that Watson’s hardware cost an estimated $3 million and that by some estimates its overall development costs were somewhere between $900 million and $1.8 billion. Pricey.

For now, I think the human touch remains an essential element in thought leadership and other content development endeavors. While I don’t think it’s imminent, given the advances in robotics, I suppose the day may come when robots are crafting thought leadership pieces. But, if that day does come, you can be sure that we at Leff Communications will be quick to remind any robot who asks about our support for Lane Tech’s robotics program.

Rodd Zolkos

Rodd is an editorial director at Leff Communications. Prior to joining Leff, Rodd spent more than 35 years as a working journalist, including time with daily newspapers, community journalism, and the business press. Follow Rodd on Twitter @RoddZolkos.

1 Comment

  • Leviticus Bennett says:

    I like your point that the human touch is a necessary element when it comes to creativity in all of its forms. Robots do what they’re told to do and are either completely random or follow certain rules. Creativity involves neither complete randomness and shouldn’t always follow rules. We all know how important creativity is to content development.

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