Last week, the New York Times reported that Narrative Science, a Chicago-based startup, had developed software that would automatically digest sports data and generate a news brief. The software will also create articles out of other material such as a company’s financial reports and housing statistics. Ironically, the software was developed in collaboration with the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

Narrative Science isn’t the only company in this space. Automated Insights (a company that recently scored $4 million in additional financing and changed its name from StatSheet — could it be because they wanted to use “AI” as their company logo?) has also developed technology that creates “long & short form articles, headlines & summaries written entirely by software, that derive insight from data.”

It’s clear that software like this works best for data-heavy content. And in the aforementioned CJR interview, the founder states that special algorithms for style and tone had to be created; something feasible for data-driven sports and business articles with a consistent tone, but perhaps not that easy for news articles. On Twitter, one user commented that automated content does not equal understanding:

[blackbirdpie url=”!/LawrenceHecht/statuses/116228585798369280″]

Software like this could also be used for mischief. For example, web content farms like eHow could quickly increase the amount of “content” that’s hosted on their sites, solely for the purpose of selling more ads (something they’ve been criticized for previously).

What do you think? Do you think robot-written journalism has a place in the newsroom?

Chris "The Dutchess" Walton shows off her Guinness-world-record-winning fingernails.

There’s a new Guinness world record holder — though her feat is neither one of strength nor endurance.

Chris “The Dutchess” Walton, 45, of Las Vegas, Nev., has just been certified as having the longest fingernails in the world. Walton’s nails, which she has been growing for 18 years, total 19 feet 9 inches, about the height of an average giraffe. Her nails on each hand range in length from 1 foot 3 inches to 3 feet.

She tries not to let her long nails get in the way of her daily routine. She can even use a smartphone to send text messages. However, in a few areas of her life, she has had to make adjustments, particularly in choosing and modifying her clothes. “I acclimate the clothes to me… I’ll take the seam out,” she said, explaining that many people just assume she struggles every day to put a top on. Asked how she does the dishes, she laughed and said, “I have grandkids now so I have earned the right not to do dishes.” Read More

New York State Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr., gathers with other local politicians to denounce the gun violence that injured three on Monday, August 29, 2011.

Politicians gathered two days after the shooting of two preschool girls in the South Bronx neighborhood of West Farms to decry the violence and call for stronger gun control laws. But local residents said that endemic problems in the community require longer-term solutions, and cannot be solved merely through legislation or enforcement.

In a prepared statement, Democratic Assemblyman Peter M. Rivera said, “Quite simply, strict gun control laws in this State are necessary.” Rivera, a former NYPD detective, called on Republican Assembly members to join him in enacting stronger legislation. Other area politicians, including New York State Senator Ruben Diaz and Community Board District Manager Ivine Galarza, echoed his remarks, emphasizing the need for an increased culture of respect.

While politicians hope that the incident at East 181st Street & Daly Avenue will be a turning point for the area, many long-time residents do not share that optimism. Some said that the endemic problems in the community run far deeper and require long-term solutions to gangs, drugs, and prostitution. Read More

Eddie Hernando and Paul Sandeep running Faith's Halal Food outside Madison Square Garden

Despite the economic downturn affecting many Manhattan street vendors, Paul Sandeep, 25, and Eddie Hernando, 42, have caught a lucky break at 8th Ave. and 34th St.: the lunchtime influx of construction workers from the massive Madison Square Garden renovation project.

Sandeep and Hernando, who operate Faith’s Halal Food from a tiny, overheated cart across the street from Penn Station, say that they haven’t noticed the impact of the economy at all. “We previously had a truck but have spent seven months with this,” Sandeep said, noting that the city’s crackdown on parked food trucks has actually benefited their business. During their lunch break, construction workers line the sidewalk halfway down 34th St., mostly eating take-out food from boxy styrofoam containers purchased from one of the many vendors dotting the street.

Shah, 52, a newsstand vendor in Midtown, helping a customer.

Other vendors in Midtown, however, have not been so lucky. Shah, 52, from India (who declined to provide his last name), runs a newsstand at the corner of 8th Ave. and 35th St. and decried a 50% decline in sales. “It’s very down,” Shah said, noting that despite his Midtown location, 80% of his sales come from locals and not from tourists. In particular, he said, with the price of a package of cigarettes hitting $13.00, many patrons are choosing to buy cigarettes individually — something he does not sell. “They’re not smoking less,” he said, but being more judicious about controlling their budget.