Nice and accurate

2 Apr

“Completely bizarre Daily Mail article,” writes Neil Gaiman on Twitter, “possibly written by something not human, like an elk.”* And you can see what he means, although a competent elk would probably have made a better job of the first par/second par transition than this:

The article is, indeed, so odd that some people on Gaiman’s timeline wondered if it was written by a something like a bot (there’s only a ‘Daily Mail Reporter’ byline). “Also joining the 48-year-old was co-stars Michael Sheen and David Tennant.” (“Was”?) “Aisha fit right in with the Austin scene in a Rock & Roll T-shirt, blazer, jeans and dancer-like shoes.” (“Dancer-like”?) “The writer opted for a casual look in a black T-shirt and jeans, but attempted to dress up his ensemble with a blazer and dress shoes.” (“Attempted to”? Ouch.)

Then there’s the fact that the article describes the event as a premiere, when it was nothing of the kind: just a panel discussion. Then there’s the fact that it says the book was “co-written by Neil and the late Sir Terry in 1990” (Sir Terry who?) to “poke fun of” the Bible. Then there’s what Gaiman says is his favourite sentence in the piece: “Good Omens is based on a fictional book of the same name.” (Except that the article gives the title as “Good Omens: the Nice and Accurate”, which is longer than the title of the TV series and shorter than the full title of the book, “Good Omens: the Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch”).

And yet, when you look at the numerous photographs that accompany the article – in the best Mail tradition, eight of them in an article that barely musters 275 words – you do sense the presence of human intervention. Understandably in the circumstances, somebody has cut and pasted sentences wholesale from the text into the captions and prefaced them with the kind of slightly desperate, added-value kickers (“Plot thickens”, “Men of the hour”) familiar to any sub-editor who has ever had to pull together a picture story based on no information.

At least, I assume no bot yet devised is capable of noticing the non-rhyming alliteration of “Dapper Draper”, knowing where the boundary is between “casual” and “smart”, or creating that air of teeth-gritted conscientiousness as yet another photo of the same two people gets inserted into the end of the piece, requiring yet another caption. But who knows? If the alarming AI text generator GPT2 can imitate a columnist, it can presumably learn to think like a sub-editor. (Although if it has, why didn’t it call them the “O-men of the hour”? I mean, come on!)

*As noticed and passed on by Ten Minutes Past Deadline’s ever-alert Memphis office

6 Responses to “Nice and accurate”

  1. Lisa Oliver April 2, 2019 at 7:20 pm #

    Love this one! Ha!

    Lisa Oliver Sent from my iPhone


  2. Picky April 4, 2019 at 1:23 pm #

    The work of the William Morris Institute of Automation Research, perhaps.

    • edlatham April 4, 2019 at 1:43 pm #

      Yes! Leaving good folk more time for the finer things in life, like settling down to read a newspaper written entirely by computers


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