My previous post summarized the growing attention to virtual reality (VR). This post focuses on another breakthrough technology that is gaining interest and acceptance: narrative science and artificial intelligence storytelling.

Kristian Hammond explains AI and narrative science during the G&S Global Street Fight business communications conference.

Kristian Hammond explains AI and narrative science during the G&S Global Street Fight business communcations conference.

When I joined VW Credit, Inc. in 2004 as its first (and only to-date) IT Communications Specialist, my boss told me that they were looking for me to help communicate the “value of IT” and other messages. One of the biggest difficulties that IT leadership faced then, he said, was that they were “data rich, but information poor.”

In other words, they didn’t know how to extract deeper meaning and narratives out of the massive amount of data to which they and the organization was privy. I did a good job, I believe, but we would have benefitted from the analytical and narrative text-generation systems developed by one of the presenters at the April 17 “Global Street Fight” business communications conference in Chicago!

At the Global Street Fight conference organized by G&S Business Communications, Kristian Hammond, chief scientist and co-founder of Narrative Science, explained that human beings aren’t built for the kind of data analysis that so many employees within financial services and other fields toil.

“There is a phenomenal amount of data today; way more data than we can understand,” Hammond said to Global Street Fight attendees. “There is a gap between the data and the end-user. We don’t want the data; we want the analysis derived from the data.”

Humans don't want data that we aren't built to analyze efficiently. We want the analysis from that data.

Humans don’t want data that we aren’t built to analyze efficiently. We want the analysis from that data that machines can process for us.

Although humans are not built to analyze data efficiently, machines are, he said. That is why he has spent decades working on the science of extracting narrative text from data and creating a system that automatically and efficiently creates accurate, useful narrative text for reports, press releases and other publications.

Hammond founded the University of Chicago’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in 1986, and formed Northwestern University’s Intelligent Information Laboratory (InfoLab) in 1998. Lately, he is marketing Quill™, an “advanced natural language generation (Advanced NLG) platform.”

According to the Narrative Science website, Quill “goes beyond reporting the numbers—it creates perfectly written narratives to convey meaning for any intended audience.” Hammond told us that Quill can create a financial analysis report in a professional, conversational tone literally within seconds. Compare that to the days or even weeks that some financial firms devote to their reports written by human analysts—who, as Hammond pointed out, don’t tend to like creating those documents.

One aspect that remains important in the AI narrative business is human oversight, Hammond said. He gave an example of a future in which he might enter a self-driving car and tell it to take him to the airport. “If it suddenly diverted to the nearest medical facility rather than the airport, I might be upset…unless the car told me that it detected, by monitoring my vital signs through a device on my wrist, that I was having a cardiac issue. We just want to know why it is making the decisions that it makes.”

Hammond’s belief in the need for human understanding of the software’s decision-making is a relief. Especially when I read that he most recently has been part of a United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) team that is working on shaping policy “regarding the control and regulation of the weaponization of autonomous devices.”

As my fellow Terminator fans would agree, we don’t need a real-life Skynet!