Robots Are Coming For Your Ohio State Football Takes, and Frankly Humans Just Can't Compete

By Johnny Ginter on June 28, 2019 at 10:20 am

Oh, there's always some kind of robo-apocalypse.

Every time that a science fiction writer comes up with a semi-sentient robot or artificial intelligence for a story, it usually spends most of its time thinking up new and creative ways to either kill or torture human beings for their hubris in creating said robot in the first place.

Like, with an entire universe of things to ponder and problems to solve, ARTI3000XMS feels that the best use of its near-infinite time is to mess with a bunch of small fleshy humanoids on a ball of dirt by either turning them into living batteries or making them goo-monsters or running amok in their theme parks or making douchey comments to them on spaceships.

Which is unrealistic. It's obvious to me that any sufficiently powerful electronic brain would turn its attention to more important things, like creating college football opinion pieces comprised of takes that are simply too scalding for the human brain to process.

And that's exactly what's happened.

Engineer Adam King has created an interface called Talk To Transformer where OpenAI's neural network can create entire stories based upon just one simple prompt. Type in, say, "Justin Fields will win the Heisman after throwing for 6000 yards in a single season," and the AI will complete that story for you, based on all the collected info in its extremely large robot brain. Write "Ryan Day is dominating Big Ten recruiting," and you'll get another 500 words as to why. It's incredible.

For those of us who pride ourselves in coming up with unique and interesting content on a regular basis, it's a humbling realization to acknowledge that no matter how interesting an angle you've cooked up about Ohio State's running game, the neural network can do it better and more quickly.

At least in theory. See, the collective minds of Reddit already got it, among other things, to predict the Top 25 teams going into the 2019 season, and it was great! Although do have to say that I was disappointed by their Ohio State analysis, which consisted simply of "\໅ໄ໖ຈ ຓ ོຄ໨ ශຣຍ ฅบຌ ಧೕ് ೤೟೐ഋ೐ ഋ ોૐ".

So I'm not going to fight it, like those dummies in The Matrix. If the only winning move is not to play, I hereby abdicate my throne to the robots and volunteer myself for labor in their cobalt mines.

In the meantime, I'm giving the mind of Skynet or HAL 9000 or Johnny 5 or whatever a second chance to generate some kickass offseason Ohio State content. Don't screw this up for me, robot!



Er, well. Okay. It wasn't too bad for a first try.

Maybe we'll stick with something a little more basic and see how that goes.



Wow... how insightful. I feel like I'm already learning so much.

Those stories may have been garbage, but the concept of automated journalism is very real. The Associated Press has been using AI to help it write stories for years now, and the software used in OpenAI has been deemed so competent that its creators won't release the full version to the public (yet).

This is especially interesting to me when it comes to sports journalism. Eleven Warriors, and other sites like it, rely largely on reports from human beings who have talked to other human beings about the actions of an entirely separate group of human beings. There is no cold precision there; taking that information and compiling it into a cohesive story is as much art as it is science, but the margins of that art can frustrate the hell out of people, making the cold precision of an automated "reporter" seem desirable.

An example of what I'm getting at is how the reporting surrounding the tattoo scandal and Jim Tressel's firing was received. There was a lot of justified criticism about how some of the story was breathlessly reported; that Jim Tressel was incorrectly portrayed as some kind of win-at-all-costs shark who would do such heinous acts as rig a raffle in favor of a recruit, and that the other acts described in this Sports Illustrated piece by George Dohrmann in 2011 were overblown and not proportional to either the basic facts of "Tattoogate" or the person of Jim Tressel.

I struggled with this, too. I was one of the first writers on this site to talk about the investigation into Jim Tressel and the possibility of him being fired, and how people responded to that story was something that I thought about a lot over the next several months.

Some people were angry that the story had been reported on at all. Some people felt that Eleven Warriors should've taken one side or the other, and some people even wanted us to roast Jim Tressel over a spit (okay, like one person actually wanted that).

"You stupid monkey!"

Balancing those desires and expectations was incredibly difficult. As a writer you wanted to do justice to the story, accurately expound on the possible consequences (without making seem like you were trying to will those consequences into existence), and make sure that you had the input of all available resources. This sequence plays out every time a major story breaks, and the writer tries, with varying degrees of success, to balance all of these concerns.

Recruiting, reporting on individual players, what went on with Urban Meyer last summer, injuries and drafts and play analysis and payments and construction plans and anything else you can think of relies on a human element to make it work. People talking to people, sometimes losing something along the way, but always trying to get it right.

Or, you know, screw it. Let's take the human element out of it altogether. Give the information to a robot, let it bounce around inside a computer for a few milliseconds, and then have it spit out almost gibberish that might be technically as accurate as anything else someone might write, but with the added benefit of being devoid of insight and opinion.

I've been asked several times via the Eleven Dubcast what I think is going to happen with Ryan Day and the Ohio State football team this season. It's a tough question.

The robotic answer is: Ryan Day is a first-year head coach at the helm of a talented (but unproven) team and has placed a lot of faith in a very talented (but unproven) quarterback. These factors considered, Ohio State is projected to win at least 10 games with a favorable schedule.

The human answer is: Hell, I don't know! Luke Fickell's revenge could hit Ohio State, and it'd all be downhill from there. Or, alternatively, they win the national championship.

Both answers work! But ultimately, the only things that can decide which one was more authentic is you, the reader, and the passage of time. Hopefully our human takes stay just as hot as those heated up by a microwave hooked up to the internet.

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