Sportswriters now have new competition — in the form of a computer program called StatsMonkey.
The product of the Intelligent Information Laboratory at Northwestern University, StatsMonkey takes the statistics from a baseball game and produces a computer-generated news story about that game.
For now, StatsMonkey's stories are fairly basic play-by-plays — the program isn't yet able to capture unexpected events or subtle details. For instance, StatsMonkey wouldn't be able to capture details like Babe Ruth pointing to the outfield before hitting a home run in Game 3 of the 1932 World Series, or Kurt Gibson hobbling around the bases in the 1988 World Series.
Kristian Hammond, co-director of the Intelligent Information Laboratory, tells Guy Raz that the purpose of StatsMonkey right now is not to cover the subtleties of Major League Baseball; it is intended to fill a niche.
"We're really aiming this at a genuinely local audience. We're trying to write the stories no one else is writing," he says.
Like Little League games.
"We could literally write a game story for every single Little League game that is played in this country. That means every kid, every dad, every family, every grandma would see the story of what their kid is doing," he says.
Hammond says StatsMonkey can do more than analyze Little League games.
"Our goal is to genuinely model human thought, intelligence, reason," he says. "I have to admit, we are doing it not only in sports; we're looking at what other realms we could apply this [technology] to."
Sample story generated by SportsMonkey from April 25, 2009:
UNIVERSITY PARK — An outstanding effort by Willie Argo carried the Illini to an 11-5 victory over the Nittany Lions on Saturday at Medlar Field.
Argo blasted two home runs for Illinois. He went 3-4 in the game with five RBIs and two runs scored.
Illini starter Will Strack struggled, allowing five runs in six innings, but the bullpen allowed only no runs and the offense banged out 17 hits to pick up the slack and secure the victory for the Illini.
The Illini turned the game into a rout with four in the ninth inning.
Strack got the win for Illinois. It was his fourth victory of the season. Strack allowed five runs over 6 2/3 innings. Strack struck out two, walked three and surrendered six hits.
Mike Lorentson suffered his sixth loss of the season for Penn State. He went four innings, walked none, struck out two, and allowed six runs.
Illinois closer John Anderson got the final seven outs to record his second save of the season.