Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

The CIA Invests in Narrative Science and Its Automated Writers

Narrative Science has already proven that its robot writers can make sentences that are good enough for newspapers and internal company reports. Now they’re going to work for the CIA.

The Chicago-based startup, which uses computers to turn structured data sets into prose, has raised an undisclosed amount of funding from In-Q-Tel, the venture firm that invests on behalf of the Central Intelligence Agency.* The money comes along with a deal to put Narrative Science’s automated writers to work for the CIA and “the broader intelligence community.”

Narrative Science had previously raised $6 million. While it made its initial splash by figuring out how to create sports stories based on box scores, without the need for human intervention, it has been making most of its money creating prose most people won’t ever see: Daily reports for the likes of financial services firms, or a large fast-food chain, etc.

But I still think the notion of automated stories for newspapers and other publishers is both fascinating and unsettling, so I like to keep in touch with the company, even as it focuses on enterprise sales.

If you’d like to see an example of their stuff, you can head to Forbes, which is using Narrative Science to create automated earnings reports and previews, like this look-ahead at Smucker’s prospects for tomorrow.

And as far as the CIA and like-minded agencies, you can imagine lots of places where Narrative Science could go to work. Those guys have a lot of data, and it would probably be helpful to have some of that sorted into sentences and summaries. It would be great to show you an example of that work, but obviously that’s not gonna happen.

But here’s a fun scene from “Homeland.” No computer could have created that eye thing Claire Danes does:

* Normally I don’t bother to write about funding rounds where the companies won’t tell you how much money they’re raising. But then again I don’t normally write about the CIA taking equity stakes in the startups I cover. First time for everything!

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus