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Plus Report - By Thomas Baekdal - May 2017

The Future for Publishers in an Automated World of Machine Learning

The future that is coming with machine learning is deeply fascinating and it will fundamentally change the way we do things.

Up until now, everything we have done has been constrained by how we, as humans, struggle with complexity. Every time something got too complex, we either tried to simplify it by looking at only a few elements, or we would resort to our 'gut feeling' (whatever that is) for answers.

A simple example is when we humans do analytics. Instead of embracing the complexity of multiple signals, we focus on just a few, like how many views did a video get on Facebook.

This is a not good way of doing things.

Machine learning can be the solution to this problem, and not just in relation to analytics, but for journalism as a whole. It allows us to embrace the complexity of our world in ways that we simply couldn't do before.

Keep in mind that machine learning is hard, as perfectly illustrated by XKCD below. But it's the complexity that makes it worth investing in, and what allows publishers to create new publishing products.

Note: Image from XKCD

So, in this article, we are going to explore automation and machine learning from the perspective of publishers. What is it? How does it change things? How can we use it?

Automation vs machine learning vs artificial intelligence

Before we start, we need to have a very short discussion about the difference between automation and machine learning, because most people confuse the two. And let's very briefly talk about AI.

We'll start with automation.


Automation is nothing new. It was one of the two basic elements of the Industrial Revolution (the other being standardization), and it's basically just 'dumb machines'.

What I mean is that automation is merely a machine that is capable of very efficiently and very accurately repeating the same job over and over again. At no point does the machine actually know anything about what it is doing.

For instance, if you visit Tesla's car factory, you will find an amazing collection of machines building almost every part of their cars, and they are very good at it. But the machines don't actually know that. You will never see a machine suddenly stop what it's doing, and then think to itself, 'Hmmm... you know, I think there is a better way to do this'.

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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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