When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

THE WASHINGTON POST

Speech-Writing Robots Can Parrot Pandering Candidates

Rise of the robotic politicians?
Rise of the robotic politicians?
Brian Fung

-OpEd-

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Spend enough time watching politicians talk, and pretty soon you'll have a good idea of how to address the public like a seasoned elected official. No matter the topic, our nation's leaders invariably find a way to tie things back to members of the hard-working middle-class who just want a fair shot at the American dream, perhaps with a side of help for small business.

Lawmakers today might be able to give this kind of political speech in their sleep. But with the way technology is going, they might as well have a robot write it for them.

"Mr. Speaker, supporting this rule and supporting this bill is good for small business. It is great for American small business, for Main Street, for jobs creation. We have an economy that has created nearly 2 million jobs in the past couple of months: apparel, textiles, transportation and equipment, electronic components and equipment, chemicals, industrial and commercial equipment and computers, instruments, photographic equipment, metals, food, wood and wood products. Virtually every state in the union can claim at least one of these industrial sectors. In fact, one young girl, Lucy, wanted to make sure that the economy keeps growing. That should not be done on borrowed money, on borrowed time."

A computer wrote that.

Drawing from roughly 3,800 speeches that were actually delivered on the House floor, University of Massachusetts Amherst researchers used a sophisticated prediction algorithm that could accurately guess what words to lay down next to each other given the presence of other words. In this case, the software was programmed to analyze the last five words of a sentence in order to figure out what the sixth one should be.

The results are sometimes hilarious. One computer-generated address began with words traditionally used at the end of a speech — "Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time" — but then it blabbed on for 343 more words, commending Congress for having done something unintelligible about health care. Another goes like this:

"For example, I mean probably all of us have had a mom or a grandmom or an uncle to whom we say, "Hey, I noticed your legs are swelling again." Fluid retention. Fluid retention."

I cannot recall the last time I repeated the words "fluid retention" in polite company.

Despite its hit-or-miss nature, it's clear that artificial intelligence can pretty easily whip up, if not a full-on State of the Union address, at least some placeholder text that a politician could later massage into a serviceable diatribe against job-killing regulations or climate science deniers.

Maybe when all political grandstanding has been replaced by computers firing talking points at each other, that'll free up our elected officials to — you know — govern.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

Society

Gluten-Free In France: Stepping Out Of The Shadows, Heading Upmarket

For those in the haute cuisine world of French food, a no-gluten diet (whether by choice or health requirements) has long been a virtual source of shame. But bakers, chefs and pastry makers are now taking the diet to whole new levels of taste and variety.

photo of a man carrying bread in a field

Paris-based entrepreneur Adriano Farano, in Sicily, where his company's wheat is grown

Adriano Farano's Instagram page
David Barroux

PARIS — The "gluten-free" aren’t hiding anymore.

Whether they avoid the grain protein by choice or by obligation — due to taste, allergies or an intolerance — many stick to a diet seen by the outside world as a little bit funny, or perhaps simply just bland.

For some, being gluten-free even came with some amount of self-consciousness: about being that person, the one who announced at the beginning of dinner that they wouldn’t be eating that bread, or that pasta, or that pastry — or about coming across as precious and complicated, or worse, as a killjoy for everyone else’s gustatory pleasure.

For those who feel that it is hard to speak up, it's often easier just to keep the gluten intolerance to themselves and eat only the vegetables at meals, abstaining from bread and dessert to avoid stomach cramps.

But the times, they are a-changin'. Living without gluten used to feel punitive; now it feels more like an option. The number of gluten-free products has exploded, in both quantity and quality, and there’s never been a better time to join the "no-glu" camp.

In supermarkets, bakeries and restaurants, there are increasingly varied alternatives to gluten. And demand is just as high — €1 billion per year in sales in France alone, according to Nielsen. The research consultancy found that 3% of French households were gluten-free in 2019. Now, that number is 4.4%, which is twice as high as the number of “strictly vegetarian” households.

According to market research firm Kantar, the frequency and number of purchases, as well as the average amount spent for gluten-free products, continues to increase — up 6% compared with 2019.

In this context, it’s hardly surprising that gluten-free alternatives are becoming increasingly chic.

Keep reading...Show less

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

The latest