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'Quakebot' first to break story of L.A. earthquake

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Digital writers
theweathernetwork.com

Tuesday, March 18, 2014, 5:03 -

A Magnitude 4.4 earthquake rattled the city of Los Angeles early Monday morning, striking at 6:25 a.m. local time.
Within three minutes, a story had already been written and published to the Los Angeles Times' website, courtesy of a computer algorithm called "Quakebot".

The program is the brainchild of L.A. Times journalist and computer programmer Ken Schwencke.


RELATED: Earthquake rattles Los Angeles


Every time an alert comes in from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) about an earthquake above a pre-determined size, Quakebot will take relevant data from the USGS report and add it to a pre-written template.

The story is then added to the L.A. Times content management system, where a (human) editor can push it to the web.

Here's Quakebot's story in full:

A shallow magnitude 4.7 earthquake was reported Monday morning five miles from Westwood, California, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The temblor occurred at 6:25 a.m. Pacific time at a depth of 5.0 miles.

According to the USGS, the epicenter was six miles from Beverly Hills, California, seven miles from Universal City, California, seven miles from Santa Monica, California and 348 miles from Sacramento, California. In the past ten days, there have been no earthquakes magnitude 3.0 and greater centered nearby.

This information comes from the USGS Earthquake Notification Service and this post was created by an algorithm written by the author.

Read more about Southern California earthquakes.

That's pretty impressive for a computer program, but Schwencke doesn't think that robo-journalism will be replacing human jobs.

"The way we use it, it’s supplemental. It saves people a lot of time, and for certain types of stories, it gets the information out there in usually about as good a way as anybody else would. The way I see it is, it doesn’t eliminate anybody’s job as much as it makes everybody’s job more interesting,” he told Slate.com.

The Los Angeles Fire Department had no immediate reports of significant damage from Monday's quake but people across the city, the heart of one of North America's most densely populated metropolitan areas, reported feeling the shaking.

The tremor came one day after Chile experienced a powerful Magnitude 6.7 tremor that sent people in the Chilean coastal town of Iquique scrambling for high ground amid tsunami fears.

No one was killed and no significant damage was reported from that quake, but several landslides were reported in the desert hills surrounding the town.

At least two earthquakes occurred in neighbouring Peru on Saturday as well.


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