Stacey Vanek Smith

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

I'm in a booth with a computer program called Ellie. She's on a screen in front of me.

Ellie was designed to diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, and when I get into the booth she starts asking me questions — about my family, my feelings, my biggest regrets.

Emotions seem really messy and hard for a machine to understand. But Skip Rizzo, a psychologist who helped design Ellie, thought otherwise.

Even the most creative jobs have parts that are pretty routine — tasks that, at least in theory, can be done by a machine. Take, for example, being a reporter.

A company called Automated Insights created a program called WordSmith that generates simple news stories based on things like sporting events and financial news. The stories are published on Yahoo! and via the Associated Press, among other outlets.

We wanted to know: How would NPR's best stack up against the machine?

We recently did a story that began with this sentence:

"The housing market has recovered in many parts of the country, but the government still owns the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac."

After the story aired, we got a bunch of messages from a listener, Andrew Tomlinson, demanding a correction. So we called him up.

Andrew argues that the government does not actually own Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

How are you feeling seems like the kind of question you might get from a psychiatrist, not an economist. Then again, Stacey Vanek Smith, from NPR's Planet Money team, reminds us about one vitally important economic indicator.

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  • Gyms have built their business model around us not showing up. Gyms have way more members than they can actually accommodate. Low-priced gyms are the most extreme example of this. Planet Fitness, which charges between $10 and $20 per month, has, on average, 6,500 members per gym. Most of its gyms can hold around 300 people. Planet Fitness can do this because it knows that members won't show up. After all, if everyone who had a gym membership showed up at the gym, it would be Thunderdome.

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