Nearly 20 years since its first commercial application, natural language generation (NLG) has made a name for itself and established its own vertical across many industries and use cases. The ability to automatically turn data into clear, natural language has transformed the way companies and organizations interact with and act upon their data.

We’re in an exciting time within the world of business intelligence, where new methods, softwares, and tools are changing the industry as we know it. The use cases have only expanded and changed over time with advancing sophistication of technology and innovation. With so much rapid innovation, it’s important to look back and better understand where we’ve come from so we can intelligently move forward. We thought it would be fun (and helpful!) to take a look into the past and see how much NLG has evolved since its first use.

timeline of natural language generation
Click to enlarge 🔍

2007: The mustard seed of a narrative revolution

StatSheet was founded by Robbie Allen, a 13-year engineer veteran at Cisco, as an online sports site powered by an automated publishing platform that provided detailed statistics for college basketball and automatically published real-time updates, game previews, recaps, and injury updates. StatSheet became the number one site for men’s college basketball statistics for years.


2010: Does NLG even work?

The early years of NLG were marked with distrust and disbelief from companies, individuals, and the media. It seemed far-fetched. The general consensus was that it doesn’t work or isn’t worth the creation effort. The technology was fascinating, but was it realistic for everyday use? As expected, the adoption rate of NLG was slow to catch fire. As with any new, disruptive technology, a large emphasis was placed on informing, educating, and enlightening the general public to clarify what it was exactly and why this subfield of artificial intelligence worked.

2010: StatSheet was the first company to produce NLG-powered content in a game note format named, StatFix. Additionally, the first patent in the NLG space was filed and approved for by StatSheet.

2011-2013: Breaking new ground

With positive results from NLG being used throughout the sports industry and new expansion into real estate, the market was becoming more educated on what this technology was and how it could be used. Immense progress was made within companies and throughout the emerging industry. A major breakthrough came when partnerships with Major League Baseball and the National Football League were established, this brought NLG’s visibility to an entirely new level.

2011: StatSheet rebranded to Automated Insights (Ai). In October, the National Football League launched fully automated, real-time coverage content through Automated Insights.

2012: Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Football launched automated NLG coverage, providing personalized draft reports and game recaps.

Yahoo! Fantasy Football

2013: Making headway across industries

Around this time, the concept and benefits of NLG started to click with customers and they started to see the value of NLG. NLG was now perfectly positioned to deliver value in three core areas: delivering content at scale, personalization, and optimized internal reporting. Visibility of Automated Insights’ NLG solutions with the Associated Press and Yahoo! really helped drive this positive shift in perception. Due to the influential success of these early adopters, a few additional software providers started to emerge, validating the benefit of NLG technology.

2013: NLG makes an early move into the business intelligence (BI) industry with Allstate’s adoption of Automated Insights NLG technology.

2014: Automated Insights announced the launch of their product and the name of their technology, Wordsmith, at Google for Entrepreneurs Demo Day as one of 10 companies to present nationally. Ai began experimenting with Wordsmith as a SaaS product.

The Associated Press pioneered automated journalism using Automated Insights to publish thousands of earnings report stories each quarter. Automated journalism was met with skepticism and fear that “robots are taking jobs.” However, once content production began, panic subsided. Not only did NLG not affect any jobs, but automated journalism for these types of stories was praised by journalists and editors who no longer had to spend tedious amounts of time on monotonous, repetitive earnings reports. This successful partnership between the Associated Press and Automated Insights illustrated the beautiful convergence between humans and machines that has only strengthened over the years.

2015: NLG becomes a major player

Gartner defines Natural Language Generation as an official space. The Associated Press expands their partnership with Automated Insights to publish thousands of wire content of Minor League Baseball coverage. Additionally, Automated Insights is acquired by Vista Equity Partners.

2016-Present: The new wave of business intelligence

In the last few years, there’s been a much broader demand for NLG, especially in the BI market. In 2017, Gartner predicted that “by 2020, natural language and artificial intelligence will be a standard feature of 90% of modern business intelligence and analytics platforms.*” Pairing NLG with data visualization leaders like Tableau, MicroStrategy, TIBCO, Qlik, Power BI and more, provides unparalleled context for data that allows for better, faster actionable insights for data-driven companies. The BI space is perfectly suited vertical for the solution NLG provides because personalization, customization, and scale all come to a head to empower companies and individuals to communicate, understand, and act on their data using data stories.

2016: Automated Insights’ Wordsmith became the world’s first self-service NLG platform. In 2016, Automated Insights developed partnerships with Tableau and won the Tableau Conference 2016 Hackathon with a real-time Tableau + Amazon Alexa election dashboard, further establishing NLG’s capabilities and prestige.

2017: NLG partnerships with TIBCO and MicroStrategy were established. In partnership with Amazon, Automated Insights hosted an Amazon Alexa Hackathon. The first instance of NLG embedded directly within a Tableau dashboard was illustrated in a Tableau Conference 2017 keynote presentation by Automated Insights.

2018: Wordsmith Extensions became available for Tableau, solidifying the perfect NLG and BI pairing. SOC 2 Compliance was awarded to Automated Insights, setting an industry standard and ensuring data security for NLG-powered narratives.

Role-based insights

The industry has progressed exponentially in the last 10 years and we will only continue to see more growth and expansion. Our team looks forward to what the next 10 years have in store for NLG and Automated Insights!

*Gartner, Augmented Analytics Is the Future of Data and Analytics, Rita L. Sallam, Cindi Howson, Carlie J. Idoine, 27 July 2017