Summarize for a Living: Should You Consider a New Career?

February 13, 2023

In the pre-historic age of commercial databases, many people earned money by reading and summarizing articles, documents, monographs, and consultant reports. In order to prepare and fact check a 130 word summary of an article in the Harvard Business Review in 1980, the cost to the database publisher worked out to something like $17 to $25 per summary for what I would call general business information. (If you want more information about this number, write, and maybe you will get more color on the number.) Flash forward to the present, the cost for a human to summarize an article in the Harvard Business Review has increased. That’s why it is necessary to pay to access and print an abstract from a commercial online service. Even with yesterday’s technology, the costs are a killer. Now you know why software that eliminates the human, the editorial review, the fact checking, and the editorial policies which define what is indexed, why, and what terms are assigned is a joke to many of those in the search and retrieval game.

I mention this because if you are in the A&I business (abstracting and indexing), you may want to take a look at HunKimForks ChatGPT Arxiv Extension. The idea is that ChatGPT can generate an abstract which is certainly less fraught with cost and management hassles than running one of the commercial database content generation systems dependent on humans, some with degrees in chemistry, law, or medicine.

Are the summaries any good? For the last 40 years abstracts and summaries have been, in my opinion, degrading. Fact checking is out the window along with editorial policies, style guidelines, and considered discussion of index terms, classification codes, time handling and signifying, among other, useful knowledge attributes.

Three observations:

  1. Commercial database publishers may want to check out this early-days open source contribution
  2. Those engaged in abstracting, writing summaries of books, and generating distillations of turgid government documents (yep, blue chip consulting firms I an thinking of you) may want to think about their future
  3. Say “hello” to increasingly inaccurate outputs from smart software. Recursion and liquid algorithms are not into factual stuff.

Stephen E Arnold, February 13, 2023


Comments are closed.

  • Archives

  • Recent Posts

  • Meta