Would You Rather Read Articles Written by AI Or a Human? Soon You Might Not Have a Choice



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Would You Rather Read Articles Written by AI Or a Human? Soon You Might Not Have a Choice

With billions of dollars pouring into the development of language AI, human copywriters should brace themselves for a rough ride

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Professional copywriters have traditionally considered other fellow copywriters to be their most formidable competitors, which is understandable given that there are many of us around the world and competition for both full-time and freelance writing jobs is fierce. But this competitiveness pales in comparison to what I believe poses the biggest threat to our profession, even if many are still blissfully unaware of it; A rapidly approaching wrecking ball backed by billions of dollars of venture capital and Big Tech funding, its tiny abbreviated name holds gargantuan implications not only for how we write, but also for what we read in the very near future: AI.

Writing-assistant type tools have been around for a while, but they have typically been so crude and limited compared to the real (human) thing, most professional writers haven’t lost too much sleep over them. But in recent years, the dramatic progress behind the technology that powers these tools — Natural Language Processing (NLP) — has seen the adoption rate of AI writing apps skyrocket. According to AI experts like Radical Ventures partner, Rob Toews, a wave of billion-dollar language AI startups is coming, so it seems that AI copywriting is here to not only stay, but apparently, to dominate.

How AI writing apps stack up against human writers

As a professional copywriter, naturally I’ve been following the impact of AI writing on the marketing industry with a keen interest, and the more I’ve looked into it — despite some industry-experts reassuring human writers that they have nothing to fear (for now) — I’m growing increasingly concerned that this is a naïve outlook, not because I doubt the abilities of human writers, but because I’m not sure whether folks who have always hired professional human writers will be able to resist the novelty of switching to AI writing tools instead.

Even if they eventually decide to ditch AI writing software (either because ‘it’s not all it’s cracked up to be’ or because it feels creepy and deceitful) and reengage human writers, I’m concerned that in the interim, mass experimentation with AI writing tools — even if its uptake plateaus once the novelty wears off — will cause irreparable damage to the careers and livelihoods of content creators and copywriters in the marketing industry.

I can’t speak for other writers who think of AI writing tools as a sort of ‘saving grace’ or productivity boosters, but I have zero doubts in my own abilities to outwrite an AI writer 100% of the time (even if it takes me a little longer) because my process involves human intuition, talent, creativity, experience, research skills that are based on both impartial study as well as personal observation and curiosity, a sense of humor, occasional sarcasm, cultural nuances and emotional intelligence, whereas the AI’s process involves mining existing texts from the web and assembling words and sentences using an algorithm.

Interestingly, my confidence seems to be supported by feedback from industry colleagues who have experimented with some of the most popular AI writing tools on the market. As it turns out, although the results are sometimes of surprisingly high caliber, a lot of the time, AI-produced copy is nonsensical, inaccurate, or requires a great deal of editing, which means that for now, AI writing apps are by no means foolproof. They still require human supervision and often considerable intervention before their output can be deemed fit for publication.

For now, AI writing apps are by no means foolproof. They still require human supervision and often considerable intervention before their output can be deemed fit for publication.

But language AI is getting smarter by the day. According to Toews, most of the current language AI technology is based on transforming writing “from an act of solo creation to a collaboration between human and machine”¹, but as NLP continues to develop (more rapidly than some of us would like), “the next frontier in AI-augmented writing will be for the AI to generate novel written content itself based on guidance from the human user.”²

Beyond simple utility, language AI also has a worrisome dark side

Personally, I have an aversion to AI-created content. Whenever I watch a narrated YouTube video and realize that the voiceover is an AI — thanks to dead giveaways like mispronouncing the names of super-famous people because they’re spelled unconventionally, or using inflection and emphasis on the wrong parts of certain words and sentences — I immediately switch off. Not only does it feel weird to be listening to something that was put together by bits and bytes, but knowing that the brand behind that video thinks so little of its audience that it would present them with content that has little or no basis in human creativity or involvement — is a huge turn off.

There may be a place for AI in certain menial writing tasks that require less creative input than others for the sake of saving time and improving efficiency, like writing captions, subtitles or repetitive product descriptions, or in correcting grammar and spelling mistakes, providing options to inspire writers when crafting headlines or alleviating writer’s block by providing talking-point ‘suggestions’.

But while some of the AI writing apps available today already provide this as part of their offering, many are pitching themselves as more than just ‘assistants’ for people who — for whatever reason — prefer not to write their own content. They are presenting themselves as tools that can create any type of written content from start to finish just as well as humans ever could, and to the dismay of professional writers like me who have been following the progress of AI writing apps — they have already found an eager market despite the ubiquity of their low-quality output.

Toews offers at least some solace to those in the writing business:

To temper expectations, we should not expect that today’s NLP will immediately take over all writing from humans. Some forms of writing — brief formulaic content like marketing copy or social media posts — will yield more naturally to these new AI tools than will others. Original, analytical, creative work — say, op-eds, thought pieces or investigative journalism — will resist automation for the time being.³

But he also points out where it’s all leading:

In the years ahead, whether we like it or not, NLP will fundamentally change how humans produce the written word. Ten years from now, writing one’s own content from scratch may well be considered an artisanal craft, with the vast majority of the world’s written text produced or at least augmented by AI.

The fact that the leading organizations behind the development of NLP are Google, Meta, Microsoft and Nvidia⁵ isn’t particularly comforting. Toews explains in another of his articles (a must-read if you’re interested in how language AI is transforming our world) that as with most ‘Wild West’ phases of new technologies, early language AI models were originally programmed to freely scour the web’s virtually-infinite texts when creating ‘new’ copy without much thought about social implications. The problem is that the web is full of material that’s laden with social bias, which means that AI copy “inevitably inherits the prejudices, false assumptions and harmful beliefs of their imperfect human progenitors.”

Toews’s explanation of this phenomenon is chilling:

Today’s most prominent foundation models all exhibit racist, sexist, xenophobic, and other antisocial tendencies. This issue will only grow more acute as foundation models become increasingly influential in society. Some observers believe that AI bias will eventually become as prominent of an issue for consumers, companies and governments as digital threats like data privacy or cybersecurity that have come before it — threats that were also not fully appreciated at first, because the breakneck pace of technological change outstripped society’s ability to properly adapt to it.⁷

The commercialization of language AI is still in relative infancy, but now that the dangers of bias and toxicity in AI models have been recognized, the focus on regulatory measures is apparently set to increase. As Toews puts it, “regulatory action on this front is a matter of when, not if.”⁸ But again, I feel far from comforted by this reassurance, given who the main players are behind this technology and how they might influence the processes created to regulate it.

To those who claim that AI (in general) is a human invention designed for us to merely ‘collaborate’ with in order to improve our lives, or that AI is still too primitive to pose any real danger to human jobs and livelihoods across multiple industries, or to how we communicate with each other either one-on-one or en masse — that may have been true up until recently, but not anymore. If you care to research recent developments in the sophistication of AI as well as how much funding is bankrolling further development, it would be difficult to avoid the conclusion that mankind has opened an AI Pandora’s Box and will need to make a concerted effort to minimize the damage.

AI isn’t all bad, but it could spell doom for human copywriters

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not so naïve as to fail to recognize some of the benefits of AI, especially in fields where machine learning and AI’s efficiency far surpasses human capabilities in solving complex problems or interpreting vast amounts of data that they couldn’t possibly glean on their own in order to make better decisions or automate certain tasks. But in teaching machines to master language better than humans can, while adding social bias into the equation and possibly the ability for machines (or apps) to communicate on our behalf — we may soon lose the very thing that differentiates humans from machines, not to mention the ability to distinguish one from the other.

Frankly, the thought of living in a world where brands and even individuals present each other with supposedly-original content that isn’t really of their own making — whether it’s a blog post or a novel — frightens and depresses me, because it suggests that civilization is at an inflection point where it’s ‘okay’ with reducing the art of writing to a mechanized process churned out at scale by artificial intelligence.

As part of my contemplation of this new reality, I have asked myself how this is different from the automation of processes that saw millions of factory workers who used to perform tasks now performed by machines — lose their jobs. The phenomenon which started more than a century ago thanks to the advent of modern technologies that continues to this day, has been welcomed by big industry, because automation of mass production is not only more efficient but also cheaper than paying humans to do the same work, and as consumers we benefit from greater affordability of products that are now produced with little or no human interaction.

But there’s a difference between using machines to automate menial tasks that require no creativity at all, and automating tasks that are rooted in human creativity, specialized study, skill and expertise.

There’s a difference between using machines to automate menial tasks that require no creativity at all, and automating tasks that are rooted in human creativity, specialized study, skill and expertise.

The difference in a shoe produced by an assembly line of machines and one that’s been created by a shoemaker who’s been honing his artisan shoemaking skills for decades, is the irreplaceable human imagination and touch. And while some people would happily pay $5 or even $50 for a pair of mass-produced shoes because “it does the job” or bears a certain logo of a brand that spends a fortune on marketing its mass-produced shoe to increase its desirability, other people value a shoe that’s been created by hand, or by an expert shoemaker whose creative involvement in producing a limited supply of this shoe makes it unique.

Or to use another example, would you prefer spending money on a painting by a human artist who has incredible and unique artistic skills, or by an AI that can be programmed to create pretty much anything? Maybe some readers will opt for the AI-produced art, but I’m betting that most of the human readers of this article (the non-human ones consisting of bots and web spiders, of course, not Martians) will appreciate the work of human artists more, because it is a manifestation of a specialized expertise and unique talent whose rarity is recognized by fellow humans as special, and therefore valuable.

The rise of language AI will affect us all, not just human copywriters

As a professional copywriter, it’s not easy coming to terms with the fact that AI writing is here to stay. But I’m not just a professional writer, I’m also a human being, and even if I weren’t a writer at all, the fate of human copywriters would still be important to me as an avid consumer of content.

As a professional copywriter, it’s not easy coming to terms with the fact that AI writing is here to stay. But I’m not just a professional writer, I’m also a human being, and even if I weren’t a writer at all, the fate of human copywriters would still be important to me as an avid consumer of content.

It remains to be seen how our society will adapt to the proliferation of language AI and what kind of value it will place on AI versus human writers, but I hope that it will place a premium on human creativity — sooner rather than later.

I don’t want to read a book written by AI. I want to read a novel or a poem that’s the result of a brilliant human mind. I don’t want to read articles and social media posts written by AI either. If a brand wants to communicate with me in the hope I will develop an affinity for its products, I want to be communicated to by people who feel passionately enough about their products to promote it themselves in their own words, rather than hand off the task to an AI-powered app.

I realize that not all readers of this article will agree with me, and they are of course entitled to their opinion. But I also know that I’m not alone in my concern about language AI posing an imminent threat to the art and profession of copywriting as we know it. It may not be upon us just yet, but it’s coming, and those of us who are professional writers would do well to emphasize the creative nature of our work when promoting ourselves in general, because human creativity will surely be one of our primary trump cards against our AI competitors.

AI may be a welcome modern wonder in some industries, but when it comes to professions that have always been based on human creativity — like writing — I hope, for the sake of the preservation of the authenticity of the written word, that marketers, writers and readers alike will collectively choose just what type of content we’re willing and unwilling to consume and engage with, and in so doing, put AI writing apps in their rightful place, as tools and not replacements for human writers.

References:

¹ ² ³ ⁴ A Wave Of Billion-Dollar Language AI Startups Is Coming
by Rob Toews via Forbes, Mar 27, 2022

⁵ ⁶ ⁷ ⁸ Language Is The Next Great Frontier In AI
by Rob Toews via Forbes, Feb 13, 2022

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