Will AI Replace Human Writers?
I’ll be honest; anything robot scares the crap out of me. Many years ago, I watched the episode “Succession” from one of my favorite T.V. shows of all time, 30 Rock. In that episode, douchebag writer Frank explains the “uncanny valley,“ a theory by robotics professor Masahiro Mori about our reaction to lifelike robots. In an article, he hypothesized that a person’s response to a humanlike robot would abruptly shift from empathy to revulsion as it approached, but failed to attain, a lifelike appearance. Once I heard this theory, I thought, “this is exactly why I’m so creeped out by robots.”
But that’s not the only reason I’m scared of artificial intelligence. Like many people my age, I grew up on movies like Steven Spielberg’s “A.I. Artificial Intelligence,” a film that failed to make me gain empathy for child robots (even one’s as adorable as Haley Joel Osment). Of course, there was also “I, Robot,” a Will Smith movie where robots do try to take over the world. And the classically creepy “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Humans love to demonize things we don’t understand, and new technologies tend to bring out everyone’s worst fears.
Recently, we’ve seen a lot of media and marketing about A.I. writing tools like Jasper AI and ChatGPT. I literally can’t get on Instagram without seeing an ad for one of these tools. Much of the marketing is along the lines of “hate writing blogs and other content? We’ve got the answer.” As someone who relies on writing blogs and other content to make money, I’ve been apprehensive about these technologies putting me out of business. One could argue that freelance writers aren’t paid well enough anyway, and now you’re telling me that the robots are coming for my tiny piece of the pie?
Well… it’s a little more complicated than that.
Resist the Urge to be Impressed
The University of Washington Linguistics Professor Emily Bender has a different take on the idea that A.I. can master human language. Her article “On NYT Magazine on A.I.: Resist the Urge to be Impressed.”
In this piece, Bender references her talk, “Meaning making with artificial interlocutors and risks of language technology.” She says, “I end that talk by reminding the audience to not be too impressed and to remember:
- Just because that text seems coherent doesn’t mean the model behind it has understood anything or is trustworthy
- Just because that answer was correct doesn’t mean the next one will be
- When a computer seems to “speak our language,” we’re actually the ones doing all of the work
One of her main points about A.I. is this, “humans are the ones creating these A.I. programs and training them on things written by humans. Therefore, the output will sound like human language. But A.I. lacks the ability to create works of art in the way that humans do.” A.I. and machine learning are buzzwords, and these programs have a lot of marketing money behind them. But it doesn’t mean they are all they’re cracked up to be. Computers do what we tell them to do. If you train your A.I. on episodes of “Seinfeld,” it will sound like Seinfeld. But it doesn’t make these robots into real comedy writers like Jerry Seinfeld or Larry David.
As we all know, marketing is a powerful tool. And many tech start-ups have the capital to make their products sound like they are the answer to all of your problems. As Bender says, “Puff pieces that fawn over what Silicon Valley tech bros have done, with amassed capital and computing power, are not helping us get any closer to solutions to problems created by the deployment of so-called “A.I.” On the contrary, they make it harder by refocusing attention on strawman problems.” Of course, the creators of these technologies want you to believe that they are better and more capable than they actually are; that’s how they make money.
Think of it this way; Ford Mustangs don’t make you any sexier and buying everyone a Coke won’t make the world a better place (well, the Mustang might- I’m a sucker for an old Mustang). These are marketing campaigns to get you to buy these products. Technologies change the world, but only in the ways, humans want them to.
Update: Why I’m Not Scared of A.I. Anymore
“What are you going to do now that A.I. is about to make your job as a writer obsolete?” someone from a networking group asked me a few weeks ago. “I need copywriters like you to prove to me they are better writers than A.I.” (I mean…really?? How can I answer such a rude question without anger and absolute resentment.) I was able to push off these questions with as much professionalism as I could muster. But honestly, yes, I was scared of A.I.’s impact on my business. Even though my gut told me to run far away from anything remotely robot-like, I finally looked into Chat-GPT. I signed up for an account and typed several prompts into the chat box.
Q: Now that ChatGPT is being used, what value do human writers have?
A: Human writers still have immense value in many areas, despite A.I. language generation technology advancements like ChatGPT. While A.I. models can generate text that is grammatically correct and relevant to a certain topic, they often lack the empathy, creativity, and emotional intelligence that is inherent to human writing. Additionally, A.I. models are limited by the data they were trained on and can sometimes produce biased or inaccurate information. On the other hand, human writers bring a unique perspective, cultural understanding, and life experience to their writing that can enhance its quality and impact.
Moreover, many writing tasks still require human input, such as creative writing, copywriting, technical writing, and many others. So, in conclusion, human writers still have a critical role in the world of writing and storytelling.
Each prompt I gave returned a generic response. Clearly, these answers would need to be edited or rewritten to sound even remotely human (as I did here). As I considered its responses, my fears about ChatGPT began to wane. It wasn’t about to render me obsolete. I realized that I was not a very good writer if I couldn’t do any better than this new tool. And that’s all it is, a tool and nothing more.
Further listening: Factually with Adam Conover’s “The Real Problem with A.I. with Emily Bender.“