I know a lot of writers have questions about AI…
What will it mean for you as a copywriter?
Are you about to be replaced by some lines of code?
Is it still worth pursuing the dream of the writer’s life?
I’ve been reading up on AI recently – including five books on the topic, along with tracking the news in the space. I’ve also used two of the writing AIs on the market just to get a feel for how they work.
So, I thought I’d share with you some of what I learned… and hopefully put your mind at ease.
The 4 Major Technological Leaps
In The Fourth Age: Smart Robots, Conscious Computers, and the Future of Humanity, technology researcher Byron Reese talks about four “ages.” Each came about with the invention of new technologies.
100,000 years ago: Humans mastered fire. (Thanks, Prometheus!) They also mastered language. Fire and language were the two technologies of the first age.
10,000 years ago: We discovered agriculture, the novel idea that we didn’t have to chase after our food. Farming led to cities. Agriculture and cities were the two technologies of the second age.
5,000 years ago: We invented the wheel and writing (giving you and me jobs ever since).
50 years ago: We entered the computer age. In 1956, John McCarthy coined the word “artificial intelligence.” And robots are now used in an increasing number of settings.
The more advanced we get, the faster we make new advances. Things change so fast, it’s hard for even the speculative fiction writers to stay ahead. And, as the things we only imagined (or read about in stories) become real, it’s easy to let our imaginations run away on us.
We tend to think AI is far more powerful than it is. And that Skynet will soon be upon us.
It’s only natural to be suspicious of AI Natural, but maybe not necessary.
The Challenges and Limits of AI
One of the big limitations of AI is that, while it works well when things are straightforward, AI fails when things are complex. This is the point of Gerd Gigerenzer’s How to Stay Smart in a Smart World: Why Human Intelligence Still Beats Algorithms.
Give an AI a clearly defined goal and it will progress toward that goal until it’s completed. But, when the goal changes because of unexpected circumstances, AI can’t think, decide, and adapt.
In 2020, a natural language AI was created that produces content, GPT-3. All the writing AIs on the market use GPT-3. I’ve used two of them, and they produce reasonably good copy. Passable, but not powerful.
The quality of their writing is comparable to what you might find on a $5-an-article content mill.
Some drawbacks of GPT-3 are the same as those you’d face if you hired one of those commodity writers. First, you’ll spend a lot more time editing. For all the time you save generating copy with a keyboard shortcut, you’ll lose that amount of time and more editing the work to a standard you can submit to a client.
Second, I found that GPT-3 likes to invent quotes. I used it to write some personal development content. As it wrote, it included inspirational quotes. The AI attributed them to real people like Deepak Chopra, even giving the name of the book the quotes were from. Except they weren’t. When I fact-checked the copy, the books didn’t exist. It made the quotes up. What other facts was the AI inventing?
So, add those two things together, and using an AI writer will take up a lot more time in editing and fact-checking… and the copy is going to be less inspired in the first place.
Third, Google considers auto-generated content (i.e., that written by AI) to be spam. If Google finds a website using AI-written content, the site will lose its rankings, not just the individual pages.
And yes, Google is getting better at detecting automatically generated content. You could say the Google bots are siding with humans (especially writers).
The Actions You Can Take Now to Futureproof Your Career
Imagine that back in the mid-2000s you could have learned what to do to stay valuable as a writer when faced with cheaper competition. Well, I’m here to give you just such a checklist to keep you competitive in the age of AI.
The title of my article is taken from Futureproof: 9 Rules for Humans in the Age of Automation by New York Times technology columnist, Kevin Roose. (I like to pay my dues.)
My list is different than his. It’s a bit shorter, and it’s targeted at copywriters.
- Read more, especially the great books of the Western and Eastern traditions. The great thinkers of the ages shape our ideas today. To understand the future, it helps to understand the ideas that have gotten us where we are. Check out the Great Books of the Western World… the Harvard Classics… the reading list at the back of Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren’s How to Read a Book. Read up on Eastern philosophy, too. Start with The Analects of Confucius.
- Inject personality into your writing. If you’re funny and you can carry it into your writing, do so. When writing for clients, you create a customer avatar or buyer persona. Swipe that idea and create a persona for your writing that defines your style and voice.
- Increase your value. Continually hone your existing skills and learn new ones. But don’t get overwhelmed with all the possibilities. When you first enter the AWAI world, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and distracted by all that’s on offer. Here’s the simple way of handling that and steadily increasing your value. Study two programs at once – one that builds your skills and one that builds your business. Don’t start new programs until you’ve completed the ones you’re studying and started applying what you’ve learned.
- Be curious. In Small Data: The Tiny Clues That Uncover Huge Trends, branding expert Martin Lindstrom says big data won’t lead to innovation. You need to get out in the real world and notice the small, out-of-place details. Be curious. Ask questions. Reflect on what you see. Make your own connections and insights. Let your experiences in one area teach you about other areas, as well.
- Don’t compete as a commodity. AI is an average writer. It’s faster than you, it never sleeps, and it never misses deadlines. Typing faster, writing faster, and getting more words out are a loser’s game. Don’t play it. Instead, focus on the value you bring. Your understanding of an industry. Your mastery of a skill or strategy. And, don’t forget about you and your personality. Are you fun to work with? Do you care about your client’s success? These are things your prospects will not get from AI.
- Focus. The biggest strength of AI is its single-minded focus on reaching its defined goal. This is a strength you can exercise, too. Know your wildly important goal in any moment and make sure you’re progressing toward it every day.
The Future Is Here, and Writers Still Have a Place
AI is here, and it’s capable of writing reasonably well. But, that doesn’t mean it can replace you and what you offer.
Here are three takeaways from this article, so you can prepare yourself for this world we’re now in.
- A lot of what you read about AI is a combination of hype and hope powered by science-fiction fans who want fantasy to be reality. AI is not the threat it gets made out to be… at least not to writers.
- AI can write passably, but it requires heavy editing… and you can’t always trust it with facts. You can deliver a better, more interesting, more insightful piece of content every time.
- The biggest thing you can do in the face of content-writing AIs is to make yourself indispensable. Focus on your humanity and not your productivity.
From the five books I read on AI, the conclusion I’ve formed is this: Your goals, your values, and your unique contributions are the things that make you human. Focus on those things and embrace and magnify your humanity. Rather than AI replacing us, for AWAI-trained digital copywriters, the future is ours.
What questions do you still have about how AI will affect your writing? Please share in the comments.