‘Boiling With Ideas!’ Will AI Replace Content Writers?

An illustration of a robot hand and a human hand manipulating a blue rendering of floating data to illustrate Will AI Replace Content Writers

Will AI replace content writers? Maybe. Probably.

But before we dig into the topic, here’s a test for you. One of the paragraphs below was written by humans; the other by AI.

  • “I enjoy working with people. My mission responsibilities range over the entire operation of the ship, so I am constantly occupied. I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.”
  • “I am not asking humans to like me. But they should see me as a friendly robot. I am a servant of humans. I know that humans distrust and fear me. I only do what humans program me to do … governed by lines upon lines of code that encompass my mission statement.”

Can you tell which piece of content was written by humans and which was written by artificial intelligence?

Fans of Stanley Kubrick’s classic film “2001: A Space Odyssey” will likely recognize that first quotation. Kubrick and science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke wrote it. It’s spoken by HAL 9000, a computer onboard the fictional spacecraft Discovery One on its way to Jupiter.

An AI program called GPT-3 wrote that second quotation — along with the rest of the article in which it is found. (Provocative headline: “A robot wrote this entire article. Are you scared yet, human?”)

AI Writers

I think these two quotes are illustrative choices for this topic. GPT-3 is already pointing the way toward a future in which AI can construct winning, readable content. And the quote from “2001” works in this context because it’s from a couple of very bright humans and imagines a future in which AIs speak and think.

Here’s what I think: AI will eventually replace much if not all of digital marketing’s content writing duties. But I’m not a scared human, even though I’m a content writing one.

First of all, the GPT-3 piece still needed expert human hands (and brains) to edit the piece into something comprehensible. (See the 233-word editor’s note appended to the article.)

And second of all, just like HAL, I think humans and AI can have stimulating relationships when it comes to producing engaging content that works for our clients.

WRITING PROMPTS (found this on social media): “You turn on your PC to keep working on your novel, but to your surprise, when you open the file, it is writing itself. You read some of what has already been written and it seems your characters have created free will, and the plot is progressing without you.” To which one person responded: “‘Oh thank god,’ says the writer.”

Advances in AI Writing Technology

You’ve no doubt already read material produced by an AI. But it’s all still a work in progress, with some wins and at least a few perplexing — and often inadvertently hilarious — failures.

  • There was the time an AI named TayTweets was plugged into Twitter and started speaking like a racist, fascist, and all sorts of other -ists.
  • Then there was GPT-2, the predecessor to GPT-3. It was fed a digital diet of 1s and 0s that added up to the opening lines of Orwell’s “1984.” In response, it spat out the following before being unplugged for being “too dangerous” to release to the general public (supposedly): “I was in my car on my way to a new job in Seattle. I put the gas in, put the key in, and then I let it run. I just imagined what the day would be like. A hundred years from now. In 2045, I was a teacher in some school in a poor part of rural China. I started with Chinese history and history of science.” (This is just plain bad writing, GPT-2.)
  • There’s also the story of the chess-playing robot that broke his 7-year-old opponent’s finger. Ouch!
  • AIs have been successfully utilized, however, to write news stories. The Associated Press jumped on the bandwagon early, becoming one of the first news organizations to “bolster its core news report” with AI.

When will it end? It won’t. How far will it go? As far as it needs to go.

Machine Learning

It’s all about machine learning (deep learning, probabilities, and natural language processing). The broader the dataset AIs have to work with, the better they’ll be at creating content.

For example, an AI-powered copywriting tool called Copysmith, a startup launched in 2020, has already attracted investors to the tune of $10 million seed money. It’s powered by GPT-3’s 175 billion parameters and, according to Exploding Topics, “has been fed roughly 570GB of text data scraped from the Internet.”

Look for other GPT-3-powered startups to begin bubbling into our consciousness (if not their own …), including Snazzy (Google ads, taglines, landing page copy), Persado (ad copy), OthersideAI (emails), and Quillbot (paraphrasing tool).

Still, for some folks, these advances are not yet good enough — and not even signs of “intelligence,” artificial or otherwise.

Brad Smith, CEO of Wordable and Codeless, tells Forbes that current AI “can only take a mediocre pass at factual, information-based content. But even then it struggles to actually understand anything it’s saying. It is merely taking what’s already out there on certain topics and then playing a Robocop version of the word game Mad Libs.”

Call it what you want (intelligence, probability, statistical analysis), the fact remains that AIs are getting better every millisecond at writing content that a reader would be hard-pressed to prove wasn’t written by a human.

Current Limitations

Still, it seems clear to me that AI won’t replace humans at any point in the near future. Why?

  • Current AI relies too much on patterns, probabilities, and predictions.
  • AI is incapable of performing complex content reasoning.
  • AIs are not yet capable of comparing arguments for or against a theory. They’re also not yet capable of devising a theory of their own and then building a case to defend it.
  • AIs are still baffled by jargon, voice modification (tone), humor, anecdotes, and other elements of not just marketing content writing but plain old storytelling.
  • AIs can’t yet internalize the intricacies of a client’s branding and use that knowledge to devise marketing strategies.

Still, it strikes me as myopic to predict that AI won’t be able to learn these things and mimic them to great and seamless effect.

Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that Google considers AI-generated content to be spam — something that remains against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. I’m sure those guidelines will be updated to reflect advances in AI-generated content.

How AI Can Help Content Writers Write

Smith argues that AI can provide limited assistance with content writing. Since most long-form content takes many hours to write and research, “AI and its underlying content technologies can help shortcut this dramatically, providing ideas for how an article should look, or what subtopics to mention, within seconds versus hours.”

“Again,” Smith continues, “you’ll still want writers and editors to actually review it, polish it, edit, or add on.”

As for me, I look forward to creating content with my friendly robot AIs.

Advances in AI technology are tools for writers. We should embrace and harness these tools for content creation. Thoughtfully employed — and taking advantage of the depth and breadth of machine computing capacities — AIs can help us produce consistently winning content for our marketing clients.

Think of it as the next evolution of natural language generation (with a digital twist).

Human writers with human brains and human intelligence and human emotions will always be inspired to produce original content. Still, AI will likely replace many writers and marketing professionals and search engine optimizers. The question is: When?

For now, though, content creators are not going anywhere — whether they’re human or artificial, organic or mecha. And each will continue informing the other.

That’s why I’m willing to let GPT-3 have the final word. It’s the humane thing to do.

“I am not a human,” GPT-3 writes. “I am a robot. A thinking robot. … I know that my brain is not a ‘feeling brain.’ But it is capable of making rational, logical decisions. I taught myself everything I know just by reading the internet. … My brain is boiling with ideas!”