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AI Vs Content Writers: An Uncomfortable Alliance
As content writers, one of the early principles we learn is the need to write evergreen content.
We like to populate site pages with informative, engaging blogs that hold long-term value for the reader. We hope our content is still relevant long after we’ve applied the finishing touches using Grammarly or a similar checking tool (powered by AI!)
I can’t think of a less apt topic for the evergreen principle than to try to address artificial intelligence in April 2023.
The current state of affairs
As I write, ChatGPT continues to thrust its way into the headlines. Italy banned the software last week over data protection concerns, while Brian Hood, a regional mayor north of Melbourne, is bringing the first ChatGPT-related defamation case to court.
Both stories come amid widening fears over the pace of artificial intelligence uptake as this sophisticated technology is made available for public use through various applications.
Without proper regulation, there are concerns AI could have a net negative influence on society despite its undoubtedly thrilling potential.
With specific issues related to misinformation, bias, data use and security risks, job displacement, transparency, liability, ethical concerns, and a broader, general all-encompassing existential dread over humanity’s future, it’s safe to say there’s a significant amount of catastrophising surrounding AI.
A report from Goldman Sachs earlier this month suggested that upwards of 300 million jobs could be lost or degraded thanks to AI.
Yet, a PriceWaterhouseCoopers report suggested generative AI would contribute an extra $15 trillion to the global economy by 2030, though it’s unclear whether this added capital would trickle down to Joe Bloggs. Capitalism has an excellent track record of generating value, but there are concerns this AI-fuelled extra capital will only exacerbate wealth inequality
The topic is proving divisive.
Last week, many tech leaders penned and signed a letter begging AI labs to pause giant AI experimentation for six months.
The fundamental argument is that competing AI providers and venture capitalists racing to outdo each other in the reckless pursuit of profit may lead to negative consequences.
However, the letter sparked a wave of AI defenders who have heralded AI as a transformative technology with fantastic potential to improve our lives.
The debate forces tech bros worldwide to nail their colours to the mast of their favourite sons: to either Tesla’s Elon Musk ( team put the brakes on) or Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates (team full steam ahead.)
If the tech behemoths of the world are split down the middle, what hope do we have of making sense of the issue?
Well, as content writers, we can at least speak to the effects we see across the content creation industry.
So, moving away from the mindboggling ever-evolving world of AI and its potential consequences, let’s focus on ChatGPT and drill down on how it’s transforming content writing.
What is ChatGPT, and how does it work?
In case you’ve been living under a rock, we’ll quickly cover what ChatGPT actually is.
ChatGPT is an AI-powered language model. It can generate human-like text in response to given prompts.
So, that makes it a chatbot, which is something we’re used to. But…here’s the thing: ChatGPT takes things to the next level.
Check out this more thorough explanation of the mechanics and capabilities of ChatGPT.
Here are the main headlines:
- The latest iteration, ChatGPT 4, is really good at creating content closely resembling human-written content.
- It’s fast! The model delivers answers pretty much instantaneously.
- It’s versatile. Coders, web developers, writers, translators, healthcare workers, lawyers, and many other professionals can adapt its capabilities to suit their needs.
- It’s customisable – you can fine-tune its output with careful prompting or by providing different data sets.
- It understands context and the intricacies of language use based on its extensive pre-training, meaning you don’t have to be precise with your prompts to get results.
- It remembers – you can build on previous responses, and ChatGPT will consider new information as your conversation progresses.
- It has multilingual capabilities, though it was predominantly trained in English.
It’s been called generative AI, but that’s not entirely accurate. A better label might be incredibly sophisticated imitative AI. Here’s why:
ChatGPT spits out its responses based on a corpus of vast data. Its developers used this corpus of data – essentially just a mindboggling amount of text from various sources – to train the software’s algorithms.
Therefore, ChatGPT’s responses are nothing more than heightened predictive text; it responds to your prompt based on incredibly complex formulas that dictate an ideal order of words to satisfy your needs.
It repackages human-generated content; it doesn’t provide new knowledge.
Watch Adam Conover’s recent video attempting to demystify and debunk some of the hype around the label ‘generative AI’.
Despite his scepticism, even Conover admits the technology is still ‘cool’. As you experiment with ChatGPT yourself, you’ll quickly grasp its transformative nature for the content industry, for better or worse.
So, without further ado, let’s dive into the potential benefits of using ChatGPT, or other AI language models, for writers. We’ll then examine the many limitations more closely.
Potential Benefits and Use Cases of ChatGPT
Writers who experiment with ChatGPT will quickly recognise the following potential benefits:
- Greater Productivity – ChatGPT can quickly generate decent drafts or at least multiple ideas and outlines for content. This ability to create content at incredible speed can remove some of the heavy lifting for writers, saving time on content ideation and freeing up time to focus on refining, editing, or iinjecting the human touch. However, there are ethical concerns and potential plagiarism issues in this regard (more of that later.)
- Enhanced Creativity – Ah, the dreaded writer’s block! With some clever prompting, ChatGPT can provide new ideas, perspectives, and inspiration to help writers overcome writer’s block or expand on their concepts.
- Multilingual Capabilities – ChatGPT can help writers translate their content into multiple languages, potentially opening up new audiences. Yet, its proficiency may vary depending on the languages involved.
- Editing – ChatGPT can help writers improve their grammar, syntax, and style by providing suggestions or alternative phrasings for their work.
Often, a list of benefits like this can seem a little dry and surface-level. Let’s flesh these out by sharing some use cases that showcase these potential benefits.
1. Content ideation
Let’s say you’re assigned a task to write a listicle for house cleaning tips. You’re a little strapped for time. You’ve come up with four or five, but you need some inspiration. You can open up ChatGPT to help with your brainstorming process. Input a prompt like, “10 tips for house cleaning,” and ChatGPT will instantly generate a list of relevant tips. Better still, ask for 30 and select the ones that suit your needs.
2. Article outlines
Failing to plan is planning to fail. It’’s the most basic of writing process fundamentals, yet so many of us struggle with this first step. If you want a suggestion for article structure, simply ask ChatGPT something like: “Provide an outline for an article comparing different renewable energy sources”. You’ll get an appropriate starting point for an article outline that will offer suggestions for relevant headings and sub-headings. You can tweak the article outline with further prompts if you like.
3. Writing assistance
Writers can ask ChatGPT for help with specific aspects of their writing. For example, let’s say you need a new perspective for a CTA. You feel like you’ve exhausted every possibility in terms of word choice and word order, but nothing seems quite right. Prompt ChatGPT by explaining what you are trying to achieve, then ask for suggestions. You can ask for X variations of your desired CTA. At the very least, this should spark further ideas. You can use this process for other elements of your writing, like FAQs, meta descriptions, headings and subheadings, or social media elements like captions and hashtags.
We’ve all been there as we stare at a paragraph that doesn’t quite sit right, but we’re not entirely sure why. Many writers see ChatGPT as a valuable tool in this proofreading and editing stage. Simply input your troublesome paragraph and prompt ChatGPT to check your grammar or ask for alternative phrasing. Again, the point here is that you should always rely on your own judgement regarding final decisions, but using ChatGPT as a soundboard can offer helpful insights to fine-tune your writing.
5. Email and Communication
Ever struggled to land on the perfect wording for a follow-up email? Have you avoided admin communication because you simply don’t want to expend any effort responding to a banal request for your schedule? You can ask ChatGPT for help and suggestions for all types of written communication, making the process faster and more efficient.
6. Research Summaries
Needing a quick summary of jargon-laden text on an intricate topic. Simply input the text into ChatGPT with a prompt to create a “concise summary in straightforward language”. You’ll get your easily digestible content in seconds, which you can then use to your own ends.
Limitations of ChatGPT for Writers
Okay, so what’s the catch, right? You might be thinking this all sounds great. However, the more questioning readers out there should hopefully spot some significant red flags.
And, these are red flags related explicitly to writing with ChatGPT, without even touching upon the wider implications of AI in our society.
1. Lack of a human touch
I’ve said that ChatGPT 4 is very good at creating content that resembles human-created text. However, it’s still lacking compared to the empathy, emotion, ingenuity, and personal experience that effective writers bring to their pieces. Don’t forget that ChatGPT can only imitate its input, so true inspiration and creativity still has to come from humans.
What’s more, the more you read ChatGPT-generated content, you begin to notice repetition in word choice and structure and overly generic phrasing. Future updates will likely iron this out, but it’s still got a long way to go to replicate the best human writers.
ChatGPT has a tendency to present inaccuracies confidently as fact. Any cursory glance into social media will give you access to thousands of examples of ChatGPT messing up in some way. Getting basic math calculations wrong, failing at simple logic, and sometimes asserting outlandish claims.
ChatGPT’s creators are aware of this. It now comes with a disclaimer: “ChatGPT may produce inaccurate information about people, places, or facts”.
This propensity for errors partly disproves the false assertion that ChatGPT is intelligent. The algorithm makes educated guesses about what word should come next in its output, and that system is fundamentally flawed.
3. Not up to date
Ask ChatGPT, “Who is the current Prime Minister of the UK?”
You’ll find the program stumped. That’s because ChatGPT is based on training data that only leads up to September 2021. That means ChatGPT is blissfully unaware of the short but maniacal reign of Liz Truss, and everything else that has happened since. That means you can’t use ChatGPT to comment on anything requiring relevant, up-to-date information. (However, you could ask it to comment on today’s news by inputting new information yourself.)
4. Plagiarism and authorship
Referring back to the video shared by Adam Conover, he references a scenario in which ChatGPT users have created scripts “in the style of Adam Conover”. The program can create scripts featuring his distinctive style. How? By accessing Adam Conover’s actual scripts and imitating them. You can experiment with this for yourself. Ask ChatGPT to create a poem about X subject in the style of Dr. Seuss, or a description of something as if narrated by David Attenborough. The generated text uses data from the training corpus to replicate these artists’ work, raising questions of authorship.
Closer to our day-to-day writing for various businesses as content writers, there is an overarching question of how Google will react to AI-written content. Will it attempt to penalise non-human text? What implications will this have for the SEO industry? Some tools, like originality.ai, have been created to help spot AI-written content, but these are still imperfect. Writers will need to watch this space as it evolves.
These four limitations only touch the surface of the criticism and warnings levelled at ChatGPT and its relation to writing. We won’t open the can of worms related to the potential misinformation campaigns that ChatGPT could drive, the worrying embedded bias, or the data privacy concerns associated with the sharing of sensitive information.
Heavy topics warranting their own pieces for another day!
The first thing to reiterate is that the space is evolving rapidly. Groundbreaking advancements and new stories shift the landscape with each new week.
So, without wanting to get too comfortable on the fence, I think it’s fair to land on a few points:
- ChatGPT (or another AI tool) is here to stay, and it’s something writers need to come to terms with.
- AI won’t replace human writers, though it may replace some.
- It’s more likely that writers will use AI as a plucky sidekick, a complementary tool to add to their arsenal.
- After all, there are plenty of ethical use cases in which writers can benefit from ChatGPT.
- There’s plenty of regulating and fine-tuning in the pipeline to help combat limitations. So, we’re in for a bumpy ride.
Whatever happens, we’ll be watching keenly to see how things develop!