It’s not the end all be all, but it’s a good place to start.
I listen to This American Life every week. Started as a radio show in 1995, the Ira Glass-hosted show is a primer in storytelling. With 200 million listeners on over 500 public radio stations and 2.3 million people downloading the podcast episode each week, it would seem I’m in good company.
Each episode is split into multiple acts centered on a single theme. The week before Christmas, the 757th episode was titled “The Ghost in the Machine,” and it highlighted the human handprints – the “ghosts” – that are captured every time someone records audio.
Each story in the episode, including the prologue, is as fascinating as I’ve come to expect from this NPR show, but it was the first story that really captured me – the story about a journalist using a computer program run on artificial intelligence to help develop a story when she couldn’t come up with the words on her own. The story is sad, about her sister’s death when she was in college. She’d been trying for years to write about this loss and was always coming up empty. So, she turned to technology to help.
ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence that can “converse, generate readable text on demand, and even produce novel images and video based on what they’ve learned from a vast database of digital books, online writings, and other media.” It’s free for anyone with an internet connection and designed to be incredibly user-friendly and intuitive.
Without giving too much away (you really should listen to the story; it’s so good), at first, ChatGPT gets the story about the journalist’s sister so, so wrong. This isn’t completely surprising since ChatGPT is still in its beta stages and many tech bloggers are discovering its significant limitations. In fact, as the journalist in the This American Life story asks ChatGPT to write about her sister, it downright creates facts to fill in the gaps to produce a “good” story. She prompts the program half a dozen times over several days before it produces something she feels like she can use. What it gave her wasn’t complete, but it was a good place to start, and she was able to write about her sister after years of not being able to find the words.
When I finished listening to this journalist’s story, I didn’t think it would be one that would hang with me. But, not even a week later, I was in a car on the way to a client meeting with several co-workers when the subject of AI writing programs came up again. One of them had used a beta version of one of the programs to help do some quick research for something he was writing. He was taken with the ease of use and the quality of the research it had come up with, along with the speed with which it created content. He asked me, as a writer on staff, what I thought about it.
And that’s what led us here. Like most writers, when I don’t exactly know what I think about a thing, I have to write it out. While I’m still not entirely sure what I think about technology-helped writing, here’s one writer’s perspective on AI.
Writers’ jobs aren’t in jeopardy.
When I was asked what I thought about AI writing, I initially thought of Michael Scott:
I’ve thought of myself as a writer pretty much my whole life, and I’ve been paid as a writer since my mid-20s. So, the idea that a computer program could “steal my job” was threatening – especially because I like my job so much. But, what the This American Life episode reminded me of is that computer programs can only get it so right. Plus, there’s plenty of data out there to suggest that writers’ jobs are only going to continue to grow over the next ten years.
- According to a study by the World Economic Forum, AI will displace 75 million jobs by 2022, but only 7% of those jobs will be in creative or media roles.
- The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) projects that the employment of writers and authors will grow 4 percent from 2021 to 2031.
- In the same report, BLS found about 15,200 openings for writers and authors are projected each year, on average, over the coming decade.
This is all to say, as writers, our jobs aren’t being threatened by AI. But, it does seem to me that we need to reframe what it can do for us.
It’s a good place to start.
The journalist in the episode of This American Life used AI to help her start to write a story when she would have otherwise been stuck. But, I wonder if we realize that we’ve been using AI writing tools for a long time already.
If you already use Grammarly or some other kind of grammar checker, you’re already using AI. And I’m sure most of us would admit that such tools have not been a threat to our work, but have made our jobs easier. We can correct word choice, place a missing comma – or remove it – or double-check the punctuation we're unsure about while we’re working. And certainly, none of us would say that using a grammar checker makes us any less of a writer.
Using AI content generators seems less clear-cut, though maybe shouldn’t. Like the journalist in the episode of This American Life, maybe we need to consider how we use a content generator rather than if we should.
Since AI content generators are still in their infancy, it remains to be seen exactly what we’re capable of doing with them. Here’s where we’ve found them helpful at Revel:
- Building the scaffolding for email sequences
- Filling in research gaps
- And for this copywriter, getting started when I’ve been stuck
As marketers, we’re always looking for tools that will help us be better at our craft. Just like the typewriter made it easier for writers to get their words down on paper than a pen, and computers eventually replaced the typewriter, AI is a tool in writing's evolution. It doesn't replace the writer's creativity. I will always be a writer. But, what tools like ChatGPT have given me is a new place to start. At least for now.