Surviving in the Age of AI Writing

February 2023
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As we enter the age of AI, many people are wondering how this new technology will affect the way we write. Will AI be able to replace writers, or will it simply provide them with new tools to enhance their work?

One of the biggest fears surrounding AI and writing is the possibility that AI will be able to produce high-quality content more efficiently than human writers. This is a valid concern, as AI has already shown itself to be capable of generating coherent text, and it is only a matter of time before it becomes more advanced in this regard.

However, it is important to remember that AI is not capable of the same level of creativity and emotional depth that human writers are. While AI may be able to produce content that is technically well-written, it will likely lack the unique perspective and personal touch that sets human writing apart.

In fact, many experts believe that AI will actually serve to augment the work of human writers, rather than replace them. By providing writers with tools to automate certain tasks, such as research and data analysis, AI will free up more time for writers to focus on the creative aspects of their work.

Additionally, AI can be used to help writers improve the quality of their work. For example, AI-powered language models can be used to check grammar and spelling errors, or to provide suggestions for alternative word choices. This can save writers valuable time and help them produce work that is more polished and professional.

Overall, it is clear that AI will have a significant impact on the field of writing. While it may pose some challenges, it will also provide new opportunities and tools for writers to enhance their work. As with any new technology, the key will be to adapt and find a way to use AI in a way that complements and improves upon the unique strengths of human writers.

Robotic writing

Every word above this line, except the title and my byline, was written by artificial intelligence — neither I nor Editor-in-Chief John Elsasser has changed a word or punctuation mark. 

I entered the phrase “Write a piece on writing in the age of AI” into Open AI’s ChatGPT, and in about a minute, the 326 words in the preceding six paragraphs appeared in my browser. And I was genuinely frightened. 

In roughly the same amount of time it took me to load the webpage, the bot produced material that I would put at the level of a college essay written for a class outside your major. It even admitted its own limitations and offered a counterargument to its thesis. And AI is just going to get better and better. Are all of us who write about to go the way of the telegram, dial-up modem and rotary phone?

Probably not. There will always be a need for people in the writing process. If nothing else, we can edit and “pump up” what the computer spat out. And someone has to figure out what to type into the bot to get the desired result.

So, how do we survive? Here are my, non-computer-aided, thoughts.

• Add some flair.

What the AI produced was serviceable, fit the assignment and was a pleasant read. But no one would confuse it with a passage from Faulkner, Morrison or Chabon. Computers, at least for the moment, only produce straightforward, plain text with little to no style or substance. 

To get a reader’s attention, a good writer adds flair to their work. However, since most of what we write is for “business,” we can’t use purple prose or rococo adornments that obscure the message. But finding ways to bring life to a text, as we’ve been taught since we first showed an ability to put words together, is critical to staying relevant.

• Use specific examples.

Computers haven’t lived your life, or the life of the person you’re writing for, so they can’t cite examples from your, or their, history to enliven a piece. You can, and should. In the AI piece above, the only example the bot used was “AI-powered language models can be used to check grammar and spelling errors, or to provide suggestions for alternative word choices.” 

A good writer would be more specific, possibly saying “can be used to find and fix split infinitives, ensure that you’re using the right version of ‘your,’ or suggest ‘gazebo’ for ‘wooden structure seen in every Hallmark Christmas movie.’” Specificity brings interest to writing, and is something a computer is not able to do (at least right now).

• Use quotes.

You would think that a piece of AI would be able to pull up a relevant quote when requested. But, when I entered “write a piece about writing using a quote from “The Simpsons,” here was the lede:

In a memorable episode of The Simpsons, Lisa Simpson says, “The pen is mightier than the sword.

I have watched every single episode of “The Simpsons,” most multiple times, and I cannot remember Lisa saying this. More important, it’s not her original quote — the specific wording is credited to English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton, although phrases with that sentiment date to 7th-Century BCE Assyria and the Old Testament. Machines haven’t figured out yet how to find the right quote for the right situation. We have — use them.

• Use humor.

While humor in business writing, or any writing for that matter, is tricky, it is where we can separate ourselves from the machines. The right joke or witty remark, as long as it helps make your point, will bring the kind of life to your work that AI just cannot.

• Embrace our new tool.

Take the advice our AI friend lays out — use AI to free yourself from some of the drudgery of writing. Consider it when you’re stuck for an opening or aren’t sure where to take a piece next. It might also help you find the structure for a piece you’ve been struggling with. Or, at least, produce something so bad you can say, “I know now what direction I don’t want to go.”

Every new piece of technology is a threat to someone’s livelihood. But it is also an opportunity for those working in that field to adapt, advance and accomplish. The key to “beating” the computer as a writer, is to be more human. (The machine told us to do that!) 

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