It’s hard to escape AI discourse right now. Years after tech companies started using AI in all sorts of areas, civilians are beginning to worry.
Will AI take our jobs? Will AI take over full stop? It’s a fear that’s recurred over and over in the progression of tech after the era of industrialisation.
Unlike machinery definitely reducing manual jobs, AI reduces the manual jobs that slowed down our real jobs. If a chatbot can take on the boring, menial tasks that keep me from my real work of creating, that’s freedom.
However, caution is required. Taste is required. AI tools have neither, so you have to supply the missing piece which is human experience and magic.
Why you can’t replace human content with AI content
Or rather, what will happen if you do. I’m going to be a doom merchant and predict the second coming of content mills.
In the early 2010s, content marketing was taking hold. Blogging was still an industry – everyone had a blog. Businesses were starting to use writing as bait for potential customers and the title ‘content creator’ was just around the corner.
As always happens within capitalism, people wanted to make money from this moment. Agencies and less-than-agencies offered content generation as a service, placing dodgy affiliate links and sponsorships in substandard content pieces all over the internet.
I know because I was part of it. I was a baby copywriter making a bit of freelance money (but sometimes not even that) on the side by writing for what boils down to a content mill. We were given keywords to hit and a subject we knew nothing about, and away we went. Kids with no knowledge, no context and barely any ability. I like to think my pieces were better than average but it certainly wasn’t useful, user-focused stuff I was writing. It was clickbait and link spam.
AI-generated copy is the next wave of factory-farmed content. It may seem at first like your chatbot is giving you good content – it’s spelled correctly, it makes sense as you scan it – but once a professional edits that copy down to what’s actually valuable and not words by the yard…you’re left with barely any meat, discarded fat scattered everywhere.
AI copy is bulk. ARTIFICIAL Intelligence – it’s in the name. We’re impressed by the five paragraphs of correctly spelled words, generated in a second. But it’s nonsense, I’m afraid. It’s what I was writing at 22, trying to hit the word count based on some rudimentary Google searches about a subject I had zero knowledge of. It was – I flatter myself – well-written fluff.
So, what are AI tools actually good for?
Why am I now bursting a bubble I’ve spent hours inflating in other posts?
It’s about how you use it. Isn’t it always? Give a random a chisel and they’ll make a mess of a fine piece of oak. Give a craftsman the same simple tool, and they’ll create art.
As a professional writer, I use AI tools to free up my brain to do the real work. If I’m struggling to make my brain engage with a boring, uncreative admin task (like summarising meetings notes for an email), I’ll make the robot do it. It might take a quick edit to make it useful, but it will have saved me mental bandwidth I can use far more profitably elsewhere.
AI tools are great for:
- Brainstorming – to kick-start your human imagination
- Summarising – you give it the meat and it’ll provide the connecting tissue (sorry, bit grim)
- Checking – ask for your word count or number of adjectives or keyword density
It’s an assistant, not an artist.
You’re going to need creative skills more, not less
Non-writers have always thought they could write, because they can physically make words happen. This is the same thing, but on steroids.
In this next tidal wave of awful content, quality will stand out. It’s the only thing that will stand out, a candle in the endless dark.
It’s not going to be pretty. Our internet is polluted enough already. But people and search engines will prioritise the stuff that still has magic. Human magic.