Updated: Sep 12, 2020
Will storytellers become extinct in the near future? Will AI writing tools remove the need for you to be good at grammar, punctuation or crafting stories? These questions and more are explored in this writer's existential rant about the rise and rise of robot writers.
The ugly or beautiful truth is that given the tedious task of writing, robots will construct a more correct and sensible sentence than half the world’s population.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is good at working out grammar, syntax – you know – all that boring stuff like precisely placing the comma in the correct place and knowing the difference between it’s and its and weather and whether and we’re and where.
What about robots tackling more creative pursuits like crafting stories, writing compelling headlines, or penning vacuous pop songs that get stuck in your head where the only way to get rid of the pesky tune is by chewing gum?
Artificial Intelligence And Creative Writing
Way back in the olden days like 2015, theverge.com and others reported that the Associated Press (AP) was automatically generating over 3,000 stories about US corporate earnings each quarter since June 2014. AP’s view is that it frees up staff to do more important things. This means they’re not hiring as many junior reporters that would normally write this boring stuff as part of their training.
In this Sydney Morning Herald article, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have been working for four years on a program called Scheherazade, which analyses crowd-sourced human anecdotes and then produces plausible short stories.
Then there is a computer program which co-authors a story with a human writer, “ideal for those who have literary aspirations, but who lack talent.” Hmm. Saying that, there are human ‘pulp fiction’ writers that get published so, why not a computer generated story – what a research group is calling, Synthetic Literature comparing it to the “evolution of the electric guitar.”
Google the search term ‘AI content generator,' and applications like Contentop, “A SAAS based content writing software with a human-like brain” comes up. Or Articoolo, which apparently simulates a real human writer. TechCrunch provides an indepth review on Articoolo, and it has some potential to support the writing of marketing content.
Could this possibly mean the eventual demise of the writer, journalist, novelist, screenwriter or lyricist?
Yikes! Could I be a goner? Warning! Freak-out about to happen:
Here’s me, pen and notepad in pocket merrily skipping along, and look, here’s me again – a flattened, dead carcass on the freeway, because a robot the size of a Decepticon Transformer has smashed me with its thesaurus-fisted, red-eyed, evil writing prowess!
[Hey Robot Writer – do you know how to use melodrama to make a point? Didn’t think so.]
The Downfall Of Writers And The Rise Of Sarcastic Robots
After (metaphorically) dusting myself off at the crash site of my demise, I had the happy thought that if there is one skill I have that robots don’t, it’s that I’m Excellent at Sarcasm. I was pretty sure robots wouldn’t understand the cut and thrust of a well-aimed, sarcastic riposte.
I confidently googled ‘sarcastic robot’ and darn it! I found pages and pages of stuff. Oh dear.
Now while Sarcasm is a serious topic, in the interests of time, I’ll keep it short. It appears that Siri has it all over the other robots when it comes to a witty put-down…
People, Siri takes no pleasure in your lame and slightly cynical question about the meaning of life, or what colour is your rainbow and where is the nearest public toilet.
Next time Siri says, “my pleasure,” think about it.
The point is it looks like robots can do anything I can do. Sarcastic robot writers have made me redundant.
Is there any hope for me?
Be Brave, Be Very Brave
Jesting aside, here’s the truth. I’m not afraid of robots. I didn’t have a freak out about robots stealing my job. I was having fun with you. That’s what humans do.
While AI is upending our world as everything and everyone marches to the beat of the robot’s drum, I’m more optimistic than pessimistic about the rise of the machines.
Well, can an AI mimic my writing style that sometimes likes to be playful, that sees the funny and sublime in most things? Can it mimic my sense of the ridiculous or the black humour I inherited from my Croatian family? Or what about my fascination with pop culture and how I see its connection to business writing?
There Is Only One You
You too have a unique signature in the way you communicate to the world. It’s influenced by personality traits made up of genes, various hormones, and neurotransmitters. It’s informed by thousands of your experiences – internal and external – your upbringing, family history, culture, hobbies, passions, the places you’ve lived, travelled to, the people or things you’ve loved or hated, the books you’ve read, the music you’ve listened to, the movies you’ve watched and so on.
In the future, will we really be able to download a unique personality into a self-learning, self-actualising machine? While machines are already self-learning, I can’t imagine they will ever evolve and change the way humans change every micro-second of every day in strange and interesting ways. How we react to the world around us is influenced by our senses, our memories, and our imagination. To be imaginative requires empathy, curiosity, courage and a willingness to move away from fact and reality so you can bring to life something that doesn’t yet exist.
And if that isn’t enough, there is more.
Hey Robot, Go Crazy And Rock that Boat
Remember when I said at the start that robots are better at constructing a sensible and correct sentence. That’s wonderful, but the thing is, as human beings, we don’t always want to be sensible. Sometimes we want to go crazy and rock that boat! It’s called passion you Robot Being. It’s called ‘a zest for living.’
Sometimes we’re filled with whimsy, most of the time we’re contradictory as Walt Whitman’s famous quote attests:
“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes".
Sometimes we’re sad and wretched, and that’s why we sing the Blues. The sadder the song, the happier I feel. Can a robot rhapsodise about a broken heart? On the other emotional spectrum, can a robot understand giddy joy when you step out and see a blue sky after a month of endless rain?
Deep in its soulless soul, can a robot truly appreciate what it is to be human?
Rebel With A Clause
Even if we could program the AI for whimsy (and we’re trying to do that) or give it a rebellious personality, so it contradicts its logic, it’s not real because behind it are homo sapiens pretending to be Gods as we manipulate the artificial intelligence into our image.
That’s why humans with our idiosyncrasies and foibles are more infinitely creative than robots, no matter how sophisticated the machines become.
We might use robots to help us make sense of complex data or to construct shapes, patterns, and rhythms in business, literature, art, and music. But in the end, the creator of that business idea, invention, novel, and painting will be you – the magic ingredient, your flawed, fantastic, broken yet whole self.
Bring on the machines, I say, they’re not as fabulous as you and me.
To Be Flawed Is To Be Brilliantly Human
Here’s a true story about incorrect spelling that a human copyeditor missed which ended up as a talking point and memorable insight on the human condition. A colleague and I were working for News Limited doing the 6 pm to midnight shift the night before it hit the year 2000. Karen (not her real name) was taking copy for The Australian, about people being stuck in a lift during the New Years’ festivities and accidentally typed, “Stuck in a life.” It made column 8, in the competing paper, The Sydney Morning Herald, and generated a lot of philosophical conversation.
This is how storytelling evolves, both the comical and tragic – because human beings are majestic and messed up all at once. A machine might be able to configure a competent story, but it can’t compete with imperfect yet inspired humankind.
You Are The Author; The Robot Is Your Hired Help
And while AI can now write pretty good clickbait headlines especially for news items, I can’t see a robot competing with a creative copywriter. ‘Think Small,’ is considered to be the greatest advertisement ever written, and one of the most successful ad campaigns ever, yet it’s made up of two simple words, 'Think Small' – crafted by a human.
When it comes to you, Dear Reader, robot editors and writers will help you straighten out grammar and punctuation missteps. You can use AI writing tools to write standard blurbs and write-ups that don’t require emotionally connecting to your audience. Think product instructions, technical manuals, factory specifications and user guides.
This doesn’t let you off the hook. You still need to make an effort to improve your writing skills to convey feelings and emotions, essential when connecting with others like writing an email to a customer about a price increase or communicating change, good or bad, to staff. Most of our business communications require some writing finesse to suitably express emotions like empathy, interest, curiosity, delight, disappointment, humour or excitement. Business people are regular people. We don’t walk around talking like cardboard cut-outs so why is it that our writing tends to be flat and dry. It shouldn’t be so. The way we write should express our humanity even if our role is making money for a corporation.
The Future Will Require You To Have Even Better Communications Skills
As robots take over ever more transactional jobs, there will be more of a need for soft skills like intuition, judgement, emotional intelligence, compassion, patience, and adaptability.