What’s the role of the human copywriter in a world in which AI now fancies itself as journalist, PR, and marketing copywriter all rolled into one?
Take this blog, for instance. It has my name above it, but did I really write it? Are these my words? Or is it merely a sophisticated, artificial imitation?
Since ChatGPT roared into the public consciousness a few months ago, social media – and the media at large – have been buzzing with a mixture of horror and excitement about just how good AI appears to have got at complex writing.
Articles written – or part written – by AI programmes have been popping up all over the place in recent weeks. How many others out there, bylined to humans, are actually just being churned out by machine?
Passing another’s writing off as your own is nothing new. I remember, way back in the (just) pre-internet era, a lad in the year above me at school handing in an essay which was – word-for-word – an Encarta Encyclopedia article. And I don’t mean it was a cut-and-paste job. He’d literally just printed it off as it was. He had tippexed out the “Copyright Encarta” small print at the bottom though, to be fair to him, so I imagine he saw it as a pretty sophisticated scam at the time.
I’ve no idea where he is today, or what he’s doing, but if he’s still in the habit of turning in written work that he’s had little or no part in creating, then technology has certainly advanced in his favour.
First came the internet, and spelling and grammar checks, predictive text – and with each passing year, technology made research and writing easier and easier. And now we’re at the point where you can lob a few bullet points into any number of free online AI writing tools and get a few passable paragraphs in return.
And it’s FAST. No writer’s block. No agonising over the right choice of words. AI doesn’t have to clarify the brief, or put it on the ‘to do’ list for later. It just churns out copy, on demand, without complaint. Just as a calculator – or an Excel speadsheet – doesn’t need to ‘think’ about the workings of a complex equation, an AI writing tool just computes, and delivers.
Tempting if you need copy in a hurry, and if you’re on a budget.
But AI will never be able to replicate the nuance, subtlety understanding and expert knowledge that a human writer can bring to a project.
Or at least that’s what copy.ai (another AI writing tool) told me when I asked it outright if AI was going to displace human copywriters!
Maybe it’s just trying to lull me into a false sense of security – or maybe it has a point. After all, for all the advances of AI in recent years, it can still be incredibly dumb sometimes (Google “driverless cars and traffic cones”).
It does a job fast – but as I said above – it can’t think. And that will forever be its limitation.
It can analyse – but it can’t make a decision, and though it can pretend to express opinions – it doesn’t actually have any of its own.
It can only do as it is asked, and paraphrase or imitate content it has found elsewhere.
A useful tool? Absolutely.
But reading and writing are about more than the bland and basic exchange of information. The best writing is nuanced, unexpected, challenging – and enjoyable to read. As someone who writes for a significant part of my living, I don’t think I’m going to be forced into early retirement. Not just yet anyway.
NB: with the exception of the line accredited to copy.ai – this blog was all my own work. ChatGPT or copy.ai would have delivered it much faster – but I like to think I’ve imbued it with a sense of personality and insight they’d have lacked. In fact, I did ask both copy.ai and ChatGPT to have a crack at this very topic. I’ll be sharing their responses on LinkedIn – so come and find me there and have a look if you’re interested in seeing how they compare.
 If you’re under 30 you probably have no idea what this is. Google it. Or ask someone middle-aged.