By Heather Sheppard.
Let’s start with an introduction. Hi! I’m Heather (no, not the Sox Heather. Another Heather. I swear it’s a coincidence – Sox doesn’t force its freelancers to take the name ‘Heather’. This company isn’t like a 2023 Wezzcountry version of ‘The Heathers’. I promise).
I’ve been working as a freelance writer for about 15 years, and I love it. Right now, though, I am constantly being asked one question: “Are you worried that AI (artificial intelligence) is coming for your job?”
Honestly, I am a bit.
But this isn’t the only reason I’m dubious about AI writing. As I outlined in our last post on the subject, I:
- Am concerned that it will cut my income
- Have doubts about whether or not an AI can show adequate judgement in its pieces
- Dislike the plagiarism aspect of AI-generated writing
- Have very little faith that AI bias can be dealt with sensitively and effectively.
Of these, the major concern is income. The rest is basically moral debate which, while important, lacks the urgency of immediate job losses.
Writing is already a hard profession to get into. By taking out the lower tier jobs, many great writers will be shut out of the industry forever. And if AI is being considered for art as high-tier as screenplays and novels (which it is), it’s going to be incredibly hard for anyone to make a living from writing in the future.
But don’t get me wrong – I’m not a total luddite! I do have some ideas about how creative AI can be used to improve things for writers and artists. My problem is less with the technology itself, and more with the ways in which I fear it will be used.
Let me explain:
AI vs jobs: the current situation, and a potential way forward
In the early days of AI, the argument was made that AI would take on the mundane jobs and free humans up to do more fun, fulfilling things like creating art. Now AI itself is creating art.
Personally, I would much prefer it if AI were giving us the time and space to create our own art, not creating art for us.
‘But AI isn’t stopping you from creating art!’ I hear you cry. Well, the thing is that many of us rely on art to survive. We create art (writing, painting, singing etc) for our living. If we had to do something else to earn that living, we wouldn’t have the time or the energy to write, or draw, or sew, or bake, or whatever.
I love being a writer. It’s one of very few professions that can bring true freedom and fulfillment. So, while I’d be more than happy for AI to take over the boring bits, I don’t want it to take every paying writing job available.
How can AI help rather than hinder writers and artists?
The only way we can truly achieve a happy medium between AI and art is to ensure that writing work for humans is abundant and well-paid.
Perhaps with AI taking on the lower-tier work (link-building, keyword-lacing, product descriptions – that kind of thing), companies will be able to afford to pay writers to produce higher quality blogs, whitepapers and so on. That would be an ideal solution.
Another solution would be to use AI writing to enable rather than to replace writers. Take art apps, for example. I love to draw and paint, but canvases, paints, brushes etc cost a lot of money, take up a lot of room, and make a lot of mess. It’s fun, but it’s not always practical or affordable.
With digital drawing apps, however, I can doodle away to my heart’s content. I can use all the brushes, colours, and effects that I’d never be able to afford in real life – and I can do so in the clean, neat, contained space of my tablet. If I like what I’ve made I can get it printed out.
Here’s a drawing I did on my tablet. 20 points if you can spot my dog, Toby!
Would I prefer to be painting on big canvases? Yes of course (who doesn’t want to splatter pigment about with wild abandon?) But when that’s not practical or affordable, my drawing apps help me to make art without the price tag or sheepish trips to B&Q for white spirit and scrubbing brushes.
My drawing apps don’t make art for me. Instead, they enable me to make art by providing the tools and the space needed. It’s my hand and my eye composing and drawing the pictures, but I’m doing it via a digital medium.
Could something like this be done with AI in writing?
Well, yes. And it already is. Kind of.
AI as a writing aid
There are already lots and lots of digital writing aids out there. Grammarly and Hemingway are well known and popular ones, as are SEO tools like Clearscope.
Quite frankly, I’m not a fan of the way the likes of Hemingway and Clearscope are currently used by a lot of companies. And I think that AI could be instrumental in changing that.
As it stands, a lot of clients will order an article with a certain desired Hemingway or Clearscope score. They do this for good reasons: Hemingway and Clearscope, when used as guides rather than as rules, are great for getting good SEO scores and making articles accessible.
The problem is that demanding a particular score fails to take the nuances of writing and language into account. It’s understandable – the people commissioning the articles aren’t writers. They don’t really understand how writing works.
Hemingway, for example, demands short sentences and simple language. It hates words over three syllables. It will throw its toys fully out of the pram if you try using a word like ‘cybersecurity’ with (gasp!) SIX syllables.
Sounds ideal for appealing to a wider audience, right? Well, not really. I recently had a client ask me to write a blog on Cybersecurity Authentication with a Hemingway score below seven. The problem is that the Hemingway algorithm will have kittens at the term ‘Cybersecurity Authentication’. So the title and SEO keywords alone would send the Hemingway score skyrocketing.
Besides this kind of problem, being asked to cram natural writing into an algorithmic formula is very frustrating for many writers (not to mention difficult!) It usually results in stilted, formulaic language which is not pleasant to read.
Did the client understand this when I explained it to them? To their credit, they heard me out, but it was clear that they didn’t really understand what I was saying. In their head, Hemingway was THE gold standard to which their blogs should adhere, and the experience and skill of human writers meant very little against the towering might of The Algorithm.
This attitude isn’t based on prejudice or greed, it’s based on a basic lack of understanding regarding what copywriting is and how it works. And it’s that lack of understanding that AI can, perhaps, help us to bypass.
With a bit more artificial intelligence in the mix, programs like Hemingway and Clearscope would become a lot more nuanced. They’d be more able to spot when writers are making necessary wording and sentence choices and apply some leeway. They would also perhaps be able to suggest good places to add links and keywords.
This kind of thing would be a huge help to copywriters everywhere. It would enable us rather than overshadow us. It would also result in much better copy and more natural SEO than the current system allows for. In short, the technology would be our advocate and colleague rather than a restrictive hindrance.
Is this likely to happen? Honestly, I’m a cynic, so I think probably not. I think it far more likely that – unless controls are brought in – corporations will buy up creative AI algorithms and use them to displace human artists.
What can you do?
What you do regarding creative AI is up to you. You may well be delighted at the prospect of never having to deal with a human writer ever again (and I don’t blame you, tbh! We’re not the easiest folk to deal with).
But, if you do want to support human writers, here are a few things you can do:
- Hire humans for creative projects
- Pay your humans fairly
- Don’t buy or click on AI-generated content
- Take advantage of human skills. For example, human writers often have a wealth of experience that could be of great benefit to you. They know what kind of content works with what audiences, how to create a unique brand voice, and so on
- Advocate for human artists. Give them credit where due, and recommend them to your network
- If you want to combine digital and human skills, listen to your humans first and foremost. For example, if you want a Hemingway score of 5 and your human writer tells you that aiming for 5 will result in a really bad article, listen to their explanation with an open mind