AI and the Future of Writing
There’s been a lot said about AI, and certainly no one needs one more impassioned plea from a creative terrified about losing their livelihood. But creatives are nothing if not egocentric, so I’ve written about it anyway.
I work in marketing. I am self-employed, with a team, following the agency model. We take on work from clients both large and small, well-known and hyper-local.
We’ve worked with everyone from the world’s largest hotel chain to a local entrepreneur trying to start an interior design company. We’ve done search engine optimization (SEO), social media, graphic design, email marketing, website design, ad management, content writing, and more. If it falls under the marketing umbrella, our team has tackled it.
And now AI is coming for all of it.
I actually got into marketing by way of content writing, and my background before that was actually in publishing. Before that, I worked as a historical interpreter. My BA is in history, in fact.
So many of us have taken a winding path while finding our way vocationally, but I think mine makes a lot of sense, when you think about it.
History is telling stories. Writing is creating stories. Publishing is sharing stories. Marketing is controlling how those stories are told. It all boils down to the same thing: the importance of stories.
History, of course, charges us with trying to understand the lives of those who came before us. The forces that shaped them. Their triumphs. Their traumas. Their dreams. History is hugely important, both in terms of understanding where we came from and ensuring we learn from our collective mistakes.
It’s also fascinating. Everything from personal ancestry to mysteries of history have captivated our societies. Traditions initiated by our ancestors form entire cultures. Who we are, who we were, and what we will become together matters immensely. Accurate, unbiased record-keeping is critical to learning about (and from) the past.
How do we study history? Through the creative outputs of generations. Looking at literature, personal accounts, music, art, clothing, and even recipes tell us almost as much about a past era as someone alive then could tell us themselves. We can learn about what mattered to a group of people, what their day looked like, and what cultural forces were at work while they were alive.
There are, of course, similar cultural forces at work always. Even now. Often, we might not even be aware of how societal shifts and the products of creativity extant to our own times impact our personalities, what we care about, what we create, and how we live.
Here’s where, as a storyteller, I am terrified.
AI works by taking existing knowledge and content and effectively regurgitating it so it creates something new. It’s not exactly plagiarism, but it isn’t original work, either. AI learns from the information that exists on the internet and it can give you everything from a social media post to an article to a full-on marketing plan with just a little bit of input.
The output is still at times inaccurate, and the quality may be slightly less than what you’d get from a human, but that will continue to improve with time. AI developers are on a crash course to perfect AI technology, and I have no doubt future iterations will continue to tear down walls between what an algorithm can generate and what a human can.
Sure, AI will never quite have the soul of something that comes from the complicated feelings of a person (or at least I hope not). But it’s going to get closer and closer until it’s almost impossible to tell the difference.
So if we’re all out there, just creating the same drivel over and over and over again, who is controlling the information? Who is controlling the stories?
The people who control the AI tools.
While, in the right hands, this could be okay, we all know the opportunity is going to be abused. It’s already being abused. And once disinformation is out there, it’s going to get recycled repeatedly into new content, making it that much harder to correct or remove.
Once something exists on the internet, it’s there forever.
Now, from a marketing perspective, I realize AI is the future. My clients want to save money. I want to make them happy. But if I replace my writers with AI, I can’t promise the resulting content is going to be accurate. This is a huge liability issue, especially for clients in certain industries. Algorithms for SEO also won’t like the content because it isn’t helpful or original. The site won’t rank, and there won’t be an uptick in conversions. So then how am I showing my value to my clients?
And yet…Google itself has announced a new way of handling search results that will rely heavily on AI. SEO is becoming AI-driven, which may limit the ability of marketers focusing on SEO to impact their clients’ visibility in search results. This will leave just those able to pay for expensive ads, or sites with the highest domain authority (usually large companies to begin with), at the top, and most of the rest never being found by anyone.
And then AI creators will use that limited content to create all their new stuff. Recycling the same nonsense from the wealthiest companies over and over again sounds a lot like controlling the stories to me. Especially when companies like Google control both the AI tools and the search algorithm.
So, centuries from now, what creative output will people have to sift through? Certainly, talent abounds among our contemporaries, but will the world’s current Mozarts and Shakespeares even be found if they don’t have money to beat the AI algorithms? I’m not sure they will.
Will future generations know us only by our absolutely overwhelmed pool of sameness? A mass grave of unremarkable creative output that isn’t interesting or useful?
Worse still, will people in the future be able to create the way those of the past could? If the norm becomes to use AI to generate content of all kinds, will anyone even have the time or money to write the groundbreaking symphony or craft the compelling novel? I really don’t know.
But I am enough of a historian and enough of a storyteller (and consumer of stories) to realize we are in the midst of something huge. It’s going to change not only the way we leave our stories for the next generation, but also the face of the rest of our lives.
Controlling information and controlling stories means we’ll probably never again know for sure what’s fully real and what isn’t. This is a mess our desire for boosting efficiency and profits has created. I don’t believe it can be undone.
As a marketer, I’m torn. To stay competitive, I feel like I need to learn AI and help my clients use it. It’s already starting to feel like a race to the bottom, with companies pulling away from marketing contracts left and right to use AI.
Even though some companies will surely still want the better quality that comes from working with talented humans, the number of marketers who compete for those jobs is going to swell as they’re pushed out of other contracts.
Is it then better to rise to the top as one of the best human creators, whether you’re a writer, marketer, or artist? To stop competing for the clients who want to save money and use AI? I don’t know. Perhaps, but it seems like the number of “best” creatives the market will need will dwindle over time as AI continues to grow and improve its own capabilities.
I’m not sure there’s an answer. As marketers, we need money today, so using AI may seem unavoidable if clients request it. That will reduce our income anyway, and it certainly won’t future-proof us. It will only serve to close further doors as AI becomes more and more efficient.
Being self-righteous and refusing to work with AI tools is going to be a rough path, too, as fewer clients want to pay the old rates when they can get something almost as good for much less.
We’ll all find new ways to pivot, or we may have to find new industries entirely. AI is going to touch almost every industry eventually, though. It’s ignorant to assume that love of the bottom line won’t encourage every company to replace workers with AI whenever possible.
I think the implications of what is coming are truly beyond anyone’s current comprehension. I expect AI and the capabilities it generates to change the face of business and work entirely. This sounds like doomsday talk, but I don’t think it’s unrealistic.
Think about the world before the proliferation of the internet. How everything worked. Card catalogs at the library. Taking carbon copies of credit cards to pay the bill at a restaurant. Using landline phones and being unable to reach someone if they weren’t home. Newspapers and encyclopedias being the source of truth.
Then think about what it looked like in 2015. How your day went. I bet the internet was involved in almost every single thing you did in some way.
AI is going to change the world like that, but even more so. The changes get faster and faster. It’s a matter of acceleration.
Ultimately, I’m afraid. I’m afraid for our futures. I’m afraid for the future of truth, and especially for what will become of stories: both ours and the stories of the billions of others who came before us.
Because if you stop and think about it, AI could rewrite their stories too. The beauty and creativity of humankind could be all but lost as it becomes controlled and regurgitated, over and over again.
I sincerely hope that doesn’t prove to be the case. I hope humankind proves me wrong. Can we find a way to use AI responsibly and for the greater good before it’s too late? I remain unconvinced, but I would love to be wrong.