The notion that songwriters are flesh and blood cannot be replaced by byte and byte lyrical characters because human creativity cannot be reproduced is based on a dangerous mixture of naivety and chronic overconfidence. As a lyricist, I don’t like hearing that. But as a media and technology geek, this makes me really excited.
The phenomenal speed at which AI is evolving in content creation cannot be understated (also see these posts by Laurens Vreekamp: This is how creative new AI systems work and make Deepfakes – The Honest Story).
OpenAI (founded by Elon Musk in 2015) turns everyone away with DALL-E 2, an artificial intelligence that generates images based on text input. Photo realism or a nearly perfect Van Gogh approximation: DALL-E 2 can do just that. The same company developed GPT-3, a large language model for which articles have already been published in The Guardian and at Marketingfacts in 2020.
These tools currently require some human guidance. But the enthusiasm and wonder with which this technology was received has led to a new influx of capital and interest. This has accelerated the development of artificial intelligence.
Meanwhile, there is already BLOOM, an open source language model developed by more than 1,000 researchers that is even larger than GPT-3. Google is also working hard on developing AI for text generation. The LaMDA chatbot is already so good that an AI expert at Google was convinced that AI had developed human consciousness. Creativity, Critical Thinking, and Self-Reflection: All the Trimmings.
However, the authors of the texts do not seem too impressed. They look at their crystal ball with a certain naivety. Is copywriting dead? Muah… You wouldn’t go that fast, would you? This naivety is accompanied by a form of chronic exaggeration. On other people’s blogs, I keep seeing arguments claiming some kind of irreplaceable human quality that robots won’t be able to reproduce. Creativity, originality and “human touch” – which are rarely defined in more detail.
“In other people’s blogs, I keep seeing arguments that claim some kind of irreplaceable human quality.”
These arguments mainly remind me of the mindset of paper company Dunder Mifflin from The Office series. The small company is constantly competing with the big paper chains and digitizing society. Their self-proclaimed raison d’être is based on man touch From a telephone sales and personal service representative to a small business.
But time and time again they lose customers to large-scale competitors and online service providers. Customers don’t care much about that human touch. Above all, they want their papers to be of the highest quality and to be delivered on time and at the lowest possible price. But Dunder Mifflin continues to overestimate himself.
I’m afraid we’re making the same mistake with our current mentality. We copywriters can continue to pat ourselves on the back because of our human touch and creativity. But is this as important to our customers and employers as it is to us? Are they always on the lookout for word artists, language magicians, and prose prophets? Or do they primarily want error-free texts that achieve high SEO, convey information effectively, and get readers to convert?
I do not know the answer.
But I can imagine that a good part of organizations would be satisfied with an error-free script. Certainly if it can be produced many times cheaper and faster by AI than by professional copywriter. It’s not inconceivable that huge language models like GPT-3 and BLOOM can be used for free within a few years to create and convert a bug-free blog at the touch of a button.
So it’s time to take a critical look at ourselves: How necessary are we text-writers then?
And remember: these questions are only relevant if we assume that the authors of the texts have already put an unattainable human quality in their texts. Something that copywriters can do and bots will never be able to do. In this discussion, naive exaggerators of self-esteem like to undo creativity: the ability to create something new. Their argument is that humans can create something out of nothing. Whereas computers can only rely on existing data to reinterpret, combine, or arrange them.
“Our creativity also stems from reinterpreting, integrating and arranging existing elements.”
But this argument, for me, is based on an overestimation and on a kind of “mystery” of human creativity. This is not the place for a philosophical discussion of what creativity really is. But I dare say that our creativity is also due to the reinterpretation, combination and arrangement of the existing elements. Painters cannot create a new color. Musicians cannot create a new frequency or a new rhythm. Writers cannot create new messages. At least not in a practically meaningful way. We simply put the existing letters in different orders.
Also for human creativity, there is always an inspiration, or a borrowed idea. As director Kirby Ferguson says, nothing new, everything is a remix. And there’s no reason to think that humans would be better at remixing than AI – the artwork for DALL-E 2 is a testament to that.
The combination of gullibility and overconfidence is a dangerous cocktail. If you drink too much of it, you will develop a dangerous hangover. So you are like a horse who says in 1900: “If this car becomes as good as a horse at hauling people and goods, it will not make us redundant. It will only give us more time and space to do what we really love and what we are really good at” (Free from Good Video for CGP Gray).
The truth is, of course, that the car has largely made the horse obsolete in the Western world. In the same way that automation and industrialization made muscle power largely obsolete in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, automation will largely render brain power obsolete in the twenty-first century.
We – content marketers, copywriters, SEO writers, bloggers, and copywriters – will be the first to go into this development. Text is easier to generate than images and audio. With an endless amount of data at their disposal, it will likely soon be a piece of cake for large language models to write informative, inspiring, or transformative text.
In fact, an AI can theoretically write hundreds of different forms of text at the same time. In Dutch, Hindi, formal, informal, funny, scary, rhyme, SEO, Gospel Mark style, JK Rowling style, and many more. The customer only has to choose the one he wants. Some organizations are already using AI to write simple letters, and even NOS is already using ‘robot journalists’.
Again, what do we still need?
It may sound crazy, but I’m not pessimistic about the future. All of these developments are making my media and technology heart beat faster. I admire the art that DALL-E 2 makes. I am always amazed at the creativity of large language models like GPT-3. Even as far as our business prospects are concerned, I’m not entirely pessimistic. But I think we need to see our work very differently. Because we are being replaced. Maybe not this year and not next year. But faster than we would like.
Then what should we do? I see a number of new assignments for us as scriptwriters, which anyway makes me very excited. These tasks can be divided into two categories: collaborating with artificial intelligence and writing as a craft.
Collaboration with artificial intelligence
We will collaborate with artificial intelligence as a pilot interacts with an aircraft. This plane can fly just fine from A to B without human guidance. But we all think it’s a good idea to have a person of flesh and blood behind the buttons.
As an AI pilot, text authors can, for example, do the ethical final editing, because at the moment GPT-3 and BLOOM are still generating a lot of discriminatory texts. We can monitor the legal line and the brand line, because what are the legal consequences if the AI makes a false promise? And we can specialize in providing the right inputs and setting the right parameters with which the AI can operate, because the better the instructions for the models, the better the results.
But even these tasks I see one day largely disappear. Artificial intelligence and computing power continue to improve at an exponential rate. And artificial intelligence learns from its mistakes. Thus, human control will be less important – although I believe (read: hope) that it will never become redundant.
Writing as a craft
Then there was only one thing left: writing as a craft. This is the direction I see our profession going. The best copywriters among us will survive digitization and automation. Ad copywriters are not going to completely disappear. But it will be less and less and will serve a smaller segment that is willing to pay for the fact that the text is still “handwritten”. Just like some people allocate a lot of money to handmade furniture, gadgets and shoes, the vast majority buy trendy mass products. They pay for manual labor, including the worn edges and imperfections that make each product unique.
So it’s time to let go of the mixture of naivety and overconfidence and learn new skills. Because good writing is something a computer can do better than you at some point. And this moment is closer than you wish.