There’s a lot of noise about artificial intelligence at the moment. That’s normal. It affects a lot of people. Most of us are going to lose our jobs. And then it’s going to kill us.
Yes, in that order.
More seriously though, we must think about the wider ramifications of artificial intelligence.
Let’s start with what we know best at Writer & Co. – the content writing industry.
Since the creation of the internet and the first word that adorned it – “LO” – businesses have been creating content to tell people about their work, position their brands, and develop relationships with customers online.
AI is the most recent chapter in how businesses approach content creation. Should you use it to rank on search engines or should you be making protest banners?
The answer will look very different depending on whether you’re considering this while a robot is massaging your feet as another one trawls the internet for ways to mix you a better Martini, or you’re eating beans from a can in your emergency bunker near Mount Doom while a robot is writing best-selling novels on Amazon.
Take the scenic route by the river, John. I’m sick of the adoring hoards of fans lurking by the main road.
Here come the pros and cons of AI for the content industry as we see it.
It’s important to understand the question and its implications before we formulate an answer.
Let’s lay down a definition of AI to make sure we’re drinking Martinis or eating beans for the same base reason.
We can look to IBM for an accessible yet solid definition of AI.
“Artificial intelligence leverages computers and machines to mimic the problem-solving and decision-making capabilities of the human mind.”
By artificial intelligence, we’re talking about algorithms — processes, rules, or instructions — that allow computers to solve problems.
Text generators like ChatGPT, for instance, work using probability algorithms. They don’t reason the way the human brain would, but instead calculate the probability that the next word is the right word based on a massive pool of data. Out of several “tokens,” the model chooses the one with highest probability (or percentage) to be correct as the next word in a sentence.
With advances in these algorithms, computers get better and better at performing various tasks – some even better than us. This is very exciting and very worrying.
To look at how AI is affecting the content industry, it’s vital to explore the terms “AI-generated” and “AI-assisted”.
If something is AI generated, it is entirely machine-made. Someone has asked a machine to do something and its response is unchanged by human hands.
Captions, product descriptions, and, increasingly, blog posts can all be AI-generated. The computers don’t really think. They use pre-existing information to create content based on your prompts.
AI-assisted creations indicate that humans worked with the algorithms in a more involved way. A good example in content writing is when AI is used for ideation or creating a solid framework on which writers can then expand with their creativity.
Thanks for the help, algorithm!
You-are-welcome-Dean. By-the-way, what-are-“feelings?”
Let’s start with the Martini on day one, head down to the bunker on day two, and see where in the world we want to spend the next 363 days.
One of the uses of AI in content writing is in the creation of comparison articles. AI’s analysis and problem-solving abilities make it very fast (it takes speed-reading to a new level) and effective at looking at two texts or ideas and finding similarities and differences.
AI can very quickly take a topic or prompt and create many other topics that are related to it, making AI a potentially powerful brainstorming partner.
Writers don’t necessarily have to use the ideas, but feedback from AI can stimulate creativity and take content creators down new paths.
Similarly, AI can use something a writer created and suggest new topics that are related to it. It can be pivotal in developing a content schedule, creating marketing campaigns, and identifying things that customers might want to know but that haven’t yet been covered by a firm’s content calendar.
Content writers, editors, and marketers get together to discuss ideas for a new client or campaign. AI can take the meeting notes and create efficient summaries for all participants, making life easier without impacting their ideas and creativity.
Excuse me, was that “bold” with an “o” or “bald” with an “a?”
It takes learning and experience to get consistently good at spelling and grammar. Tools like Grammarly show that AI is constantly receiving data and always learning to become proficient at many skills, including spelling, grammar, sensitivity, and tone detection.
New things are great when they inspire exploration and creativity. Shaking up the content industry and waking up some sleepy writers might be a good thing.
When computers solve problems, they do it on no sleep at all, without their morning coffee, for as long as you ask them to keep going. They can perform complex processes simultaneously. No attitude.
Businesses working with large creation teams may feel like their requests get distorted as they go down the line.
Generally-speaking, however, AI does what you ask – if you give it the right prompt.
Algorithms don’t need office space. They are not yet demanding salaries or sick days. They don’t need to pay for rent, food, or an internet connection.
AI’s data processing and analysis capability make it very fast when it comes to performing research, though it can make mistakes. Rather than analyzing the research, writers could use it to gather or identify potential information sources, so writers can get back to… writing.
Many AI SEO tools – so not exactly chatbots or text generators – exist to help marketers analyze web performance and supercharge their competitiveness with SEO tweaks.
AI SEO tools can quickly perform the following tasks:
So far, no computer has reported having writers’ block. AI gets going without ritual and without inspiration.
Dear Sally, I would love to write you a poem about my feelings in iambic pentameter. However, as I have writer’s block, suffice it to say I think you’re pretty darn cool.
As you can imagine, using this new technology is not going to be without some rough edges. Here’s our take on some of the downsides of using AI in the content industry.
It’s good to have a balanced view, but AI content generators often take that to extremes.
AI has no opinion. It has algorithms.
If you’re looking for an unusual viewpoint or writing that gets off the fence, AI content generators are highly unlikely to deliver. AI can take a juicy subject and turn it into arid paragraphs of desert-dry content.
It’s usually interesting and more useful to read actual insights on a subject – something humans are great at.
AI has no skin in the game. AI has no skin.
Ask AI to list the 10 best places to go on holiday in the US with two kids. It doesn’t care.
It will give you the information you require, based on data from the internet and instructions from the content owner.
The happiness of visitors and their children? Irrelevant.
The content owner’s ability to connect with families? Irrelevant.
Is the content true? Do these 10 places even exist? What about anticipating the needs of readers? Irrelevant.
Fast, efficient, easy – AI content creators (or generators) can do their work with minimal human input. This can lead to a glut of flat, generic content. It may be technically useful for some and help the Google rankings of others, but AI will struggle to use voice, tone, and personality to suit a particular audience. Even proponents of AI agree.
Style can make a blog post really stand out. A bit of flair or a unique style helps a business establish its image, values, and beliefs through its voice.
While AI-generated blog content will answer questions, it lacks the depth of personal experience, expertise, and emotions. It lacks understanding.
Nobody wants to drink a beer that’s all foam or jump into a bath that’s all bubbles. AI content doesn’t always satisfy the way a cold beer, a hot bath, or artisan-crafted content can.
Since AI-generated content is derived entirely from information available on the web, there is a corresponding risk of plagiarism. Content owners are unlikely to see insights or original thinking in AI-generated content, because it doesn’t think. It assimilates and presents.
AI bias refers to situations where AI consistently makes decisions that are unfair to certain groups as a result of the algorithms on which it is based – those chosen by the content owners – and how they are applied. If the input data is biased, the AI system will be as well.
Most people using AI have no real knowledge of how it works – even the scientists behind AI don’t know exactly how it works – let alone how to make it embody a firm’s values, beliefs, and ethics, as humans can.
Weren’t robots supposed to be doing the dangerous, repetitive, and laborious tasks while we did the fun stuff?
Robots should be carrying sacks of cement, disposing of radioactive waste, stirring molten metal, and going through data sets for financial analysts. AI is great at doing mundane, repetitive tasks while freeing up humans to use their critical thinking and human inspiration.
Your arm may be stronger, but mine held a lighter up in the air during “Fix You” at a Coldplay concert!
Content writing is one of those rare professions where people get to make money doing something very close to art. For instance, fiction writers redirect their storytelling propensity to talk about coffee filters, sustainable technology, and cybersecurity. It gives writers pleasure to write – but AI feels no pleasure.
Moreover, when content creation falls in the same category as carrying sacks of cement, disposing of radioactive waste, stirring molten metal, and poring through endless datasets, maybe companies need to rethink who they’re creating it for and why it’s there in the first place…
This will depend on what searchers want, which will be revealed over time by their search patterns. If they click away from AI-generated content in favor of AI-assisted or non-AI content, that will be a clear signal to Google regarding what its users want and, thus, what businesses need to be doing to rank.
Google has said that it’s not against AI content and it is not currently penalizing it. It uses AI to deliver search results because its aim is to give users the best experience it can and sometimes that means using AI to decipher searches and put together customized results directly on the SERP.
Google will continue to direct users to websites rather than exclusively using AI to create its own content on SERPs. How Google ranks those websites in terms of their AI use, however, is subject to change.
Google makes hundreds of updates per year. Significant updates like BERT (2019) — which used machine learning to hone in on user intent and impacted 10% of searches — and Mobile (2015) — which incentivized site owners to cater to users on mobile devices — have had the power to disrupt businesses that rely on search for their profit margins.
The best idea is, as usual, to focus on Google’s core goals, as exemplified by its 2022 Helpful Content update, which prioritizes people first, while continuing to deliver on high quality, expertise, authority, and trust.
There are things AI can do faster and cheaper than writers. There are things writers can do that AI cannot achieve. Businesses need to find a balance that fits their values, budget, and content goals.
In the case of AI pros vs AI cons in content writing, the verdict is: we need more nuance!
Is cost efficiency really the most important goal? Does creating the best content mean creating content that climbs the rankings or that is authentic? Can we do both?
The choice depends on the values of the business and its customer profile.
AI-generated content is likely to be flat.
AI-assisted content can raise the bar.
Humans… are tried and true.
And a really exciting gap is opening up in the marketplace for businesses that want to capitalize on their human touch.
From the viewpoint of content writers, we can use AI as a cost-effective, labor-saving tool to help us do what we do best: create empathic content that engages the audience.
In our view, real readers need real writers in the content creation process.
If being authentic is important to your business, real human writers that care about your business and your customers can make your content very powerful.
While writers may use AI and other tools to achieve their goals — depending on their clients’ instructions — the writers’ wisdom, experience, and expertise remain invaluable when creating content that doesn’t just deliver information to customers but also connects with them in a meaningful way.
Written by Dean Edwards
Dean lives in Southern France but was born in the UK, where he studied business and IT, and earned a degree in Writing. When he’s not creating content, he’s writing fiction, making music, and practicing martial arts. This is part bio and part affirmation.
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