10 January 2023

Written by Sara
AI writers: supervillain or sidekick?

My job won’t be replaced by AI. But it might be replaced by people who know how to use AI to write, think and create more effectively.

From my very first copywriting project, I have relied on AI-enabled devices for inspiration, research, efficiency and accuracy. I couldn’t write much without Google’s assistance, for starters. Otter helps me transcribe, and Grammarly picks up sneaky typos. As the pressure on copywriters grows to create more content at lighting speed, anything that saves time is a win.

That’s why I’m interested in the potential of generative AI. Could it inspire a better story angle to get me writing? Or give me a bit of structure (or headlines) to kick off my thinking?

So, like 2 million other test users in just the past month or so, I decided to give the new AI-wunderkind ChatGPT a try.

I was going to get it to write this blog for me, in fact. But I soon realised some of its limitations.

Me: Write a blog post with 5 reasons copywriters should use ChatGPT

ChatGPT (in 10 seconds): As a copywriter, it’s important to stay up-to-date with the latest tools and technologies that can help you to save time, improve your work, and stay competitive in your field. One tool that has gained popularity in recent years[1] is ChatGPT, a chatbot powered by a large language model that can assist with a wide range of tasks related to writing and content creation. Here are five reasons why copywriters should consider using ChatGPT:

Me (*eye roll): Tell me something I don’t know.

 

I won’t bore you with the rest. Safe to say, one thing human writers have over AI is empathy for the reader – which is why generative AI has been described as ‘mansplaining as a service’.

However, unlike human writers, its feelings won’t be hurt if you ask it to try again.

Me: Write this blog post in a more playful, cheeky tone of voice

ChatGPT: Hey there, copywriter! Tired of spending hours on end slaving away at your keyboard, cranking out copy that barely pays the bills? Well, fear not – there’s a new tool in town that’s here to save the day (and your sanity). ChatGPT is a chatbot powered by a large language model, and it’s here to revolutionize the way you do your job.

Here are five reasons why you should ditch your old writing habits and give ChatGPT a try…

You get the gist. It’s not my writing style, but it is a tad more engaging to read.

I can see the potential of using generative AI for basic copy. ChatGPT can crank out basic copy for things like product descriptions or FAQ pages in no time, leaving me free to focus on the juicier, more creative stuff.[2] But it will still need a human fallback to check for tone and accuracy.

And it is only as good as the brief you feed into it. Just like human writers.

A world of dew

Next I decided to challenge ChatGPT to help me with a fairly typical writing task – a property brochure for a residential development. I figured a few headline ideas might help me find a new angle into the creative.

Me: Write 5 headlines for a property brochure to help buyers imagine their lifestyle in a luxury riverfront apartment building in Melbourne, on the Yarra River. The apartments are spacious and bright, with views of the city skyline.

ChatGPT:

1. “Live the Riverfront Life in Luxurious Melbourne Apartments”
2. “Experience the Best of Melbourne from Your Spacious Riverfront Home”
3. “Embrace a Bright and Vibrant Lifestyle in These Stunning Yarra River Apartments”
4. “Wake Up to Breathtaking City Skyline Views Every Day”
5.”Imagine Your Perfect Life in These Luxurious Riverfront Melbourne Apartments”

I know there may be a few budget-strapped sales agents out there who would rub their hands with glee at how easy, fast and FREE this is, but this is just parroting the brief back to me. It’s not great writing. Where is the evocative tone, the deeper insight behind the brief that will attract the right buyers and create that compelling FOMO?

So I tried again.

 

Me: Write these headlines again, but in a sensual, poetic tone.

ChatGPT:

1. “Luxurious Riverfront Living in Melbourne: A Sensual Escape”
2.
“Experience the Best of Melbourne: A Poetic Adventure”
3. “Bright and Vibrant Riverfront Apartments: A Sensuous Oasis”
4. “Breathtaking City Skyline Views: A Poetic Panorama”
5. “Luxurious Yarra River Apartments: A Sensuous Retreat”

This is starting to sound not quite right. And it’s making me feel queasy. Perhaps I need to give ChatGPT a better guide to what ‘poetic’ means.

Me: Write these headlines again, in the style of William Wordsworth – up to 8 words per heading.

Chat GPT:

1. “Melbourne’s Luxurious Riverfront Living: A Joy Forever”

2. “The Best of Melbourne: A World of Dew”

3. “Bright and Vibrant Riverfront Apartments: Heaven’s Walk on Earth”

4. “Breathtaking City Skyline Views: A Glory in the Grass”

5. “Luxurious Yarra River Apartments: A Happy Home by Running Stream”

Oh, dear God. I don’t think the cheap-arse sales agent is going to approve these.

Be alert and alarmed

When I asked ChatGPT to tell me the downsides of using it to write, it perkily chirped “Using AI to write copy is unethical because it takes jobs away from human writers and reduces the diversity of voices in the media.”

But that’s not the biggest danger. The real risk is that ChatGPT makes stuff up.

Ask it to provide you a reference list for a given topic, and it will in seconds. But none of those titles or authors are real. Ask it to quote an expert to back up a blog’s opinion, and sure it can. But that person doesn’t exist.

Right now, its database only goes up to 2021, making it fairly useless as a search engine. Plus, the limitations listed on OpenAI’s home page include, “may occasionally generate incorrect information” and, “may occasionally produce harmful instructions or biased content.”

This should alarm everyone. Because it will now be all too easy to generate fake news, medical advice or academic papers that look like the real deal. We’re going to need to quickly put regulations in place to signal when content is AI-generated (just as we do for sponsored content in media) – or we humans will need to become much better at fact-checking and critical thinking.

Writing is a tool for thinking

Finally, there is one more downside to relying on generative AI, and that is the value of writing to improve your thinking.

Writing is a process that can sharpen your reasoning and helps you make sense of your ideas. It can feel like threading wispy fragments of insights together into something coherent and new. That’s what gives good writing substance, sense and (hopefully) that aha! of surprise.

Right now, generative AI isn’t capable of that. And more importantly, I don’t want to outsource my thinking to a bot.

So while I am sure ChatGPT’s capabilities will quickly evolve, and I’ll gladly feed it small, routine tasks as it does, I can’t see my job being at risk.

Yet.

 

 

[1] Also, ‘recent years’ is a stretch given it was only made available in November 2022.

[2] ChatGPT wrote that sentence for me.

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