As an important side project, I write content for a mental-health app. I regularly create text that helps people focus on specific aspects of their lives and learn about themselves. One of the tools I’ve used is called Notion. It’s a collaboration tool that’s really good – the best project-management mixed with writing tool I’ve ever used (just this side of a simple wiki, seriously). Notion has just asked me if I want to trial their AI. Their AI content tool, I just learned, will write a blog post or tweets, or “brainstorming aids.” I’ve never been this close to feeling replaceable, as if my own mind and creativity is a commodity.
I learned about peoples’ livelihoods being inexorably altered by industrial technology – tooling and infrastructure that changed manpower into machinery; and the skills required to build, make, lift and shift changed to engineering from embodied skills (there’s no such fucking thing as “unskilled labour;” anyone who says so hasn’t worked with their body before!).
But; to watch a video advert that shows a screen self-populating with text?
It’s being sold (to me) as a writing aid; and I could totally see how it would absolutely work. For much of my career, I’ve had to put words up on a screen about a topic I either know little about or care even less. Write formulaic posts that recap events (that I didn’t attend)? Sure, I’ve done many of those. Sales copy that says the same thing as last year, but with different enough words to not kill the SEO? Yup.
Would I want a bot to do that? Oh god yes. I don’t ever want to have to look up at my ceiling and press my hand against the bridge of my nose seeking motivation to start “being creative” about something that truly doesn’t require creativity – just content.
But, this whole exploration gets me thinking about why the fuck we’re creating all this content anyway. My business card calls me a “content strategist” (and several former and possibly current bosses are friends with me here: “hey up!”). So, I feel the need to ask, again and again: why are we making this in the first place?
I feel like AI content creation will become (is already) the default for digital marketing. Why pay a person a wage (or hourly rate) when you could pay a monthly subscription that costs about the same as a Spotify account? (I’m guessing, prices will vary – and SAP and Salesforce will charge millions for long-term service contracts that [better sense suggests I stop here so I don’t get sued]). But what will that look like to people on the receiving end of this shit?
Well, automatic content generation isn’t new. Auto-documentation is actually kind of marvelous for digital products. You can have human-understandable guides to your product that don’t forget a feature in minutes. TOCs and well-labelled user journeys through your product’s key features and tooling (provided you coded it well in the first place). Documentation is both a highly-skilled (and often expensive) undertaking, and a few clicks from your dev environment to generate all the prose you need… until someone asks for help.
Automatic marketing is going to be the volume of spam, but more eye-catching and personalised – tailored to your life events, cookie-based internet history, and membership of organisations. It’ll be harder to ignore.
But what does this mean for people who create words for work?
It’ll be a lot of things. I personally would like a bot to draft formulaic content which I can then copyedit – I’m a fast writer if I know what I’m talking about, but a much, much faster editor when what I need to do is change something to make it fit for purpose. I’d rather have a blog post created and waiting for me to give it personality and check it for completeness than having to stare at a blank text editor cursor blinking at me.
But I don’t think it’s going to help with the mind-work. I think it’ll make entry-level marketing jobs more and more scarce and less justifiable for HR approval. But auto-generated content isn’t going to change whether what you have to say is worth saying in the first place. It might help makers and companies which struggle to articulate themselves – so long as they understand that they have an audience of real humans who need engagement. And, if they’ve made or done something worthwhile.