With domestic strike action reaching levels not seen since the 1980s, it’s easy to overlook the significance of strikes taking place overseas.
Yet the writers strike currently paralysing the American film and TV sector is a microcosm of an existential battle being waged around the world.
On one side, there are legions of content creators – copywriters, journalists, scriptwriters, marketing professionals and other members of the creative industries.
On the other side, there are AI content creation tools, churning out original content in volumes unthinkable even a year ago.
The striking scriptwriters in America are concerned that these AI tools could render them all redundant.
But will AI replace writers long-term? Are platforms like ChatGPT going to make writing careers obsolete, or will AI simply augment existing roles?
Here’s this (non-AI) writer’s considered perspective on the prospect of software packages creating tomorrow’s novels, plays, blogs and song lyrics.
You’re bard, mate
Firstly, it’s worth pointing out that the widely hailed ChatGPT is simply the tip of a fast-expanding AI spear.
In its wake have come swarms of competitors. Google Bard, Perplexity AI, Jasper Chat, Claude 2, GPT-3 Playground…the list goes on, all with modest differences.
Perplexity cites its sources at the end of each sentence, Jasper remembers previous conversations, and Chatsonic has 16 different ‘personas’, from translator to stand-up comic.
Some are intended for specific roles, such as chatbot use or search engine deployment. Bing’s AI interface supports visual answers, and can plan trips or seek out advice.
HuggingChat can curate HTML code for websites, while Pi speaks back to create a more anthropomorphic interaction than typing into a window and seeing text appear in response.
The human touch
The inherent weakness in all these platforms is that they’re accessing the same pool of content – the internet – as their own output is generally being published on.
There are reams of factual data online, from Wikipedia entries to databases, but they’re all two-dimensional.
As such, these tools are merely collating, rather than creating.
They can interpret raw facts, but they lack the crucial ability to subjectively assess a situation in the way a spectator at a football match does without even trying.
Is it free-flowing or reliant on long passes? How does it compare to previous individual or team performances when you factor in weather, form, injuries, home advantage and the pressure on the manager?
These subjective factors are beyond even the most sophisticated bot. And that’s why generative AI software will never replace human output – merely augment it.
Chatbots don’t understand humour, or how to create it. They can’t relate to feelings of loss or loneliness. They have no context to draw on, no passion to show and no intuition to deploy.
Nonetheless, there are undoubtedly areas where AI will be of use, either complementing human writers, generating basic text people can build on, or reporting factual information.
AI in action
So will AI replace writers? In one sense, it already has done, generating content from basic news stories to books.
Many companies are using it as a cheap (until the inevitable paywalls start springing up) alternative to paying people for copywriting, journalism and scriptwriting output.
The drive for profits means some businesses would rather upload twenty low-quality AI-written blogs than one considered piece penned by a human with industry experience.
In the long-term, search engines are likely to begin downgrading low-quality AI content just as they downgraded link farms, keyword stuffing and other historic attempts at gaming SEO.
Premium AI content might still be highly ranked, but this won’t be the sort churned out in 30 seconds by ChatGPT for free and then published verbatim with obvious errors uncorrected.
Since the internet is both source and destination for most AI content, platforms publishing quality original content have the most to gain from bots recirculating existing information.
The unique insights and understanding talented writers imbue into their work will always make original scripts, guides and blogs shine, even in an ocean of regurgitated facts.
However, expect to encounter a great deal of low-grade AI content online in the coming years, as cost-cutting companies outsource content production to bots.