Let's be clear; I don't hate AI generated content, but I have been wary and suspicious of it from the start. This has led many people I know to joke that I'm a Luddite... which is ironic considering that some of the Luddites points of concern were:
1) Technology is not good by default; it can make people's lives worse as well as better
2) The possible devaluation of traditional craftsmanship
3) The possibility that new technology would concentrate wealth and power in the hands of a few wealthy companies
A highly simplistic snapshot of a complex movement, I know, but in retrospect their concerns were not unfounded. So, maybe I am somewhat of a Luddite, but there is a place for AI. Yes, even AI that creates art and prose.
But it's not in business.
Skill Devaluation Vs. Assistive Tech
Let me introduce myself; I'm Sheree, and I'm a freelance writer. For the last ten years, I've been writing copy for business websites, ghost-writing fiction, and generally turning my hand to any written project I've been given the opportunity to work on.
Over the last decade I, and many of my close friends, have written website copy, blog posts, newsletters, marketing campaigns, short stories, novels, and even YouTube scripts for private individuals and companies. I've written for fashion blogs, tech start-ups, wellness clinics, cafe's, B2B service providers, and even coupon sites.
If you've Googled 'best perfume for a date night' or 'where to find independent pet stores near me' there's a high chance I, or someone I know, has had a hand in crafting the results of that search. Hell, I even know someone who was hired to write love letters - but that's another story. The point is, I've got some experience and skills that took over a decade to hone, and I can see the value in AI.
And I will never use it to create content for my clients. Why?
Well, firstly it's dishonest and frankly unprofessional to have a program do what I was hired to; you may disagree, perhaps strongly, but that's how I feel.
Clients are paying for my experience, for the skills I have built, and for my time - not for me to enter a prompt and press a button. They can do that themselves, and that's where we come to the potential benefits.
AI presents a chance for us to learn in some ways, or supplement skills we do not have with assistive tech. Case in point? I can write - after ten years of writing at least five days a week, often seven, of reading every book I can on the subject, trialling styles and techniques, researching and practicing - I can write. I can plot. I can plan characters.
You know what I can't do? Draw.
I can sketch a map, maybe, but when it comes down to it I can't draw. When I want to supplement my planning, I search stock photos, Pinterest, and other visual media. Programs like DALL-E let me get a better example of what I'm looking for, and since the project is for me, I'm not taking food from anyone's mouth by outsourcing a personal project I never intended to hire anyone for to technology (though being able to hire an artist to bring some of my characters to life remains a dream of mine)
For those just starting out as writers, using AI to generate basic plots is an opportunity to see formulaic approaches to fiction work in practice. After all, AI learns from input and the traditional story formulas and structures are everywhere. It could be this generations fanfiction; that's where I learned to plot, through trial, error, feedback, and playing in someone else's sandbox.
Unfortunately, we all know that non-monetized practice and inspiration is not the only use for AI... In fact, it may be one of the less common uses.
What Happens When Trust Breaks Down?
Here's where things might get hairy; as a freelancer, I am always looking for new work... and I've been seeing a trend. It started on the less lucrative sites like iWriter. One day, seemingly out of nowhere, briefs were popping up with disclaimers like this:
"No AI content - we check. IF YOU ARE FOUND TO USE AI WE WILL REPORT AND BLOCK YOU"
At first, I thought it was clients being cautious, then I realized there was in fact an influx of "writers" whose sole input into a job was to take the brief and enter the basics of it into ChatGPT as a prompt.
They thought they could make a quick buck - instead they have created a unique and almost McCarthyistic atmosphere in the marketplace. Clients have taken to using software that claims to detect AI content. I say 'claims' because there is mounting research that such software isn't as reliable as people think. Just as AI can make mistakes when faced with a prompt, these detectors can miss AI generated content, and flag false positives.
Even the best, which are usually behind paywalls, really detect the likelihood that AI has been used to generate content.
The problem is that when clients fear they are being scammed by people using AI to take the human element and, well, work out of writing work, they seem not to care about this. Almost every writer I know has been accused of using AI to write copy for a client, and in most cases I believe, or know, that they don't use AI programs to produce it.
You see, the real problem isn't AI 'taking our jobs' at this point; its the erosion of trust that's happening because clients feel they simply can't be sure they're getting what they pay for. And the saddest part is that AI really isn't capable of replacing a skilled writer when it comes to complex tasks, in my opinion.
But what about using AI to create a base and refining it, I heard the 'work smart not hard' tech lovers cry? Well, and this is going to sound mean, if you don't have the skill to write what you've been hired to... it could work. Of course, if you're not yet able to do the job you've been hired for, someone else should probably be doing it, but I digress.
I sat down today and took the bare bones of an old brief, created a prompt, and generated an article based on that prompt. The results? Clunky, robotic, and in some areas downright false; it took me longer to fix up the results than it did to write the original from scratch when I took that job last year.
This lack of trust is a problem for everyone in the industry; new writers who might otherwise have been given the benefit of the doubt by clients willing to work with those on a learning curve for lower costs are struggling to find work. Those of us lucky enough to have built any kind of reputation are finding it harder to connect with new clients, or in the case of one unlucky friend, losing long-time clients who seem to find it more plausible that they have suddenly abandoned their professional ethics than that relatively new technology may have a margin of error.
Which leaves me with a question I can't answer; if you won't trust AI to write your content... why would you trust it to validate your content?
The irony? According to CopyLeaks - there's only an 86% chance a human wrote this article. Which means there's an 86% chance the freelance grind hasn't sucked the soul out of me quite yet.
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