Machines are taking over. They’ve already invaded industries like manufacturing, healthcare, customer service and finance. Many of these jobs are task-driven, but some robots are doing more creative work, like writing. And Gartner predicts this trend of robot writers is only going to increase. By 2018, it estimates 20% of business content will be created by machines.
Is it time for content marketers, like me, to brush up our resumes and start looking for new work?
The short answer: No.
Enter the Robot Journalist
There’s no denying that these machines can write. Chances are good you’ve already read copy written by a robot and never knew it. That’s because AI is very good at producing fact- or numbers-driven content. In what is possibly the best named study ever, “Enter the Robot Journalist” tested reader perceptions of AI and human-created content. The results clearly spelled out a few key findings:
- Machine content felt more credible and objective
- Human content felt more appealing and easy to read
- Readers could not determine if a piece of content was penned by a man or machine
Machines are functional, but not masterful, writers. They can churn out summaries of a baseball game or the Q4 financial report, but they’re not great at connecting with people.
Of course they’re not. Machines have no soul, and neither does their content.
If AI only had a heart.
A few years ago, the internet lost its collective minds when Google’s AI created poetry. And while tech writers raved over the results, I wouldn’t call any of the poems “beautiful,” “haunting,” or “mournful.”
I’ve taught poetry for over a decade, and Google’s robot can’t hold a candle to the poetry of most third graders. Sorry, Google.
Current artificial intelligence has the same problem as the Tin Man in Wizard of Oz. It lacks heart. This makes empathy impossible. And empathy is the secret wire connecting all of us. Empathy is what enables us to put our own agendas, biases, and perceptions aside for a moment and live in the experience of someone else.
Nor are they likely to get it anytime soon. Why? Because we’d have to teach empathy to them, and to do that we’d have to fully understand it, and ourselves. We’ve tried before, and the results have been less than stellar. Given that we barely understand ourselves as a species, it is illogical to think that a machine we create will be able to surpass us in emotional intelligence anytime soon.
Empathy is the most critical, and mostly unteachable, skill for content marketers. Empathy makes poetry universal, music omnipresent, and art transcendent. And machines simply do not have it.
Robot writers have another challenge in their quest to take over content marketing: they lack imagination.
Robots do not dream of electric sheep. They don’t dream at all.
I can already hear an angry mob of tech folks shouting that AI is creative. Just look at the auto-suggestions science fiction writer Robin Sloan’s assistant bot delivers. Or enjoy the clever wit and snark of Siri when you ask her silly questions.
That’s not creativity. Why? Because both are defined by rules set by humans. Both machines are operating within their established protocol; they do not go outside of it. AI receives a request, processes it through its protocols, and spits out an answer.
Creative minds do something completely different. When a creative mind is asked to solve a problem–or more relevant, to propose a topic that will connect with others–it employs all the different parts of the brain. Cognitive function, emotional intelligence, the moral compass are all activated.
Creatives live and play in a world of disarray, disorder and ambiguity. They learn the rules and then they break them. They see the box, tear it apart and build a new one. Robots do not think outside protocol, yet.
AI may research libraries, gather insight from past requests or offer up random associations. But it cannot determine if that random association is actually any good. And if you tell the robot that it is, it’s not likely to know why. It can’t critique it’s own work with a creative eye.
Best words, best order means nothing to bots.
Machines don’t love language the way human writers do. They can’t, because, again, they have no heart. Loving language is how you know that “mournful” is a better word than “sad” to describe Edgar Allen Poe’s “Dream Within a Dream.”
You have to love language to understand the subtle difference between synonyms, and to recognize how a particular word will affect the context of a piece, how it will resonate in a reader’s mind and heart.
Machines cannot replicate the human experience.
If machines create capital-A Art someday, it will reflect the robot experience. Because Art requires a sense of self and introspection, and the ability to project that outward in a way that is universal, empathetic and meaningful. Otherwise, the art is soulless.
This gives me hope. As long as we continue to put our souls into our writing, the machines can never replace us.
Though we may have to learn to work side by side with them.
Working with your robot assistant.
If the machines aren’t coming to take my job (at least not anytime soon), then what are they going to do for content marketing?
The answer: Just about everything else.
Working with an AI assistant, a human content marketer could input details about a company and its marketing goals, and let the AI do the dirty work. A robot marketer could dig into customer data and create buyer personas, monitor keywords, social chatter and deliver insights. Finally, given a few rules and templates to apply, it could utilize best practices to put together a campaign strategy. Then the human marketer steps in, reviews the strategy most likely to succeed, and brainstorm the big idea–the content–that will drive the campaign.
Then, sit back and let the robot marketer track your efforts and prepare the reports, even tweak social scheduling, ad spending and SEO keywords as needed.
If all of this sounds a little too much like Skynet for your comfort, you’re not alone. Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have all expressed fears about AI outgrowing its creators.
Personally, I’m excited about the potential AI has to offer content marketing. But hey–robot writer, leave the poetry to us humans, okay?