Since ChatGPT launched in late 2022, the internet is buzzing with discussions about artificial intelligence (AI).
New AI companies are popping up every day. Developers couldn’t be more delighted by this technology boom. But because AI is still so new, there’s one emotion that stands out amid the anticipation: fear.
We’re hardwired to fear the unknown, and AI still seems like it belongs in a Star Trek–esque future. From discussions about ethics to apprehension about robots taking our jobs, the fear of AI ranges from apprehension to outright terror.
Obviously, I’m a little biased. Our CEO’s passion for AI is contagious. But I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t experienced some of this apprehension. I’m a writer, after all, and every day, AI writing gets better and better.
The more I learn about AI, and the more I take an objective step back to examine my knee-jerk fears, the more that nervousness subsides. I’m not terrified of AI as a professional writer.
AI Isn’t Taking My Job
I’ve been a content and copywriter since 2016, when I left my first career as a high school teacher. Additionally, I’ve also published three books, with a fourth on the way.
I’m also a millennial, which means I’ve seen massive technological innovation and growth in my lifetime. I remember when the best feature my cell phone had was a color screen. I learned to type on computers too heavy to carry.
Now I can harness the entire power of the internet in a tiny phone. My husband just ordered a desktop PC that fits in his pocket, and it has more memory than my laptop! We can cast our phone screens to our smart TV, while adjusting rabbit ear antennas during Monday Night Football is just a distant memory.
Recently, I read an article from Forbes, where a start-up entrepreneur said she’s never hired a freelance writer better than . If that’s not fearmongering, I don’t know what is.
If that statement is true, I would argue that she’s been hiring inexperienced or lazy writers. Because as a professional writer, I’m yet to see an AI-generated article that can write as well as a writing expert.
Why? At the end of the day, no matter how smart AI gets, it’s not human.
OpenAI, the research company behind ChatGPT, states that they are creating technology that “benefits all humanity.” Not replaces. Benefits.
Writers bring a few things to the table that AI just doesn’t have. The first is an intuitive understanding of human emotion. AI can try to replicate it, but it’s never going to understand how words evoke emotion on a fundamental level. Language exists to communicate not just ideas, but feelings. You can’t always explain why alliteration works better than anaphora in one section of your speech; you just feel it.
The second thing that writers have is lived experience. Good writing isn’t just about using strong words and good grammar. It’s about storytelling. Humans are natural storytellers, although we might need some AI assistance to finesse our written skills.
Take my earlier paragraphs. AI has not “lived through” changes in technology the way I have. Again, it can attempt to replicate human experience. But it’s going to lack the soul, the nuance, and the quirkiness.
AI can tell you that millennials remember rabbit ear antennas. But it can’t evoke an image of adjusting them during a specific American pastime, calling to mind cozy memories of being home with your family in the ’90s. Why? Because it didn’t live that memory.
In short, AI writing lacks soul because it doesn’t have a soul.
AI is powerful. If I’m stuck on how to improve a sentence or paragraph, it can give me some great ideas. But overall, it’s not a replacement for human storytelling.
Here’s the thing. Generative AI is only as powerful as the person using it. You have to tell it what you want it to do through a really good quality prompt. And guess what these prompts require?
Yep. Writing. Good writing.
AI Requires New Skills
In my second year of teaching, I had a student plagiarize her entire essay. But it was laughably bad because the prompt wasn’t something you could Google. I was also one of the school district’s curriculum writers. The essay prompt was created by three US History teachers of varying experience. We workshopped that prompt and its supporting documents till our eyes bled.
So, when my student turned in a generic essay on Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, it didn’t even attempt to answer the prompt.
AI is a lot like that. In fact, there’s a new field known as prompt engineering, which requires coding skills and strong writing skills to train AI to give you the best answers.
But even if you aren’t a prompt engineer, you have to be specific enough about what you want AI to do. The technology isn’t perfect, though, so sometimes your prompts may be too specific. It takes someone skilled in written communication to perfect an AI prompt.
I get a new example of an AI prompt from a newsletter called “Prompts Daily” in my email every day, and they’ve taught me a lot about great prompt writing. I am yet to use one of these prompts exactly, but I riff through them and make them my own. I love practicing to learn the limits of what AI can do and how it can help me work smarter, not harder.
Recently, I wrote in another article that ProWritingAid’s Rephrase feature is “your own words and ideas made better.” Rephrase, ChatGPT, and other AI writing programs don’t work unless you do.
Will AI change the field of writing? Yes, it already has. But so many careers have changed because of technology. Typesetting used to be an important field. Now, anyone can typeset on their computer. But document design is its own field now because to make a document look its best still needs a human eye.
It’s Not Theft: It’s Language Learning
There are a lot of technical terms involved with AI, like large language models (LLM), natural language processing (NLP), and neural network architectures.
It’s these jargon terms that keep people scared of AI. These terms are inaccessible to most people. So, when someone tells you that AI is just scanning the internet and stealing other people’s words or ideas, that’s a concept you can understand.
That’s inaccurate, though. Let me give you a brief explanation of what all these terms really mean.
Developers have trained AI to learn language similarly to the way humans learn language. It just does it a lot faster and with more sources because it’s a computer.
AI is modeled after human brains and human language acquisition. It’s never going to be exactly the same because it’s not a brain. But the idea is the same: AI is authentically learning the same way you do.
I’ve long stood by the philosophy that there’s no such thing as an original idea. Original iterations, perhaps, but people have ideas from interacting with the world and other people. We learn language this way.
How did you learn anything about speaking? From hearing other people speak. How did you learn about writing? From reading.
My other philosophy is that good writers are good readers. You might say that AI is the best reader because it’s learning from billions, if not trillions, of writing examples from the whole of human history (or at least what’s been put online).
You didn’t learn about rhetorical devices or grammar in a vacuum. You learned it perhaps from a textbook or a teacher. You improve your understanding by seeing those skills in action.
Every writer I know, from authors to copywriters to songwriters, has experienced this moment: You come up with an absolutely genius, poignant line. And then you think, “That’s really good. I couldn’t have possibly come up with that.” So you scour Google looking for where you’ve unintentionally stolen it.
And then you have that great moment of, “Oh, wow. I did come up with that phrasing. Maybe I’m not so bad at this writing thing after all.”
From everything you’ve read, every web page and book, every conversation you’ve had, you’ve learned enough about how to wield language to make something exceptional. This is how AI works. It’s learning from what it’s read and seen; it’s not stealing.
Because the technology is so advanced, beware of hastily launched companies who will “identify” your AI-generated work. This is already leading to false accusations of honest students and workers. AI has been around for decades and is constantly being refined to sound more human. These new companies just can’t guarantee accuracy.
There are always going to be dishonest students and employees. There will also always be accidental plagiarism, where you latched onto a phrase or idea for so long, you forgot where it came from.
This is why any writer or editor worth their salt runs their work through a plagiarism checker. At ProWritingAid, we require our writers to upload proof of their when they submit their articles because unintentional plagiarism can happen to anyone.
Now, while we wait for new legal cases and regulations on AI writing, the tech world is like the Wild West. Not every company is an ethical cowboy. That’s why ProWritingAid will never store your data or use your writing to train our AI models.
Embrace the Revolution
This fear of AI reminds me a lot of the Y2K craze. Powerful technology is scary to people who aren’t working on the front lines of the tech world. But in the AI field, there are innovators who are imagining things that might feel like sci-fi.
Hold yourself and your team to a high ethical standard. Treat AI like a slightly feral stray dog. Trust, patience, and excitement will soon give you a handy new tool to use in your writing arsenal. Learn what you can about large language models and AI technology.
AI has been around for decades. It’s not going anywhere. And one day, we’ll wake up like we did on January 1, 2000, and realize the world didn’t end; it just evolved.