Can robots replace human writers?

July 18th, 2014 by Bob Bly

It appears that they can, at least as far as content writing is concerned.

According to the article below, Wikipedia “bots” – software that writes without a human operator – write a staggering 10,000 articles a day for the site:

http://news.discovery.com/tech/robotics/wikipedia-bot-writes-10000-articles-a-day-140715.htm

The quality is apparently good enough that the articles pass muster – people read them and don’t know a robot wrote them.

Does that mean content writers are obsolete and irrelevant, much like factory workers who have been replaced by robots on factory assembly lines?

For decades, my dad worked in an office building with a manual elevator run by an elevator operator, Frank. The day the building unveiled its new self-service push-button elevator, Frank was gone.

I know a number of older IT professionals who became obsolete and were fired when either their technical skills became outdated or were outsourced to India. Not exactly death by bot, but the same idea.

Do you believe that bots will become powerful enough to handle more sophisticated writing tasks – including poetry, novels, movie scripts, and sales copy?

Just because I cannot see my way clear to believing that what I do as a copywriter can ever be captured in software does not mean that it won’t happen.

What’s scary is the possibility that almost any worker living today may become obsolete in ways he or she never expected.

There are already robots that help perform surgery. Who is to say one day an AI (artificial intelligence) bot won’t eliminate the need for a human surgeon?

Do you feel sorrow for people who are being made obsolete and unemployable by advances in technology or do you see it as their fault: they didn’t keep their skills state of the art, and so they get what they deserve?

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This entry was posted on Friday, July 18th, 2014 at 11:33 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

23 responses about “Can robots replace human writers?”

  1. Raymond Duke said:

    I worked for several years on the waterfront as a Casual Longshoreman. The two ports I worked at — the port of Los Angeles and the port of Long Beach — are the two busiest ports in the US. No less than five years ago, there was a lockout; the ports stopped functioning and it was estimated losses were $2,000,000,000 a day.

    I think it’s inevitable for technology and automation to take over. I saw it happening on the waterfront. I feel the job won’t be around much longer.

    Do I think automation is bad? No. It gives us more time to do things we’d rather be doing than “grind the time card”. The bigger question is what do we do with our free time?

  2. Bob Bly said:

    I do not see it as giving us more free time. Rather, I see it as causing a growing number of people to become unable to earn a living because they have been replaced by a machine.

  3. Susanna Hutcheson said:

    I think quality copywriting is no longer required or expected by marketers. They’re willing to settle for such below par stuff that most anyone can write it. Naturally they get less business as a result of being cheapskates. But, they don’t know that because they have nothing to compare it to.

    If a writer is willing to write just good enough and charge half of what he’s worth, he can perhaps make a go of it.

    Bill Gates is quoted as saying that all he wanted for Microsoft was for it to be “just good enough.” He was referring to the software. On the flip side, Steve Jobs would never have settled for that sort of thing.

    I guess it’s just a matter of the type person the marketer is as to whether or not “real” copywriting will survive.

  4. Bob Bly said:

    My findings are not the same as Susanna’s. Top clients in direct response, such as investment publishers and dietary supplement marketers, need superstar copy, happily pay top dollar for it, and do not get sales without it. What Susanna says is true for a lot of Millenial corporate marcom managers and small business owners, many of whom do not understand that great copy can produce great sales.

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  6. Curtis W. White said:

    Copywriting requires a pretty fine understanding of human psychology. Machines wouldn’t have a chance.

    Machines could probably sell to other machines pretty handily, though.

    As soon as robots become consumers, there may be a real place in the market for computer generated copy.

    Until then, I won’t hang up my hat just yet.

    But I will keep an eye out for cyborgs at the supermarket. ;)

  7. Bob Bly said:

    I fear a bot posted #5 above!

  8. Harry Joiner said:

    I write between 5000 and 7000 words per week — plus I was once a professional drummer.

    When drum machines arrived on the scene in the 1980s, most drummers were scared to death of them. Today, drum machines are more life-like than ever.

    Yet most (paying) fans of music seem to prefer the sound of a real drummer because of the humanity of their playing. Ringo Starr’s playing was imperfect. Charlie Watts’ playing was also imperfect. There’s certainly no denying the infectious enthusiasm of Keith Moon’s playing! Where would The Who be without Moon? (The word “enthusiasm,” btw, comes from the Greek word “to be possessed by God.”)

    In fact, today’s percussive arts are probably more alive and relevant than ever than ever thanks to envelop-pushing players like Ari Hoenig, Brian Blade, Benny Greb, and Keith Carlock, and Glen Kotche of Wilco.

    As a copywriter, I think it’s important to deeply understand the human condition in order to leverage elements of philosophy, psychology, sociology, history, etc as they pertain to your clients’ slamdunk customers’ emotional triggers.

    Whenever I do a project intake call with a client, I’m often surprised at how little my client knows about THEMSELVES — which makes it nearly impossible to for them to attract customers who are “values confluent” with them. A copywriting robot in such hands is like a laser-sighted sniper rifle in the hands of a blind man.

    It’s my job as a copywriter to help clients gain clarity on such issues (and even to build consensus internally). Only then can I develop a BIG IDEA for a campaign and then build around it.

    Anyway.

    Like modern drummers, modern copywriters can use technology to as a tool — but the best among you needn’t worry about being replaced by it.

  9. Bob Bly said:

    Harry, you are not Harry Joiner formerly of the Learning Annex, are you? Anyway, my question is: has the drum machine hurt drummers financially, because bands can always threaten to replace them with the much cheaper labor of the machine?

  10. Harry Joiner said:

    Good question. I think that most of the work for demos is now gone. In the old days, if a songwriter wanted his demo set to drums, he would call a drummer. Nowadays, songwriters use drum machines to figure out what they want, and then ask a real drummer to replicate that in the studio or live. The musicians I still work with say that there’s nothing like the energy and synergy that comes with putting together a real band. At the end of the day, music is all about establishing an emotional connection between the band members, and ultimately the audience. Hard to do that with a drum machine.

    Since you asked: One other thing that’s interesting is that drummers now use click tracks and drum machines to supplement their lives playing. Watch a YouTube video of Radiohead and you’ll see a drummer who is “half man, half machine” because that’s the sound rest of the band wanted.

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