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Surviving AI? Don’t just create, be creative

Brace yourselves. Artificial intelligence is ganging up on content professionals again. At least according to this story from the Content Marketing Institute yesterday. Like most AI stories these days it comes complete with an ‘end of days’ headline and a warning that an army of robots is ‘creating’ content – hundreds of thousands of stories every year.

It’s that word ‘creating’ that is most troublesome. Read the article and it’s clear there’s a huge gap between these data driven bulletins and the genuine ‘creativity’ that you find in photographs, videos and articles produced by human beings.

One of the businesses covered in the article, Narrative Science, promotes its software as “Humanizing data like never before, with technology that interprets your data and transforms it into ‘intelligent narratives’ at speed and scale.”

A plea for nuance

Let’s be clear. These are data driven bulletins created for the sports and financial pages. But they are not, repeat, not, ‘creative’. In fact, they have more to do with automation than artificial intelligence. There’s little or no room for nuance in this writing, although the Narrative Science program has a way of choosing phrases for sports updates that soften the blow when your team loses. Good news for this West Ham supporter I guess.

Sure, there’s no room for complacency when considering the impact of AI on the content workplace. But we are a long, long way from AI long-form articles, or a 500-word blog post for that matter.

The best comparison I can think of is with the challenge to build robots that walk as well as humans. How hard can it be to walk in a straight line? Pretty tough, actually. Walking is a miracle that requires massive computing power, connecting the nervous system, the brain and the organs of balance. And yet most of us are fortunate to get on with it without consciously thinking. Not so easy for a machine.

Double down on being human

Back to our AI authors. While software is well equipped to churn out stories based on structured data, it’s a long way from the cognitive skills that lend texture and depth to ‘human’ writing. Even those hoary old rhetorical devices – irony, devil’s advocate, polemic – are still far beyond the abilities of a computer. In much the same way that our walking robot struggles once you point it towards a flight of stairs or ask it to slalom its way around a line of traffic cones.

That said, anybody who earns a living through content is well-advised to double down on their human qualities. That’s something that I’ve covered before, as has my colleague Andrew Ford in this article on how to beat the AI robots at work. And yesterday in the Guardian, tech-visionary Jaron Lanier spoke about the importance of refocusing on our human qualities.

As I’ve argued before, we’re going to see a widening gap between automated content and high-end, long-form journalism. And that matters whether you’re a writer, photographer or director. The more ‘human’ your content, the more likely your career will survive in the era of artificial intelligence. In other words, don’t just create, be creative!


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