Does anybody else remember a sci-fi movie from the 1990s called The Lawnmower Man? Based loosely on a Stephen King short story, the movie was about an intellectually disabled landscape guy who becomes the subject of a mad scientist-type experiment in which he’s given super-human intelligence and other abilities.
I know – what could possibly go wrong? It’s a pretty cool movie and another example of how prescient Stephen King is when it comes to writing stories that might be science fiction today but aren’t necessarily fiction in the future.
That movie was the first time I’d ever heard or seen anything about artificial intelligence or virtual reality. Thirty years later, AI and VR are no longer science fiction — they’ve become pretty common, including in the field of copywriting.
The Intersection of AI and Copywriting
I first heard about AI copywriting a few years ago when a friend who runs an SEO agency told me he was using it to churn out blogs easily and cheaply. As a professional freelance writer, my first thought was: Is AI going to replace me?
So I asked him to send me an AI-written blog. Then I relaxed. The copy was no better than what’s written by non-English-speaking writers located overseas who charge $5 a blog.
Now fast forward to a few months ago when a new client told me they had purchased a subscription to an AI copywriting platform and wanted me to use it so I could crank out even more blogs for them. We agreed that I’d use the tool mainly to generate search engine optimized headlines and leads and provide a basic blog structure to save time. I would also add client-specific product tie-ins, nuance and calls to action to each blog.
Has AI Copywriting Improved?
As I got ready to use the tool for the first time, I was curious about whether AI copywriting had gotten any better over the past few years. My verdict: While it has improved, AI is still a long way from replacing human copywriters — at least in the industries where I work, which are business and finance.
The biggest advantage of using AI copywriting is cost. For example, one popular AI copywriting tool offers limited blog writing for as low as $79 a month. The other big advantage is speed: With these tools, you can literally create a blog in about 5 minutes if you don’t do any editing or customizing.
The biggest disadvantage, obviously, is quality. You simply won’t get the same quality of writing from an algorithm that you will from a trained professional writer. At least not yet — or anytime soon, in my opinion.
A caveat: In some industries, the writing quality of an AI tool might suffice. But not in more complex and nuanced industries like business, finance or technology. Also, an AI tool might be OK for generating content types other than blogs like social media posts, website landing pages and emails. I haven’t tried it for any of these yet.
Will AI Replace Human Copywriters?
My friend Gordon Graham, aka That White Paper Guy, wrote an article recently asking if AI would replace human copywriters in industries like those I’ve mentioned. His answer, not surprisingly, is no. Here are some of Gordon’s main reasons why:
- The content is too challenging.
- The content requires deep research.
- The content requires rhetorical finesse.
- The content requires more than just facts.
- The content has to make sense.
As an example of the last point, Gordon points to a TV commercial written by AI for Burger King. Click here to watch — it’s hilarious!
Using AI for Transcriptions
On the flip side, I recently came across one use of AI that works surprisingly well: transcription. In fact, this works so well that I won’t be at all surprised if AI replaces human transcription in the very near future.
A year or so ago I tried the transcription tool offered by the recording app I use for interviews, TapeACall. It was terrible! So I was skeptical when my daughter suggested I use an AI transcription tool called otter.ai to transcribe some interviews I was going to pay her to transcribe for me. (Kind of her, wasn’t it?)
I couldn’t believe how accurate the transcriptions were! In fact, I’d say they were almost as accurate as human transcription — probably 95% as good. That’s plenty good enough for an interview transcription.
Otter.ai has a free option that includes three transcriptions a month or you can get more transcriptions for just $8 a month. Compare this to up to $1.50 a minute for human transcription.
Where AI Works — and Where It Doesn’t
This is the perfect illustration of where AI works well and where it doesn’t. No human intelligence is required to transcribe an interview — you just have to be able to listen and type fast and accurately. Artificial intelligence is fine for this.
But a lot of human intelligence is required to research and write an organized, well-structured and thought-provoking article or blog. Artificial intelligence still isn’t smart enough to do this very well.
Will it be 5, 10 or 20 years from now? Who knows? I thought The Lawnmower Man was pure science fiction in 1992. But I don’t anymore!
This Post Has 6 Comments
Great article and, of course, I agree. I’ll check out otter. Loved the BK ad (Tastes like bird!).
Thanks Michael! Isn’t that BK ad hilarious???
#3 is the place where AI will struggle the most – reading content that has been written with a great degree of rhetorical finesse is often the characteristic that motivates many readers to carve out time in their day to do the actual reading. The value of the “why” behind the “what” is something around which I can’t imagine AI thoroughly wrapping its digital brain, even over the horizon. I’m sure this is a ring on their target, but the bullseye is going to be tough to hit. If they hit it, it could be a kill shot, though.
To your next point – transcription – I’ve used Otter.ai to good effect, specifically in situations where 100% accuracy wasn’t required. One example is at the end of a bible study or men’s group meeting when it’s time to gather prayer requests for later distribution – I’ll tap on Otter to transcribe them and then edit any mistakes when I send out the email to the guys. However, I’m also an Evernote Certified Consultant and I frequently just record notes as audio files for later transcription and the baked-in text-to-speech engines are improving both on the Android and IOS sides.
All that said, the layers of complexity I find most troubling in all of this are the sinister “not-so-sci-fi-anymore” agendas behind Big Tech and the always on nature of these Big Brother devices we’ve stashed in our pockets and welcomed onto our mantles. Sadly, “Live Not By Lies” is becoming less a portent and more a look in the rear-view mirror. Do I want Jeff Bezos to know that I ran 4 miles this morning, making out my target heartrate before exhausting the almond milk in my smart fridge while reading 4 news blogs, tweeting a rant, and having a sensitive conversation with my wife before heading out to my home office so he can be sure new running shoes, a smarter-smartwatch, subscribe and save coupons for Almond Breeze, and several books on marital communication show up in my Amazon feed? (While my social credit score drops 4 points because of my anti-hotsocialissue sentiment got the best of me in my rant?
Yeah, that’s probably a bit more than you were looking for in the comment section… But, here’s to talented, HUMAN copywriters in the business and financial sectors and their long reign yet to come! May your words be pithy and your pay be mighty!
Great observations and thoughts, Aarron! I also worry about Big Tech’s agenda and power. I consciously try not to give them too much info about me. Of course, it’s impossible not to leave any digital footprint at all today unless you stay completely offline, which is pretty much impossible — especially in our lines of work.
Great article, Don. On an important topic. I remember Lawnmower Man, I watched it a couple of times. And I tried Otter.ai maybe 2 years ago but thought it was pretty poor. I’ll trying it again for a Zoom I just did and I’m hoping it’s much better already. All the very best!
Thanks Gordon! Yea, give otter another try — it doesn’t cost anything. I think you’ll like it.