Brad Stone, editor of technology for Bloomberg Businessweek, in his column about AI-based writing tools that make it easy to write, ends his column with this paragraph. I should agree with him as a writer, but I don’t.
Personally, I take objection to the idea that writing should ever be “easy” or “painless.” Writing is and should be hard – a lonely walk in the dark with the facts, your ideas and your facility with language. The robots will need to get a lot more neurotic if they ever hope to become true writers.
Why? Because, as far as I am concerned, not all writing is created equal. Unlike in the past, writing isn’t something just “writers” do. Artistic or creative writing is a different beast from what we do when writing emails, marketing copy, press releases, or copy for social media.
Even though Stone lumps many tools together, not all of them are the same. Lex, for example, is a better version of Google Docs and can be a great help when drafting out documents, though I would be loathe to use its verbatim to publish something publicly. Sudowrite* is about helping you give options around “creative intent.” Jasper is for copywriters. In other words, workflows define the tools and shape the “AI” for its purpose. Grammarly is none of the above — it is a grammar checker, and it isn’t very intelligent — just good at helping corporate documents be good, grammatically correct, and presentable.
The bigger question is why we need these “writing assistants.”
We now live in a world of multimodal communications, and how we communicate is changing. The omnipresence of devices in our lives — smartphones to computers, means most of our conversations and communications happen through text. We have replaced so much of our face-to-face interaction with the written word. Teams, Slack and Discords, are part of our daily lives now. As the volume of text in our lives increases, we need tools that help facilitate and perhaps improve how we write and how fast we write.
The tiny bits of “generative AI” is already in our lives. Using Google’s Gmail or Microsoft’s Outlook client, you get suggestions to complete your sentences. They are good suggestions, even if they have the personality of wet cardboard. We should see more of these embedded assistive tools across device ecosystems.
It is not what we have but what we need that excites me. None of these tools are true personalization of how we communicate and write. When tools combine how I write — my voice and my approach to documents with the rigor of these new assistive systems- we will see better and personalized writing in our documents and daily communications.
February 27, 2023. San Francisco
* Disclosure: I am friends with the founders of Sudowrite and also an angel investor.