Are robots really the future of content writing?

When you work in the cyber security technology field, you find themes escaping from the work place and entering into your everyday life.

Take artificial intelligence for example – a phrase that will have most people thinking about their favourite sci-fi movies, from HAL 9000 refusing to open the pod bay doors to Arnie in his leather jacket and shades. On the other hand, I’ll inevitably start thinking about all the work our clients are doing with AI and machine learning to catch cyber criminals and advanced malware.

As a content creator, it turns out I’d actually have a personal stake in the march of the machines too, even if I didn’t write about cyber security for a living.  Back in the distant days of 2015, analysts at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo predicted that by 2018, 20 per cent of all business content would be authored by machines. The forecast includes everything from items such as shareholder reports and legal documents, to more engaging and nuanced material such as press releases, articles and white papers.

Time will tell how accurate this prediction ends up being, but even if we don’t hit a fifth of all business content being automated this year, the trend is certainly heading that way. Regardless, having a machine do all the work is easier said than done, and it doesn’t take much for a robot to go off the rails.

My favourite instance of how weird machine-written content can be is Botnik, a group of creators who use machines in a slightly off-kilter way to create weird and wonderful results. In one of the best examples, they fed a predictive text programme all seven of the Harry Potter books and had it co-author a brand-new chapter. I challenge anyone who’s ever read a Potter book to make it through the result, “Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash” without cracking up.

Obviously the Botnik group are skewing things on purpose for fun, but even in serious endeavours where the technology is advanced enough to hit all the right notes, I believe it will be a long time before it is able to consistently ring true. While purely fact-based reports are a cinch for automated tools to take on, a great deal of the business content we consume needs much more than by-the-numbers writing construction. Personality, authenticity, and a unique voice are important qualities for truly successful and engaging content, and I believe getting this right will always demand the human touch.

Professor Friend

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