Can Artificial Intelligence Replace The Content Writer?

You don’t have to look far to find statistics and predictions on the future impact of artificial intelligence (AI).

But while self-driving cars and augmented reality headsets have excited consumers, enterprise headlines have focused more on the risk that it poses to workers. Analyst giant Forrester have claimed that 16% of jobs in the U.S. will be lost to artificial intelligence by 2025. Meanwhile, a recent report from PwC stated 30% of jobs in the UK were under threat from AI breakthroughs, putting 10 million British workers at risk of being ‘replaced by robots’ in the next 15 years.

We shouldn’t expect a wide-scale revolution of robot workers across the entire workplace, of course. Automation is less likely to surface in industries that entail managing others, applying expertise, stakeholder interactions and roles involving care. While less likely to be automated, these areas are not exempt—roles such as data collection and data processing, once revered for their level of required expertise, are now 64% and 67% likely to be automated, respectively.

Are there any jobs impervious to an AI takeover?

If I had to guess, I would say the ‘creative’ industries are relatively safe ones – for now. I would deem it unlikely we’ll see robot thespians reciting lines from Hamlet on stage at the RSC, for instance, or auditioning for a place in the Royal Ballet School. And yet, last year an AI program wrote a short novel that passed the first round of screening for a literary prize, so my estimations may have somewhat undersold the creative capabilities of AI.

Two years ago, Gartner predicted that by 2018, 20% of business content will be authored by machines, stating that “business content such as reports, legal documents, press releases, articles and whitepapers are all candidates for automated writing tools.” As we inch closer to the beginning of 2018, is content marketing next on the list of jobs to be consumed by AI?

Emulating the writer

Content marketing automation currently involves two core technologies, both of which are components of AI. They are natural language processing (NLP) and natural language generation (NLG).

• NLP—the process by which a computer program can understand human speech as it is spoken. Currently used in rudimentary language translation and voice-control.
• NLG—the process of turning structured data into written narrative, able to automate the writing of financial reports, product descriptions, memos, etc.

These two technologies work in conjunction to first process and understand language, and then generate it in a comprehensible manner. Think of NLP as the ‘reader’ and NLG as the ‘writer’—both rely on the other to automate the creation of content. Tools like Narrative Science and Wordsmith are leading the line in this space. Narrative Science has created earnings reports published on Forbes, while Wordsmith wrote one of these segments on Leicester’s championship season in the English Premier League in 2016.

Can you guess which is which?

Having jumped 13 places in a year, leaping from 14th to 1st, Leicester City are easily the most improved side in the league and Jamie Vardy’s role in their staggering rise cannot be overstated. The second top scorer in the league with 24 goals, Vardy has scored 35.29% of Leicester’s 68 goals. Only Harry Kane and Odion Ighalo were a bigger source of goals for their team, with Kane scoring 25 of third-placed Tottenham Hotspur’s 69 goals (36.23%) and Ighalo scoring 15 of 13th-placed Watford’s 40 goals (37.5%).

That underlines Leicester’s overall effectiveness. Although they conceded as many goals as second-placed Arsenal, and one more than Tottenham, they have been more consistent. They were first at Christmas, while Arsenal were second and Tottenham were fourth. “It’s a magical season,” Claudio Ranieri, Leicester’s manager, says, justifiably so, given that a summer expenditure of £26.7m on transfers made them the eighth lowest spenders.

It was a season for the ages for Leicester City as they lifted the Premier League Trophy and were crowned champions of England. Leicester City featured one of the league’s most skillful attacks, netting 68 goals. Jamie Vardy led the way with an incredible 24 goals. In addition to their prowess, Leicester City possessed one of the strongest defenses in England.

Shipping only 36 goals all season, their defense was able to frustrate even the most potent of atttacks. Hoping to finish in the top ten after a 14th place finish last season, Leicester City splashed out 26.70 million in the summer transfer period. Leicester City sat in first place at Christmas after an incredible start to the season, and they continued to impress the second half of the season. After taking a few moments to reflect on the season, the Leicester City manager weighed in with, “It’s a magical season.”

You can’t automate a personality

Current automated content creation tools are event-driven. The narrative journey that goes from beginning to end has a clear structure; artificial intelligence tools given the ‘who, what, where, why’ etc. will be able to systematically piece a story together. Relaying information is therefore a strong suit, making it useful for creating company news posts or formal reports, but less useful for inbound content, which requires a level of originality and persuasion.

This can be seen in the above example: the second extract, written by Wordsmith, is more matter-of-fact and event-driven than its human counterpart (and the overuse of ‘season’ at the end particularly gets to me). It’s an impressive feat, no doubt, but the text lacks a certain amiable aspect in my opinion.

Above all else, the best inbound content relies on personalisation. Creating the best customer experience means understanding your customer, their (or their company’s) biggest needs and pain points. Through data gathering and analytics, AI can help marketers reach a bigger and more relevant audience than ever. But connecting with them, creating real and lasting relationships, requires a level of empathy and understanding that, for the time being at least, only human marketers can deliver.

Which is why the space of creatives currently sits in the bottom 25% of job roles likely to be taken over by bots (as per this Oxford University study). Of course, we are all aware of the pace of change in the enterprise and the rapid advancements in both artificial intelligence and technology as a whole.

As such, it may not be too long before we see more sophisticated tools introduced, able to write digestible and more fluent, perhaps even emotionally compelling, copy. It is not too distant a dream. Perhaps a dream that exists alongside a self-driving car in your driveway and augmented reality in your home.

This doesn’t mean that content writers should start fearing for their livelihood. In fact, content automation could be a cause for celebration; approaching it with the means to coexist in the workplace, it can make our work faster and easier to complete than ever. That’s certainly the current case for other industries making use of artificial intelligence. AI can research swathes of content far quicker than a human, compiling relevant information and presenting it in a cohesive manner.

For content automation, it will become the task of the writer to analyse that information and derive its meaning or a greater over-arching message. With the information already at hand, writers will have more time to focus on how articles are structured, how argument or opinion is built to leave the best impact on the reader.

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