Is AI a threat to PR copywriting?

Digital Download Live gave attendees a lot to consider, especially when it comes to how artificial intelligence will affect the PR industry. Some think that AI spells doom for us all, while others dismiss it as a realistic threat.

The truth is somewhere in the middle.

I still think that the creative aspect of writing will be the domain of humans, and even if AI did take over some of the more routine elements of copywriting, it would still need experienced humans to guide it.

For example, I write storylines for the social media crisis simulator, Polpeo. I also write a lot of fictional social media content to give weight to the unfolding crisis. In the future, AI will probably be able to write a simulated discussion between people on social media, but it would still need to work alongside a human who would check the quality of the work, provide feedback and adapt the content to sound more realistic. Would that create more work for people, rather than relieve them of responsibility?

AI is still in its early stages

I’m used to the “should we give this fully-fledged digital entity human rights” science fiction version of artificial intelligence. Today’s AI is more along the lines of “oops Ivanka Trump has pushed a button at the wrong time and sent the robot into an existential crisis”. It’s impressive, and learning fast, but not quite at the sentient race that’s going to overthrow humanity stage.

When one of Uber’s driverless cars killed a pedestrian because the AI made a mistake, the firm realised how vital the role of the human “safety driver” was. They needed to pay full attention to the road; they couldn’t leave everything to the AI.

The AI tools being developed for writing are in a similar early stage. The Hemingway Editor, for example, will tell a human writer how easy to read their content is, and admonish them for too many adverbs and too much passive voice, but it won’t rewrite the convoluted sentences for them. For now, that’s still the human’s job.

Grammarly is doing exciting work with using AI to suggest sentence re-structures. It’s not always successful, but it’s a helpful app to use when you’re aware that something isn’t quite right with your text, but you’re not sure what.

In researching this topic, I came across another site called AI Writer. What this seems to do is:

  1. Ask you to enter an article title
  2. Scan the internet for related articles
  3. Ask you to select relevant sentences from these articles
  4. Add these to a document with footnotes and a legal disclaimer

Researching articles takes me a lot of time, but this is because I research around the topic. I might be looking for one specific stat, but Google gives me three other articles with interesting related information that doesn’t exactly match what I searched for. Sometimes I don’t know what I want until I find it. Can AI experience serendipity?

Does the human quality matter?

At Digital Download, Paul Sutton presented us with a paragraph from a sports article. A human wrote one, the other by an AI – when he asked us, around half the room correctly guessed which was written by the AI.

It’s hard to explain why I knew that an algorithm wrote the AI one, but I think what I experienced when I read them was that the human one sounded warmer. The person used more emotive words – sport often being quite an emotive topic – while the AI sounded quite cold and factual.

The question is, does it matter how the writing makes us feel? Do we just want statements, or do we want to hear a distinctive voice behind the words? Can AI develop a voice, if it doesn’t have empathy or creativity? I suspect that the answer will vary depending on who wants the writing and what they want it for.

All told, I think that while artificial intelligence will be able to take over some elements of PR – including copywriting – I don’t think it will be able to replace people. AI relies on working with people to learn, and those PR agencies that incorporate AI into their offerings in the future could benefit from the partnership.

Featured image by h heyerlein on Unsplash

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