Will robots eventually have writers out of a project?
Are we likely to find computers writing the next Great American Novel?
Over the past ten years or so, however, AI (Artificial Intelligence) has become increasingly sophisticated and it’s influencing the world of writing in a number of interesting ways.
What’s AI, Anyhow?
AI is all about machines learning and adapting. Rather than being programmed in minute detail with what they need to know to accomplish a specific job, they’re programmed with directions that permit them to learn from their own experience (just as individuals do).
Translation from One Language to Another
Before, if you wanted to interpret a passage of text from one language into another — say in English into Spanish — you had to find someone who spoke languages.
Ten decades ago, you could use a service like Google Translate, which essentially ran each of the words via an English-Spanish (etc.) dictionary… with suspicious and at times hilarious results.
In 2016 Google Translate needed a significant upgrade. Instead of translating word by word, it today translates more accurately by phrase or sentence — through an AI system. It even invented its own language to assist.
Writers could potentially use Google Translate to translate their entire book into another language for free. Since the technology develops further over the decades to come, this could be fantastic news for publishers and self-publishing authors… but worrying for professional translators.
You’re probably very familiar with the red squiggly line in Microsoft Word (and other word processing programs) that marks spelling mistakes. There are lots of tools out there, however, that could go far beyond helping you spot typos.
Software such as Grammarly, for example, uses AI to spot overly wordy phrases, vague language, cases of the passive voice, stylistic problems, and even more.
This is excellent news for writers, especially non-native speakers, who may need an additional helping hand with what they’re working on — if it’s an article, a blog post, or just an important email. It’s potentially less excellent news for specialist editors — but so far, no tool can provide the big-picture purposeful editing that a fantastic editor can provide.
One problem that publishers and universities cope with is the prospect of plagiarism. Even though a quick Google search for a few lines from a record may be enough to spot egregious kinds of plagiarism, if a student or author has changed, state, one in each five words, it is a lot tougher to spot.
When it comes to students’ essays, they may be more plagiarising from another student’s (unpublished) work, instead of a printed source. This might be easy to spot within one institution — but not if the student has been borrowed, or even bought, an essay from a friend at another college.
There are alternatives out there, like Turnitin, that assess submitted work contrary to their enormous database, flagging up cases where there’s a match between the submitted work and present sources.
Even though this is essentially just a fun tool for the time being, it might eventually be used to combat plagiarism.
More worryingly, though, this kind of technology could potentially be used to unmask authors writing under a pen name, if they’ve also written under their own name — or even to discover the authorship of anonymous articles on forums.
Hunting Through Audio Files
Even though more and more content has been produced in video and audio format over the past decade, YouTube podcasts and channels haven’t diminished the amount of text online.
1 huge benefit to text has always been that it’s searchable — video and audio aren’t. If you want to find out a specific fact or dig into on a specific point of interest, text is certainly the easiest medium to utilize.
Computers can progressively decode noise — think of Siri, for example, or even Alexa — and sound search takes this farther. Programs are already available: Castbox.fm, for example, bills itself as”the search engine for spoken sound”.
What does this mean for authors? It is not always bad news. Newer types of text, like scripts for videos or outlines for podcasts, may come to be more and more important. But as well as helping with audio search, AI could lead to even better dictation apps — possibly making it much quicker to create written content, also.
Crafting Breaking News Stories
You might be asking yourself by this point if AI can be used to actually write. Yes… but it’s not going to be producing works of literary wonder just yet.
There is a darker side to using AI, however: it could not just put journalists from work, but it might also lead to a lot of low quality, derivative content — similar to articles produced by low-paid”content spinners”.
Influencing Readers’ Book Buying
Major online book retailers, such as Amazon, rely on complex algorithms to predict what books someone might be interested in, according to what they’ve already bought. If you have ever purchased a book on Amazon, I’m sure that you’ll have noticed this in action!
This is generally seen as a positive use of AI: it helps visitors to find books that they will hopefully love, and it helps writers to be seen by readers that might not otherwise have come across their work.
Nevertheless, it could be a drawback to, state, independent book stores and librarians: why consult an expert on what to see if an algorithm can recommend books to you automatically?
Anything you write, there is a good chance that AI is becoming increasingly a part of your writing expertise as time goes by — even if you barely notice it. Maybe you’re already using a tool like Grammarly, for example, or maybe you rely on dictation software to make content fast.
How can you think AI is changing composing? Do you believe it’s a net negative or positive for working writers, editors, journalists and publishers? Share your thoughts with us at the comments below.