Will The Washington Post’s Robot Writer Take All The Gigs?
It wrote 850 articles in its first year and took zero sick days
When Jeff Bezos purchased The Washington Post in October 2013, we all anticipated some very Amazon-esque influence to be brought to the 140-year-old media outlet. We were right.
Enter Heliograf, The Washington Post’s AI-powered journalist who in 2016 had quite the freshman year, publishing 850 articles that covered the Rio Olympics results, local football games, and election updates. And The Washington Post isn’t the only media outlet leveraging AI and robots to increase its online footprint.
- The Associated Press reported that using AI has freed up journalists’ time by as much as 20 percent, releasing them from granular tasks like covering earnings reports while also increasing accuracy;
- Bloomberg shared that a third of all their articles are published by a robot named Cyborg; and
- Forbes uses an AI by the name of Bertie to supply some of its writers with first drafts or templates to get a running start, which honestly sounds amazing.
Oh, and then there’s Reuters using AI to create a deepfake video of a sports reporter earlier this year. It feels like fake is the new real on the interwebs these days.
Forget trying to be productive. Robot writers pump out more content than you ever will. So how should you tweak your approach to writing online as artificial intelligence permeates the writing industry?
A robot wrote this. Source
Why Robot Writers Are Here To Stay
To really grasp the purpose of media outlets using AI to write articles, let’s refer back to one of the most influential business books of the 21st century: The Long Tail by Chris Anderson.
The Long Tail’s tagline is that the future of business is “selling less of more”. The internet has enabled businesses to reach and sell to more niche audiences without actually needing more storefront space. And which company is hailed as one of the greatest of all time at selling less of more? Say it with me: Amazon.
Amazon’s early iterations as an online bookstore best encapsulate the power of the long tail. If you want it, Amazon probably has it, no matter how niche the subject is.
Now, let’s be real: The Washington Post probably wasn’t going to assign a journalist to cover Johnny Bravo’s rushing yard stats at a local high school football game. But that doesn’t mean local families and teams don’t care about that information. These media outlets employ robot writers to pump out recaps for niche audiences in hopes that this autonomy leads to more views and revenue in the long run.
“Robot writers pump out more content than you ever will.”
Freaked out yet? Don’t be. For now, this AI can really only do data recaps that doesn’t really require a lot of context or interpretation. This may change down the line as machine learning — teaching AI to learn and make even more nuanced decisions — becomes better and increasingly mainstream.
How To Robot-Proof Your Writing Career
Unless your writing gig consists of strict data recaps, your retainers are probably safe for the time being. But considering how fast technology improves these days, it never hurts to think ahead about how you can future-proof your writing career from looming automation dragons. Here are a few tips to help yourself get started.
Incorporate personal stories
No one has your unique blend of personal stories and life lessons. Your writing doesn’t have to be journal entries, but weaving in a personal anecdote or two helps to ensure your work can’t be easily copied. For example, here’s one of mine that outlines my outlook on wealth through my recent extra-bloody root canal.
Don’t get paid to write; get paid to think
One more time for the back of the room: You’re not being paid to write. You’re being paid to think. When your value proposition involves analysis, opinion, and strategy, you’re getting paid for your brain, not your words, which is what we want. Your proposals and consulting efforts should have this context front-and-center as well.
Hoard your audience in preparation for the robot apocalypse
And by hoarding them, I mean have an email list. An email list is the most valuable online asset you can develop because it allows you to communicate directly to your readers rather than try and flag them down through an often-foggy algorithm that changes its mind more often than me ordering dinner at our neighborhood Tex-Mex restaurant.
“Don’t get paid to write; get paid to think.”
Writing continues to be one of the most in-demand skills in business today. But the landscape of business is continually being shaped by technology. Keep yourself in the know on how tech is mixing up the writing industry and you’ll stay ahead of the curve.
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