ChatGPT and other AI tools can help with some of business’ written content, but their implementation can be tricky, and it is likely ChatGPT will transform rather than replace copywriters.

What is AI

Artificial Intelligence, or AI, refers to a host of technological solutions that attempt to emulate human decision-making in some way. It’s related to another of our favorite labor-saving processes: automation, where repeated actions are scheduled and taken based upon the rules you establish for them. We’re unequivocally enthusiastic about automation, though it needs to be implemented carefully, and ideally with expert guidance, to make sure to get it right.

The jury is still out about AI’s ability to effectively replace human decision-making, though it likely can be used as a labor-saving device. This is particularly true if it is implemented under the watchful gaze and guidance of an expert. In illustration of this point, let’s look at the AI that’s showing up everywhere in the news today: ChatGPT.

What is ChatGPT?

ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence program that has been fed a lot of text (about 300 billion words in the form of books, articles, web pages, and so on) to train it in how humans write so that it can emulate us. The GPT stands for “Generative Pretrained Transformer”. Now that it’s been pretrained, ChatGPT can generate transformed text, or in other words, unique text that it’s written itself, not copied from any of its training text.

The AI can understand grammar and apply it to its writing so it knows what’s asked of it and can formulate its response correctly. As such, it can complete a number of tasks having to do with writing, and it does this fairly competently. Most notably, though, it does this a lot faster than any human could.

Needless to say, the prospect of a computer being able to complete all of their writing tasks delights some people, and terrifies others. On the one hand, people tasked with writing reports and product descriptions and all manner of emails won’t have to be faced with that most terrifying of views: a blank page. This naturally might make some of them ecstatic.

But on the other hand copywriters, technical writers, and authors of all persuasions that earn their living by their willingness—or even eagerness—to face that blank page and spin it into something glorious might not be so happy. They might worry that they’ve just become obsolete. Hopefully I can temper some of the agony as well as the ecstasy elicited by the prospect of ChatGPT, and stress the point that this and many other technologies can be helpful, but are best implemented carefully, deliberately, and with the help and guidance of an expert in technological implementations to make sure that it fits into the business as part of a cohesive strategy.

What are ChatGPT’s strengths?

First, let’s take a look at where ChatGPT really shines: volume. While many people take the stand that quality is more important than quantity, we live in a world where quantities are enormous, and getting more so. Jordan Prodanov from WebTribunal points out that if we were to print off in the form of books all the new information added to the internet on any given day, we’d have a stack of books that stretches to the moon and back.

That’s a massive amount of new information every day! All those books are being written, or in ChatGPT parlance, “generated”, by humans. This represents a significant amount of time and work for those humans. Much of that generated content is inane, repetition of other people’s content, or only slightly useful. Still, it’s out there and people do read it.

confused-looking lady standing in front of a huge pile of books
Image by PaulinaH and Robin Higgins from Pixabay

To remain relevant in today’s world, at least to some extent, website owners need to add their two cents to that pile of text, and to do that they have basically three options (up from just two, a short time ago). First, they could write it themselves. We suggested what we think is the best way to do this in our Quick and Dirty series, where we emphasized that if you follow our steps you will get your content written quickly and well, but that it is, in fact, hard work to do so.

The second option that has always been available to website owners is hiring a content writer. This has the advantages of being potentially fairly quick and probably pretty well done, but it has the significant disadvantage that it costs money and may or may not be in the budget.

And now this third option, newly landed on the scene, is to have ChatGPT, or one of the other emerging AI writing programs, write some or all of the website owner’s contributions to the world’s pile of content. If speed and volume are what they’re after, ChatGPT might be the perfect tool for the job.

  1. Write your content yourself using our Quick and Dirty Method
  2. Hire a copywriter to write all of your content (and pay through the nose…)
  3. Use ChatGPT to write your content

What are ChatGPT’s limitations?

In ChatGPT’s pre-training program, there must have been millions of sentences written by truly talented writers. On the other hand, there were also likely millions more sentences written by average- or even below-average writers, and it shows.

Set ChatGPT a task, and it gets the job done, and fast. When you realize what the program was likely trained on, though, it makes sense that what it gives back to you is on the whole kind of middling.

A month or so ago I pasted my outline for a then-upcoming blog post into our company scrum, and one of our developers cheekily fed it into ChatGPT and hit me back with a fully-formed blog post. I was impressed, but as I actually read it, I wasn’t that impressed.

The post generated by ChatGPT read like a thousand other mediocre posts by tired copywriters that end up on blogs all over the web. It did the job, but not very well. It would have fulfilled the goal of getting a blog post out there — of adding to that stack of info-books – but it was utterly forgettable. Nothing about it was clever or sharp. Or memorable. To judge for yourself, when you get to the end of this post you’re reading, follow the link to a ChatGPT-generated version of it to see how it might have read, and my takes on it.

As these AIs are trained with other perhaps richer or more skillfully written texts, it’s likely the quality of their writing will improve. But I suspect that unless the training content is curated very carefully, the ChatGPTs of the world will remain mediocre writers of largely forgettable text.

In fact, I’d guess that as generated text becomes more and more common, the programs that scour the internet for text to train GPTs on will begin feeding them generated text of a similar quality, and its quality will likely sink to the lowest common denominator. In any event, right now ChatGPT’s relative utility falls pretty squarely in the Higher Volume/Lower Quality, Less Expensive quadrant.

Considerations Lower Volume/
Higher Quality
Higher Volume/
Lower Quality
More Expensive Copywriter Copywriter
Less Expensive Self-written ChatGPT

Will ChatGPT and its ilk replace copywriters?

I believe that in short-sighted companies who want content written so they can check that item off a list of things they need to do, ChatGPT provides an easy way to do it. These companies may not employ a copywriter like they previously would have done. But companies that want to actually stand out because of their copy I think are unlikely to get rid of their copywriters, or their copywriting agencies.

I think the more likely action companies will take in response to ChatGPT is to turn their copywriters into so many copyeditors. These will be charged with taking ChatGPT’s forgettable copy and fixing it, giving it life, making it sparkle, making it memorable. This is in line with the World Economic Forum’s prediction that though automation in the next five years will displace 85 million jobs, it will also create 97 million jobs, so it acts as a net shuffler of jobs rather than eliminator.

I can’t speak for professional copywriters, but I find the amount of time I spend revising my first draft and crafting it into its final form takes a lot longer than getting the first draft put together in the first place. Perhaps others are better first-draft writers than I.

Still, if ChatGPT can create a competent first draft, that might cut down the total content generation time by a significant amount, as CMSWire claims. I’m not an editor, but I presume editing a mediocre piece of writing into something memorable would take less time than first producing a mediocre piece myself and then editing too.

Towards a Better Future with Caution

Perhaps this will just help pave the way for decreasing the length of the work week, at least in this and any other sector where such AIs as ChatGPT can be competent. This might be a wonderful thing!

We’re already down from the 62-hour-per-week average that we worked in 1870 to the 35-hour-per-week average we now work. Perhaps ChatGPT will help us cut that down even further. In Germany they average 27 hours of work per week,. Will ChatGPT help us match that?

Maybe it will, but such AIs must be implemented with caution and deliberation. Just as ChatGPT content shouldn’t be published without the help of competent copywriters, or copyeditors, other forms of AI should also be carefully monitored and added to a business’s technology stack based on the guidance and expertise of someone well acquainted with the benefits and pitfalls of AI implementations.

Further Reading

ChatGPT-generated version of this post – see my prompts, as well as my take on how well it performed.
ChatGPT could make these jobs obsolete: “The wolf is at the door”, Alex Mitchell, New York Post, January 25, 2023 – note in the Journalism section that ChatGPT tends to make up citations to justify its conclusions rather than find them.
The CEO of the company behind AI chatbot ChatGPT says the worst-case scenario for artificial intelligence is ‘lights out for all of us’, Sarah Jackson, Business Insider, January 25, 2023 — note Sam Altman’s thoughts at the end: “we adapted to calculators…”
I Paid a Professional to Edit a ChatGPT-Written Article — Hilarity Ensued, Zulie Rane, Medium, February 2, 2023 – note how Zulie says ChatGPT can be used, and how it shouldn’t.

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