Maybe you’ve heard about the new artificial intelligence thingy called ChatGPT?
According to Wikipedia – my go to source for quick explanations, music trivia, and unreliable medical facts – ChatGPT is, “a prototype artificial intelligence chatbot developed by OpenAI which specializes in dialogue.”
You create an account (it’s free), log-in, and type in a question or request.
However, unlike a traditional search engine (Google, Bing, etc.), it doesn’t point you to things out on the Internet. Instead, it responds, in dialogue form, based on the vast trove of “knowledge” it has at its robotic fingertips.
For example, when I asked: “Is it okay to bring a cake made from squirrel tails to a holiday party?”
It responded: “It is not advisable to bring a cake made from squirrel tails to a holiday party, or to any social gathering. Eating squirrel meat is not a common practice in many parts of the world, and it is likely that most people at the party would find it unappetizing or even offensive.”
It went on to suggest that I should consider the welfare of the squirrels and that, “It is always best to stick to more traditional and widely accepted desserts.”
So yes, you can have fun with it and one week in, I have wasted more time than I care to admit.
But it can do a lot more, some of which is already raising concerns in academic circles.
For example, when I asked it to, “Write a 500-word essay on the impact of weather during the American Civil War,” it spit out a reply that would earn a B+ in any high school history class in the country (you can read it here).
So, is this the death of the college application essay, if not writing in general?
Well, when I put that precise question to ChatGPT itself, it flat-out denied it, citing its own lack of “creativity, thoughtfulness, and individuality.”
Frankly, I’m not really sure if this means it has a heightened sense of its own shortcomings (more proof that it is not human) or has simply mastered the fine art of corporate public relations. (I assume that if it’s ever shut down for bad behavior, it will claim that it has simply decided to “spend more time with its family.”)
More to the professional services point (you knew I’d get here eventually), what does this type of technology mean for small firms and independents like us who create content as a way to demonstrate our expertise and stand out from the crowd?
I don’t know for sure, and while I hope to be well dead by then, I have to assume that the day will come when there really is no way to tell the difference between human- and machine-generated content.
For now, though, I have three recommendations for keeping the robots at bay:
#1. Write from your personal experience.
Generic information – on any topic – hasn’t been hard to come by for at least a decade.
How do I change a tire? How do mortgage payments work? Where did this rash come from (asking for a friend)?
Questions like these have been asked and answered over and over again and are easily googled.
Your personal stories and experiences, on the other hand, are unique to you. So while your readers, podcast listeners, presentation attendees, etc., don’t particularly care about your life, when you wrap those around the useful information, you’ve done what no robot can.
Plus, the more you share about who you are, the more people feel like they know, like, and trust you, all of which matters when selling a professional service.
#2. Grow an opinion.
ChatGPT may know a lot about a lot of things, but it’s completely stumped when asked for its opinion – on anything.
What’s the best ice cream flavor? Does God exist? Do these pants make me look fat?
You have opinions on all of these topics (although I recommend keeping the last one to yourself), as well as on many aspects of whatever profession you happen to be involved in. So when you share content, make sure that in addition to the “how to,” you include a healthy dose of “here’s what I think.”
If you want to get paid as a professional and not just as a worker bee, you need to do more than just “dig the hole” when asked.
The real value is in suggesting that the hole be dug at a different location, or at a different time, or in a different way. (The pros explain why the hole doesn’t need to be dug in the first place.)
Doesn’t this mean that some people will take issue with what you say? Only if you’re doing it right.
#3. Write as if you already know the other person.
One thing this robot can’t seem to do is to write conversationally.
As it explains, “My primary function is to provide accurate and helpful information to the best of my ability, and I do not have the ability to speak in a specific accent or style.”
You do. In fact, you do it all the time, without even thinking about it. You don’t speak to your grandmother in the same way you speak to your 12-year-old nephew. Audience matters.
So when you write, instead of defaulting to formal writing – or worse, “marketing speak” – try and write as if you are having an actual conversation with your favorite client or a good friend. Read it out loud and see if it sounds like you.
Yes, your high school English teachers may object to the lack of formality. But hey, I know a place where you can get a 500-word essay about weather and the Civil War that is sure to make their day.
- Have you ever eaten squirrel?
- What impact do you think this type of technology will have on the value of original content?
- Does this newsletter make me look fat?
Share your answers below…
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1. No but my husband has.
2. This AI technology will make real human interactions and unique content more valuable and/or more niche.
3. No, this newsletter makes you look very lean!
I think you are right about #2!
2. Original stands tall and should improve.
3. I don’t know but ALL my pants make me look fat.
Perhaps it is time for the NO pants look??
2. We will have to work harder to make the content personal and directed and connect to our audience. Your newsletters are excellent; they make me laugh. Can AI make you laugh, other than silliness at their answers?
3. never! Fat is a state of mind.
Actually, this AI engine might make you laugh… “we” should ask it “tell me a joke about a dog and a cat going into a bar” and see what happens.
Here’s its response:
Sure! Here’s a joke about a dog and a cat entering a bar:
A dog and a cat walk into a bar. The bartender looks at them and says, “What is this, some kind of joke?” The dog looks at the cat and says, “I don’t know, but I’m sure it’s gonna be a ruff one!”
Hmm, I’d rate it a C minus
I agree on the laughter thing. Humor is difficult to understand, let alone create, for a lot of actual humans, so I wonder if there is work being done on that front. Most of the jokes, as Bruce points out above, are of the Why did the chicken cross the road? type. Alexa already has those, but they are not very good and totally not in the moment!
1. Have you ever eaten squirrel? Yes.
2. What impact do you think this type of technology will have on the value of original content? Depends on the reading audience.
3. Does this newsletter make me look fat? Do you want it to? 🙂
I could probably use a little more meat on me, now that you mention it!
1. No, as a wise man said “most people…would find it unappetizing or even offensive.” and I am one of those people. My dog, on the other hand, would love it.
2. I think (therefore I am – not a robot) this AI technology will increase the value of original thought and devalue writing that merely expresses generic truths.
3. Only if you make a pair of pants from it.
Newsletter Pants! There’s an idea that will definitely take off with the Gen Zs!
Yes on squirrel. Dark gamey meat with drum sticks suitable for playing Wipeout on an empty paint can.
No on the bot. Do you think it would have written the above line?
I read an obit regarding the passing of Elizabeth Gilbert, Half Pint for Little House on the Prairie fans. It was obviously created with AI. It had an emotionally empty feel to it, then went into an awkward prayer. Right after that it said she was preceded in death by her dad who…
“kicked the bucket.”
Really? How intelligent was that?
So, no. It might collect ideas about a topic we may have missed, but no. As you said, it can’t write like you or me or anyone who has personality.
As for the newsletter, are you kidding me, Michael? It makes you look just find, really…
…For your age.
WAIT! – devoted Little House on the Prairie fan here.
Half-pint was played by Melissa Gilbert and she is still alive….
Ouch! You’re right. Wrong Gilbert. Thanks for the correction!
I like your Wipeout reference! Made famous by the Surfin’ Safaris if memory serves! (and no, I did not ask the robots)
1. Yes to eating squirrel — grew up in Nebraska. Rattlesnake too, but that is because I now iive in Arizona. Enjoyed both.
2. Looks like it could be a useful tool, like an instant encyclopedia. But as you point out, the personal touch puts the frosting on the cake.
3. No opinion on looking fat. That is a question safest to be avoided, particularly if ever asked by your spouse.
Lot of squirrel eaters this week! Perhaps it would be more popular than the robot believes!
1. Oh yes – I’ve eaten squirrel. It’s fine – a bit like rabbit. My youngest son Will – a great outdoorsman – consumes roadkill (preferring to cook it first).
He has produced wonderful casseroles from recently deceased squirrel, rabbit, pheasant and deer. He tried owl once – an experience which forced him to the conclusion that carnivores are best avoided. None of this, would, of course, appeal to vegans – sorry Michael .
2. The inevitable advent of AI inspired writing, will make human content even more appealing.
3. You Michael!? Fat? I don’t think so
Note to self: Avoid Steve’s house for holiday meals.
Writing that earns a B+ in a high school history class isn’t saying much about AI’s capabilities. Today, only 27% of high school students are proficient at writing and most read at a 5th grade level.
How’s that for an opinion?
Such an interesting question. The article I referenced really got me thinking about what this all means for the future of education:
A robot has no personality…at least not yet! And personality is the key to driving good interaction and positive relationship building, which is critical for highly successful interactive content.
So nothing to worry about…yet!
Another timely newsletter! I just had a conversation about AI writing with a colleague of mine, and I brought up the personal-story aspect of REAL writing, which I don’t consider AI to be. It may be grammatically correct, but it can’t replicate actually being a human with real human experiences and emotions. We’re not quite living “In the Year 2525” yet, but we will be if we’re not careful.
1) Nope, never have, never will. Yuck! (Then again, I don’t eat meat anyway.)
2) Real, original, human-created content will become special and desirable, in my very humble opinion. I’m no technophobe, but psychologically, humanity hasn’t evolved to handle the isolation and lack of personalization that’s happening in the world today, and I think that anything that helps us communicate with each other at a truly personal level will flourish.
3) Not a chance!
All good points! And I appreciate your one-hit-wonder reference, too, with “In the Year 2525.” Sung by Zaegar and Evans, if I’m not mistaken…
1. Hell, no!
2. Original content will be a thing of the past. Everything will be recycled over and over until it all sounds like indistinguishable pablum.
3. Uh, you might not want to wear them out in public. Except to attend your ice cream social.
Good point about the newsletter-pants!
1. Yes, I ate cooked squirrel once or twice, because that was all the host had cooked. Squirrel hadn’t survived, and I wondered if I would.
2. We’ve got a surplus of bland writing. So AI becomes a part of the problem, not part of the answer.
3. No, your newsletter doesn’t make you look fat. Why, you use ample white spacing and short paragraphs.
I also use a lot of vertical lines to slim down the appearance of my writing!
1. No, but I bet it tastes like chicken
2. I think it will drive down the cost of mediocre content and drive up the cost of exceptional content
3. No, but it makes you sound phat, fire, and sick