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Will artificial intelligence replace white paper writers?

Have you seen all the articles about how artificial intelligence (AI) is now doing creative projects?

According to some, AI is already busy composing music, making paintings, and writing poetry.

And this article in Forbes.com tells how software is now writing content.

This type of software even has an acronym: NLG for Natural Language Generation. (And once something has a TLA—Three Letter Acronym—it’s got to be real.)

Isn’t it just a matter of time before AI replaces white paper writers and the bottom falls out of the market?

Why should you invest in learning a skill that’s going to be obsolete in a few years?

Little league baseball player swings bat

Where it all began: Little League

AI started by writing short and simple items: Little League baseball stories and then stock market reports for wire services and newspapers.

Like an elementary school reader, these items have a limited vocabulary and a lot of repetition.

For example, one “creative” decision that baseball-writing software makes is to pick which synonym to use for a victory.

Did the winning team beat, batter, blast, clobber, conquer, crush, defeat, destroy, decimate, dominate, eliminate, eviscerate, flatten, make mincemeat from, massacre, pound, rout, rule, smash, squash, thump, or terminate the losers?

After this triumphant show of stylistic verve, AI proponents claim it is slowly moving on to longer, more complex projects.

Should white paper writers be concerned? Meh.

Here are 6 reasons why I don’t think white paper writers have much to worry about from AI.

Not to worry reason #1: White papers are too challenging

As you know, writing a white paper is a big challenge.

White papers are long-form content designed to solve a particular marketing problem for an individual company. That company may need to generate leads, get noticed in a crowd, or support a product launch.

White papers are not baseball reports, stock market updates, or notes on what’s in a piechart, which software can handle today.

White papers are not short Tweets, e-mails, or squeeze pages, which software can probably manage with the help of lots of testing to guide it.

And white papers are not about public issues like an election or a celebrity breakup, with lots of other coverage an AI could access for input. Software may even be able to write up things like that some day soon.

But white papers are long, custom, research-driven, challenging writing projects.

Why ask AI to write those, when there’s so many simpler projects to tackle first?

Robot fingers point to laptop button

Not to worry reason #2: White papers take deep research

Every white paper takes intense research to find the golden nuggets that prove a certain point.

Could AI do that?

Well, software can certainly access and process a lot of information very quickly. Computers have an edge on humans there, all right.

But can a computer select the most compelling evidence from the most respected sources to appeal to a certain type of audience in a certain industry?

Hmmm… Probably not unless someone tells it what facts to select and which sources to respect. And that would take a lot of expensive programming to do.

And redo for almost every new project.

Why not just get a writer to do the research? Or let them work as a team, so that each can do what they do best?

Let the software run smart searches and dredge up a pile of material, and let the writer pick the best sources to use.

Not to worry reason #3: White papers take rhetorical finesse

An effective white paper must build a compelling argument that runs several thousand words and compels the reader to take the next step in their customer journey. To convert, in fact.

Could AI do that?

I doubt it. Computers may be logical, but does cold and scientific logic convert prospects?

Warm-blooded business people need a skillful rhetorical approach that weaves together facts and logic, anticipates their objections, and adds a touch of emotion at the perfect spot to finish the argument on a high note.

White papers demand nuanced writing that walks a thin line between explanation and persuasion.

Could AI do that?

I doubt it. More likely they will come up with what Bob Bly calls “Google Goulash”—a hodge-podge of search engine results hobbled together without any insight or discipline.

Robot holding need a job sign

Not to worry reason #4: White papers must make sense

With the “creative” AI programs of today, their developers feed them a whole lot of data, and then ask them to come up with something original.

So what if someone fed, say, 100 white papers into an AI and asked it to write something original?

Do you think it would come up with anything better than you or I?

Blockchain entrepreneur Clay Space actually tried that last year.

He fed 100 white papers for cryptocurrency startups into an AI and asked it to write a white paper for a new venture.

The results are hilarious, even after being edited by a human. Here’s the abstract:

The contents below detail a strategy for creating a mass-market, decentralized supercomputer running a hybrid proof of stake standard utility token on top of a multi-blockchain ICO. This will replace your government.

Huh?

If you want to try NLG AI for yourself, visit https://panel.ai-writer.com/ and type in an idea for a headline. Then see what comes out.

I asked it to write me an article on the question: “Can AI write white papers?”

The text it produced was worse than Google Goulash: Just a set of snippets from various sources that touch on white papers.

And it didn’t find this site, which is on the first page of Google and contains more articles about white papers than any other site I’ve ever found.

What’s worse, it didn’t contain a single line or insight I could use for this post. In fact, it sounded like it was written by a Martian.

I guess the AI didn’t quite grok my question.

White paper readers are not looking for arty haiku, or the nonsense-texts I’ve seen before from AI. They definitely expect the writer to have some contact with planet Earth.

 


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Don’t worry about AI #5: White papers need more than facts

What if the programmers made their software work even harder?

What if they said the AI’s white paper was for a certain company in a particular industry with an expressed marketing problem and a defined set of goals?

Do you think it would come up with anything more than gibberish?

And what if—instead of a programmer just handing over all those parameters—the AI had to interview the client to discover all those requirements for itself?

Would it have the insight and understanding to have a clue what clients want? And the street smarts to suggest what they really need?

Would it have the sensitivity to write any text that touched a human reader’s pain points, made them feel anything, painted any pictures, soared and swooped from valley to mountaintop?

I sincerely doubt it.

Don’t worry about AI #6: White papers will be written by humans for humans

Perhaps, in time, AI technology will get there.

But when programs start writing white papers, the days of any sort of copywriter may well be over.

Think about it.

Landing pages. E-mails. Blog posts. Perhaps webpages and then whole websites, with every element of every page tested and refined over months and years.

Newsletters.

Perhaps case studies, assembled from questionnaires e-mailed back from customers, so that no messy humans ever have to talk to one another.

When all those formats can be written by algorithms, what will be left? What will be among the last bastions of writing still being done by humans for humans?

I’m convinced that will likely be white papers. They’re just too damn difficult.

Stick to writing up Little League games and stock market updates, Mr. AI.

I’m not worried about you stealing my job as a white paper writer.

Before you get to me, Mr. AI, you will have to plow through almost every other writer on Earth.

And by that time, no one may need white papers anyway. By then, software may be doing everyone’s job!

 


What do you think about AI and white papers? Are you worried your job writing them may be replaced by software? Leave us your comments below. 

 

About Gordon Graham

Author of close to 300 white papers on everything from choosing enterprise software to designing virtual worlds for kids, for clients from Silicon Valley to Switzerland, from tiny startups to 3M, Google and Verizon. Also wrote White Papers for Dummies which earned 50 5-star ratings on Amazon. And Gordon was recently named 2019 Copywriter of the Year by AWAI.

5 Comments

  1. Chris Hardee on October 7, 2019 at 10:14 am

    I think a lot of writers are concerned with this recent AI trend (myself included). However, I agree that there is a huge difference between an AI tweaking ad copy to improve conversion rate and the type of work required to create a persuasive white paper.

    • Angie on October 8, 2019 at 10:01 am

      Gordon and I were discussing this morn, if there ever is a time when AI masters the art of persuasion, humans will be kicked out of so many other societal functions. While it’s easy to see this with a dystopian lens, how might we envision a more positive outcome?
      A society where governments have had to stem chaos by implementing a standard basic income? In this world, would people be more able to focus on work that flows from their true potential?

  2. Chris on October 7, 2019 at 11:59 am

    I’m imagining what happens when the bot drops a something that sounds like the dying HAL in A Space Odyssey (“Daisy, Daisy…”) right in the meat of the WP. That’s going to instill confidence.

    No doubt humans would review what a machine spit out, but one thing that’s really interesting about AI is that at its highest level even the programmers don’t understand how the algorithm is reaching its conclusions. It’s essentially a black box. This has ethical ramifications, but at the minimum it’s an unlikely recipe for producing any document of nuanced intent.

    Here is a sample by a algorithm so powerful the creators won’t release it for fear of repercussions. It’s very impressive. And it would make a convincing, not very good high school paper. Think we’re safe for the moment.

    https://openai.com/blog/better-language-models/#sample6

    • Angie Gallop on October 8, 2019 at 10:07 am

      LOL.
      Yes. Without knowing how a conclusion is met, would people start using “the algorithm concludes” as a proof?

      • Chris on October 9, 2019 at 9:38 am

        That is the question isn’t it, Angie? It’s artificial, but is it intelligence?

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