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Will AI replace white paper writers?

Have you heard that artificial intelligence (AI) can now do creative projects?

Various AI systems are now busy composing music, making paintings, and writing poetry.

And there are so many AI content-writing tools available, people need best-of lists to help tell them apart.

So 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, simple items: Little League baseball stories for local newspapers that couldn’t afford to send a real reporter to the games.

Like an elementary school textbook, these items contain 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 out of, massacre, pound, rout, rule, smash, squash, thump, or terminate the losers?

After this triumphant show of stylistic genuis, AI proponents claim it’s now moving on to longer, more complex projects.

Should white paper writers be concerned? Meh.

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

Robot fingers point to laptop button

Not to worry about AI 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.

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

Why ask AI to write those, when there are so many simpler projects it could tackle first?

Not to worry about AI 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?

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 which sources to respect and what facts to select.

And that would take a lot of expensive programming.

And a reinventing of the wheel for almost every new project.

Why not just get a writer to do the research? Or let the writer and the AI work as a team, so 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.

Crazed researcher with desk piled high with sources

Not to worry about AI 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 alone convert prospects?

Warm-blooded business people need a skillful rhetorical approach that weaves together facts and logic, anticipates likely 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 cobbled together with no craft or insight.

 

woman confused by what she reads on her laptop

Not to worry about AI reason #4: White papers have to make sense

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

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

Blockchain entrepreneur Clay Space actually tried that.

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 they were 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.

Worse, it didn’t contain a single snippet or idea I could use for this post. In fact, it sounded like it was written by a Martian.

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

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

the Perseverance Rover on Mars, some elements courtesy of NASA

Not to worry about AI reason #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 to get a clue about what the client wants? 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 with words, soared and swooped from valley to mountaintop?

I sincerely doubt it.

A white paper needs more than hard facts and scientific logic.

To be effective, a white paper needs the human touch.

male and female hands touching

Not to worry about AI reason #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 commercial writing job may be over.

Think about it. What will AI write first?

Landing pages. E-mails. Blog posts.

Perhaps webpages.

Then whole websites, with every element of every page tested and refined over months and years.

Newsletters.

Perhaps case studies that can be assembled from questionnaires e-mailed back from customers, so no 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.

So stick to writing up Little League games, 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.


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About Gordon Graham

Worked on 300+ white papers for clients from Silicon Valley to Switzerland, on everything from choosing enterprise software to designing virtual worlds for kids, for clients from tiny startups to 3M, Google, and Verizon. Wrote White Papers for Dummies which earned 50+ 5-star ratings on Amazon. Won 16 awards from the Society for Technical Communication. And named AWAI 2019 Copywriter of the Year.

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6 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?

  3. Chris Dole on December 6, 2019 at 7:10 pm

    I studied AI in graduate school, and my employer uses it in the commercial software it sells.

    That experience allows me to reinforce Gordon’s points: AI needs a lot of data to “train the model” and then the “model” is only good for that set of data. If you have a new set of data, it has to be retrained.

    And what do you get? The ability to guess right in a very narrow problem space. HAL doesn’t exist yet. They had to hire actors (who read scripts by skilled writers) to pull off that act.

    The build on the point: Smaller projects with simple formulaic recipes might work. But who has the budget and the I.T. expertise to implement the software, gather the data and train the models? I would think only the largest firms.

    I’ll close with a challenge: Would the A.I.-generated copy beat the performance of a trained, A-list copywriter? I’d like to see that competition…

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