Four Strategies to survive automated writing and content bots

automated writing

A few months ago, I participated in a study to rate the quality of 10 different blog post writers. I assigned a rather difficult topic to these writers and rated the anonymous results from 1-10.

The top three posts were very close. Extremely well-written, well-researched, and interesting. As it turned out, two of the top three posts were written by a computer. Yes. Automated writing!

The bottom two posts were also easy to choose. Almost un-readable. Both of those were written by humans.

Does this make you … nervous?

If you’re a content creator like me, it should.

This is an example of computers beginning to pass the famed “Turing Test” of computer-generated content that is indistinguishable from human effort.

The news industry projects that 75 percent of its content will be bot-created by 2020. The Associated Press just announced Minor League Baseball games will be covered by computers. Labs around the world have announced computer-generated poetry, music, sci-fi novels, and rap lyrics.

When it gets to the point that a computer can consistently generate content at a level that passes the Turing Test, the economics of content in every form will change forever. Essentially, computers work for free, all day, without breaks, illness, or vacation time. What company will not want that?

We may not want to think about this, let alone process it and accept it, but the freelance writer will become an endangered species.

A strategy for surviving automated writing

Is there any way to future-proof ourselves from automated writing, or will we soon merely remember our days of human writing with nostalgia?

I don’t have the answers, but it’s an interesting thought exercise. There are four things I can come up with, and I would sincerely love to hear your thoughts in the comment section. If you want to survive the robot-writing apocalypse, there are (at least) four paths of safety:

1. Emotional connection and personal branding

In many case, the person does matter. I love the storytelling of Malcolm Gladwell. I admire the pluckish DIY views of Christopher S. Penn. I think Jay Baer is an incredibly original and insightful thinker. I am challenged to raise my personal writing game by the quality of Ann Handley’s prose. It almost doesn’t matter what they write about. I will always follow these folks because they are my content heroes.

These writers transcend the actual content. I follow them, and always will, because of who they are and what they represent. They have established a personal, emotional connection with their audience, and me.

This takes time and a lot of hard work. Will a young writer even have the chance to establish a voice in this new world? Time will tell.

2. Go very deep on a topic

I don’t think computers will soon corner the market on true insight.

I’m a fan of Pittsburgh Pirates baseball and the quirky commentary of radio announcer Bob Walk. In Bob’s home-spun commentary — his “content” — he is able to derive exceptional and colorful insights on the game based on his extensive experience as an athlete and from his observations of thousands of baseball games. This depth of expertise makes the content unique and un-bot-able (a term I just made up … I hope you like it).

I think this is what will keep me in the game as well. I want to be the Bob Walk of marketing. I have done every marketing job you can think of over a 30-year career. I add the color commentary to our industry based on my depth of experience and connecting the dots from true insight.

Are you positioned as a true expert in your field? A trusted voice of experience?

3. Entertain

The other day, I was on my boat and asked my daughter to create a Snapchat story about our trip down the river. Lauren has a deep background in improv comedy and can weave an entertaining story out of anything. She effortlessly created a hilarious little video, in 10 second snap-chunks, on the fly.

automated writing

(Click here if you can’t see boat video.)

If you have the talent to do that, you’re going to be just fine in this new world.

Consider the new content forms that are on the rise — Snapchat and live video. It takes a certain expressive personality to succeed.

For example, one of my marketing friends reports his daily drudgery on Snapchat. Taking the kids to practice. Unfollowed.

Another friend provides truly entertaining glimpses of his “backstory.” I’m engaged.

If you’re creating commodity content like “The 10 Best Twitter Tips” or “Snapchat for businesses” it’s going to be game over. But if you can become known for the type of content ONLY YOU can create, your future may be bot-free.

4. The counter-revolution

In a world of processed foods, people will pay more for organic. In a retail world dominated by Wal-Mart and Amazon, people will pay more for local and artisanal. I can also imagine a world where people will get fed up with bot-speak and carve out bot-free content zones.

“Always human, all the time.” Has a nice ring to it.

What about you?

That is the extent of my brain power on this subject but I bet you have some thoughts. Are you worried about automated writing and what are you going to do about it?

Original Illustration by the exceptional Mars Dorian

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  • Mia Sherwood Landau

    Important, prophetic insight, Mark. We may be squirming as we read, but we need to think about distinguishing our work, ourselves. Perfection can become boring, as we’ve seen from digital music production, and computer-generated art. Analog recording became popular again and pens and paintbrushes never really went out of style because the human touch is an intrinsic part of the art. Thanks for making us think ahead… again!

  • Are these bot-written articles then edited by a human? I’ve spent decades saying that every author needs an editor. (And yes, that includes everything I’ve written, so I’m not just shilling for business here.) An author doesn’t see what he’s written. He sees what he thinks he’s written. They’re not always the same. Beyond simple grammar and spelling issues which still baffle MS Word, I’m talking about things in the author’s head which he forgot to write down, or which he wrote down more than once, or which he didn’t write in the simplest and clearest way possible. It happens to every human author. A human-edited bot-generated article could be very good. But what about an unedited bot-generated article? Are those what are being published? If so, that’s scary. Bot as thought master rather than worker bee.

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  • This typifies the growing concerns about AI in general and how people’s resilience will continue to fight back. Well stated, Mark.

  • I think this is just the next evolution of your content crush theorem, Mark. As a new blogger trying to develop my voice I’m embarrassed that my most-viewed post is “25 Facts About Snapchat.”

    But the bigger issue is it takes just one look at Business2Community or even HubSpot’s blog to see the volume of generic social media and/or listicle posts being published daily and get depressed.

    In terms of potential competition for eyeballs in the marketplace, HubSpot’s sheer volume of short, on-point articles seem close to an AI-driven world already.

  • Long before AI, great writing teachers (Donald Hall, for example) told students, to rewrite. Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Because good writers are full of doubt. They know their prose isn’t inviolable. They know the good stuff only emerges from the fifth or sixth or seventh draft.

    Mathematician Émile Borel said a century ago, if you provided an infinite number of monkeys typewriters, eventually they’d produce “Hamlet.” AI may not represent an infinite troop, but it’s still a boatload of monkeys. As Uber will do to taxi drivers, AI will soon disintermediate low-skilled writers (it’s funny that both are called “hacks”). The great social sewer will awash in robowriting; and that will possibly be a genuine improvement.

    But the skilled writer shouldn’t fret. As you say, Mark, while bots can produce passable news stories, it’s hard to imagine them attracting followers. The reason? They’ll never rewrite their stuff, because they lack self-doubt.

    Have you ever met a computer that doubted its own solution to a problem?

  • You’re welcome. Glad it had an impact.

  • Honestly, if they can train (and I do mean train, not code) a bot to write, they can train one to edit too. I read about a computer that extemporaneously creates music. Kind of spooky stuff but I think their work will be as good or better than what a human can do.

  • That is an interesting observation. What does fighting back look like? Let’s face it, there are going to be a lot of advantages to having an ability to create blog posts, white papers and research reports on demand. Man, if we thought Content Shock was a thing, we have yet to begin to experience this once content is free.

  • Hubspot recently wrote about the formulaic method they use to create posts (test what works and then keep doing it) so yes, it is probably about the same thing we can expect from a bot : )

    A while ago I wrote a post about beating Hubspot at its own game. The company really is rather soul-less. There is no personality that stands out. Often they don;t even respond to reader comments — the goal is leads, not community. Yes, there is an overwhelming amount of content to deal with, but I do think there is a place for heart, for soul, for a personality to stand out. Thanks for commenting Peter.

    Here is that post I mentioned:

  • My go-to quote is from John Irving — “There is no good writing, only good re-writing” : )

    Actually, at SXSW this year I met the inventor of Siri. He is working on a new AI project and mentioned that computers can now create their own code to solve problems they don’t know how to solve. This at least gives the impression of “thinking.”

    In general, business is surprisingly slow to adopt new technology in a widespread fashion. There are Fortune 100 companies out there trying to figure out a social media strategy. So even if robo-writing takes hold, it may be a few years before it is pervasive. Right about the time I will retire I suppose! Actually, I think it will be an interesting time. No fighting it … let’s figure out what it means and adapt and adopt.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking comment Bob!

  • Way to go, John Irving!

    Call me old fashioned, but robots cannot think. In 1637, Descartes imagined he owned a robot. He said, no matter how lifelike, it would always be distinguishable from a person. That’s because, while the robot might perform a few tasks well, the person can perform an infinite number of tasks well. Although a robot might emit sounds resembling human speech in response to my questions, only a person can engage in the creative use of language needed to respond appropriately in unexpected circumstances. Yes, my mobile is a fine instrument; but it can’t engage in a decent conversation, and it never will.

    PS: Don’t ever retire.

  • Mark, Jeff Shuey and I have been talking about this topic across multiple “roles” in business in his Breakthrough Radio Byte segment “The Intersection Between People and Technology.”

    My big questions when we explore how AI, Robits, and Bots will become a regular part of our world is how how can humans start preparing and training for jobs that do not exit yet in order to keep a competitive advantage?

    We see the writing on the wall. We have yet to see companies or individuals training for the new roles they will need to hold in order for us to not have mass unemployment as AI and robots take over large segments in our workforce. It’s that whole chicken and egg thing.

  • At first, I wasn’t that concerned. Then, I saw the link with the sci-fi novel and I swallowed hard. Mark, I agree that our human advantage is to be personal and deeper than any AI can be during the next years. But what if AI or algorithms become like con men or psychos, meaning they’re so intelligent they can fake deepness and empathy to trigger our emotions? The brilliant sci-fi movie (even won an Oscar) Ex Machina shows this possibility.

    Think of an AI mimicking Gary Vaynerchuk and acting ten times more empathetic towards our needs!
    Maybe that’s still far in the future–I remain cautiously optimistic.

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  • Good question! I feel that there will always be thinkers beyond the automation. The “fight back” may be just that; those who can rise above the automated noise and see past it (folks like you). I see a lot of this “bot created content” looking much like spam and advertising today. People will get frustrated and seek other sources of “real” information, especially if they feel they are being manipulated (remember that old concept of “Society Think”?).

    Also, it is important to remember that content will never really be “free”. There will be monetization involved in some form (bills still need to be paid). And as that path to monetization takes over and controls the messaging (whatever form that messaging becomes), as we are seeing with certain reportedly popular platforms today, people will continue to attempt to escape it. What’s going to be interesting is what that ultimate “escape” will become. We are already seeing an emergence of “personal bots” designed to “manage” the commercial bots. So the industry is already creating the defense mechanisms which are akin to today’s spam detectors and AdBlockers.

    There are many blogs emerging that discuss this. I even wrote one (With love from my bot to yours) where the main point was eventually this all could potentially force us all back to our basic humanity and create two distinct levels of society (one automated, one human). Futurists are even predicting “wars” between them.

    Fun times!

  • Ha! No plans for that.

  • This is a huge issue Michele. Really needs to be a topic of national discussion.

  • The world can only handle one Gary Vee. : )

    I attended a session at SXSW on artificial intelligence and even the experts are concerned about this stuff falling into the wrong hands. In the near future, we will have a computer with an IQ of 500. And after that, an IQ of 5,000. How will that kind of intelligence regard humans? It will need to be controlled and legislated. The speaker actually said we need “I Robot” type rules.

    The scary part is that governments in every part of the world are ill-prepared to address stuff like this in a meaningful way. They don’t understand what’s happening. They don’t understand how fast it’s happening. In 10 years we will be having civil rights discussions about the rights of robots. We’re just not ready for that.

    Might make a good sci-fi book! : )

  • Super great thinking here Steve.

  • Thanks, that means a lot coming from you, sir!

  • Much appreciated, Mark! And your post on HubSpot is dead-on. You’re right — its content is soulless — geared primarily at gaming Google rather than say…building a community or going beyond the surface of an issue. It’s all to create HubSpot brand awareness. Maybe at the end of the day humanity & emotional connection will win out after all.

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  • It will. I’m counting on it!

  • Well said. We have no choice but to embrace it. Can’t stand in the way of the bus! But we should also prepare for the personal impact. Thanks for the great comment and follow-up post my friend.

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  • Debbie Meltzer

    Interesting… cultural aspects also come into play here. For instance in Japan, where bot – human interaction is far ahead, there are some insightful developments that provide us with a peep hole into the future. Here some young men, too afraid of human intimacy, would rather develop a relationship with a humanoid robot. According to research, this is possible.
    So, if content will be ‘bot booted’ then what happens to the narrative and human engagement? What happens to comments like these? Will bots be recommending bot created content to us? Will other bots be coded to comment on bot created content? After the wave of bot content, will we pine for human created content and then install bots to block the bot created content?

  • Kitty Kilian

    Ugh. I missed this post and I am a little glad I did. But now I read it and.. let’s move back a century in time.

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