How humans and AI can work together to create quality content

21 February 2023
8 minutes

Key takeaways

  • AI is a tool for content writing – not a replacement for writers.
  • Machine intelligence does not work the same way as human intelligence.
  • The way forward is collaboration, human and machine working together.
  • If you get replaced, it won’t be by an AI – but by a human using one!

Genetically modified food. Self-driving cars. Blockchain currency. Some innovations hit the media with such a thud that it’s all you hear about for months on end, as pundits give their “predictions” (read: wild guesses) of how business and society will change forever. 

Today, the pundits are enthralled / awestruck / flat-out terrified (!) at how ChatGPT, an application of the OpenAI research project that gives detailed natural-language answers in response to a prompt, will put human writers on the scrapheap. And it’s not the only AI tool in play. From grammar-checking to fact-finding to style-correcting, machine intelligence is becoming part of how we write – in our internal communications, for our marketing collateral, and on the web.

As a content-writing platform – offering the top 10% of human freelancers is our USP – you’d think Contentoo would be worried about AI-generated content. Actually, the opposite’s true.

When “Luddites” smashed weaving looms in 1800s England, it was because they thought the machines would replace them. Ten years later, Manchester was the weaving capital of the world, with jobs for millions. The same happened with grain threshers in 1830, but followers of “Captain Swing” soon enjoyed cheaper food and better-paid work elsewhere. Pocket calculators and digital computers were both seen as removing the need for human labour; today, “knowledge workers” are the world’s majority, with many of them busier than ever. 

Paradigm-busting innovations do change the world – just not in the way most pundits expected. And that’s the point. We believe AI tools like ChatGPT offer immense potential for deeper, accurately sourced, more engaging content for your business … but with a twist: they’ll be partners for your creative marketing team. Not drop-in replacements for the warm and friendly writer you met on Zoom.

Here’s the Contentoo take on what artificially intelligent robots and AI content generation will bring to the world of commercial prose. Not just the nuances of a skilled human writer, nor the competitive costs of AI content generation – but the perfect blend of both: collaborative intelligence.

Image of an article in a newspaper

AI: not perfect yet, but more useful every day

The first thing to note: AIs like ChatGPT are not “intelligent” as we understand it. The schema of memories and knowledge inside your head that makes you “you” was built up painstakingly through your experiences of life, each sense impression adding to the whole in a way that models the outside world and your interactions with it. Integrating these individual “percepts” into collective concepts is what makes us human.

Large Language Models (LLMs, the class of AIs ChatGPT belongs to) do it backwards: breaking down that mass of external data (in this case, pre-2022 web pages) into short (usually 4-character) “tokens”. The concept isn’t the conclusion they arrive at; it’s the blobby mass they start with. This difference is fundamental to the way LLMs “think”.

Image of a sentence that captures how humans look at the world.
Image: How you see the world (a sentence of 9 words)
Image that captures how ChatGPT is looking at world
Image: How ChatGPT sees it (a series of 11 tokens)

The clever bit: by analysing the patterns tokens follow in naturally written text, ChatGPT can work out what you’re looking for when you submit a prompt, and output a set of tokens statistically likely to answer it. The more text it’s been trained on, the closer to natural language that output sounds. And ChatGPT was trained on a lot of text: 500bn examples, developing 175bn parameters for how they interact. That’s why the “predictive text” it outputs sounds very natural indeed

Predictive text? Yes, that’s right: ultimately, LLMs are just a big version of the software that texts “I’m in the slophouse getting pregnant” to your partner when you speed-typed that you’re in the supermarket getting Pringles.

This is how modern AIs produce natural-sounding text. But it’s not how a human writes – or thinks. And there’s the difference. AI and HI (Human Intelligence) are not the same. And an AI’s strength is not “writing like a human”, whatever today’s hype suggests.

Blending artificial intelligence with the natural kind

So what is the strength of AI content? After all, thousands of companies are using it for various parts of content creation: generating different CTAs for A/B testing, writing formulaic articles like weather reports and stock price briefings; lists of topics and headlines summarising the structure of an article. But not one company is entrusting its marketing campaigns, or CRM content, or white papers to an artificial intelligence article writer.

The key, as always, is to follow the law of Comparative Advantage: do what you’re best at, and outsource what you’re not to others who are. In other words, treat AI and HI as a team: your understanding of human nature and nuance, combined with the machine’s talent for sifting vast quantities of information. A research partner, not a competitor

Using AI apps as writing tools

Doing so isn’t “cheating”, any more than using a word processor is. Writers have always used tools to get the day started and make their work progress smoothly. Here are some of the benefits this “humanised artificial intelligence” can deliver.

1. Get over initial writers’ block

Maybe at University, you had a study buddy who made revision easier. Perhaps at work you’ve got a lunch gang you swap ideas with over a sandwich. That’s how to use tools like ChatGPT: a source of ideas and a way to get started.

Every writer has spent painful hours staring at a blank Word doc at the start of a project, knowing what it’s got to say by the end but struggling to commit to that first sentence at the beginning. But what if you had a list of common starting paragraphs for technology marketers, or a suggested contents page for a fashion white paper? Neither will be usable content – but both will spark ideas. And ideas, at this point, are what you need.

2. Create a rough first draft

A rule of thumb at present: the longer an article you ask an AI to produce, the more mind-numbingly boring it’ll be. Without much sense of the rhythms humans read in, or the need to maintain interest and intrigue over many pages, AI generated content often sounds a bit samey. 

(Researchers have long known this as the “Beatles and Bach” problem: try to do music recommendations for a large audience, and pretty soon everyone’s list looks the same, because everyone likes the Beatles and Bach.)

The way to partner with AI here is to go piece-by-piece. Once you’ve got your contents list arranged in the order you want your reader to absorb it, use AI to research each content point individually. Then use the output as your touchstone for each section. The AI can supply your ideas – but it’s you who’ll write it. 

3. Help apply a client’s voice

Writers are already using ChatGPT to apply style guides: everything from eliminating the passive voice to making sure CamelCase product names are correctly expressed. And existing AI-powered apps like Grammarly are already helping thousands of writers worldwide.

Properly customised, such AI-powered tools can pick and sort through your content for sentences that don’t meet a set of style guidelines, including no-go terminology. These tools will only get better, and can save a lot of time – in addition to differentiating your writing for different clients, letting you serve more of them.

Vector image of AI tools used for content marketing

Create richer content from deeper insights

That’s the low-down stuff of sitting at a keyboard, writing content – but another way to put AI to work is higher-level. It’s a great generator of content ideas: the topics and trends that bring you closer to your audience.

1. Discover emerging topics and trends

For years all good writers have been closet technologists: expert with SEO and Search, able to sieve out what readers are interested in and where thought leadership is going. Tools like ChatGPT can now do the heavy lifting for you. 

Looking for a list of pain points that commonly affect CIOs in the financial industry, or a run-down of issues all dropship vendors share? AI can help, and not just the headline-hitting ones like OpenAI applications: Google Trends and BuzzSumo both use AI technology to gather and aggregate what the world’s web users are searching for, and intelligent use of them can build a content calendar from scratch. (Note ChatGPT’s current dataset only extends to 2021 – it’s not “connected live” to the internet’s daily 2.5bn gigs of fresh data – but business challenges tend to be eternal.)

2. Improve content personalisation

AI can also help tailor your broad-brush content into something with more niche appeal. Your audience, after all, are human beings, with a range of interests – not just the subject you’re writing about. 

An easy win with AI, of course, is to mass-customise your content with details about the reader: not just his name, but perhaps his hometown wherever a random city name is needed, or a famous local dish he’ll be familiar with. (“If you like the buzz of Centraal Station and are fond of pickled herring, this event’s for you!”) 

But as it evolves, AI can help customise content even further: explaining offers in a way that feels up close and personal (“22 other people from Amsterdam bought this last week!”) or using language that relates to the customer’s personal experience (“This sweater is as red as the brickwork in Utrecht”). 

The future: from a single reference template created by you may come a million highly personalized content emails, each tailored to its recipient without you having to do a thing. AI and humans aren’t competitors – but partners.

3. Understand complex topics faster

Even “niche” writers are to some extent generalists, writing for a number of different clients about diverse products and services spanning different customer segments. Which means spin-up time for a new client can be considerable – eating time and reducing the inventory of days to sell.

ChatGPT is particular is getting stronger and stronger at explaining technical subjects in simple, straightforward terms – letting writers get up to speed with your value proposition in less time. Which gives them more time to work on your content. It’s a study buddy … and a partner … but also a teacher.


Why we still need humans to write

In the 1980s, sci-fi author William Gibson wrote “The street finds its own uses for things.” In the 2020s, AI creation and human-AI collaboration is proving him right again.

Just as we write prompts into ChatGPT, AI is a great “prompt” for human creativity. It can supply content ideas, lists of key points, summaries of a subject that speed up the learning process. It can break the deadlock of writer’s block, help structure a table of contents, check your facts and customise an article for different audiences. 

And that’s the future of human-AI content – a collaboration. This isn’t a Terminator-style Rise of the Machines; it’s a Rise of Quality Content. 

Because as more and more companies rely on AI for actual writing, people who can write with creativity and colour will engage larger audiences, gain more shares, convert more customers. Those in the know will use AI for what it is – a tool. 

That’s why at Contentoo we’re celebrating developments in AI, not worrying about them. We work with the top freelancers; we make sure you’ll get the human writer you pay for, but we also want those writers using the best tools to deliver the best work for you. 

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