Let's talk about robots taking your copywriting job.

Writers are vastly underestimating what AI actually will become capable of and how it will be incorporated into every tap, touch, and glance of many interactions, then shrugging it all off and saying “oh, there’s no way it’s ever going to do anything as well as I do.”

Let's talk about robots taking your copywriting job.
Present-day Joe note: This was written in 2018.

In other words... I told you so.

Another article came out this week about how robots are going to write everything in the future. I'm not going to link to it because, as usual, it's a bunch of sensationalized and selfishly-motivated PR nonsense that doesn't try to tell the whole story.

The problem with almost all of the conversations in the copywriting world about artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and voice (smart speakers, voice-based assistant input) technologies is that when it comes up, we're stuck debating the companies behind the sensationalized articles and why they are wrong, not talking about the broader context of what is changing in the industry itself because of these technologies.

Writers are vastly underestimating what AI will become capable of, how it will be incorporated into every tap, touch, and glance of many interactions, and then shrugging it all off and saying “oh, there’s no way it’s ever going to do anything as well as I do.”

I think that kind of willful ignorance, blindness, self-assurance, or whatever you want to call it is a professional liability.

While I do actually believe humanity can eventually create artificial intelligence that writes as well as I do, plenty of writers are going to be put out of business way before that by failing to adapt to the work they are focused on now drying up. Not all of it will go away, but the ponds will get smaller even while the number of fish continues to increase.

I’ve had a lot of one on one conversations over the last year with people working on AI, AR, VR, and voice technologies to figure out the contexts that are most likely to become more or less important or otherwise change significantly over the next several years.

I seek out these conversations for perspective, because it's irresponsible to miss new opportunities and get blindsided by declines in what I've been doing for years at the same time.

The bottom line for me is this: I'm responsible for my job, and if any part of my business could potentially go away, or radically change for better or worse, then I need to take a deeper look at it than people who are just making press releases to grab attention for their start up.

Some very radical changes are coming, not just in whether or not we have to do the writing (which these discussions and articles disproportionately focus on), but where the greatest value in a human being doing the writing will be.

Some things just won’t be as important as they are today and that means we are not going to make the same kind of money off of those things, while new things will pop up and become more significant and we will have to adapt our offerings to get the most value out of that.

The mobile web, and the entire smart phone app ecosystem, did not exist in 2006. The web as we know it did not exist in 1995.

I think a lot of people, writers and otherwise, are falling for the old "those who don't learn from history" bit more than they realize, and missing opportunities to be prepared for new things as a result.

There are whole ecosystems around voice technology, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence that do not exist now, and will not all develop at the same speed, but they are coming and they will change the importance rankings of many of the things we work within right now.

There will come a time when people need to look at their screens for far fewer things. There will come a time when people don't have to search on Google, they can just ask for something and information will be thrown up on the screen closest to them, cutting out a lot of the words in the middle of the search process.

People value their time more than anything, and when anything can be found quickly, delivered quickly, and returned quickly through voice and extremely streamlined and predictive visual experiences, the number of words they consume to get to the same end result today will decline very sharply as all of this unfolds.

If a client is paying 75% less for something in two years it's because they lost 75% of their attention through that channel. If that is the primary thing my business is built around, my business is in trouble and it's all of the shrugging off what was coming that got me there.

I think a lot of the first wave of collateral damage is going to be done in the contexts changing and people not paying attention to that because they're romantic about their work or blind to the opportunities.

The business of writing has changed a lot even if the fundamental craft has not, and I think that the end of the day, if I am going to be in the business of selling writing, I need to treat the business of it like it's a totally independent skill set from the craft of writing the words.

There's no real reason to be terrified of it unless you ignore it. There are so many new opportunities for people who are willing to dig to understand where all of them are, who is working on them, and what you can offer that they and their users, clients, and customers would benefit from.