Back when microwaves were a new thing, people got sucked into the initial exuberance about how they would change cooking forever.
For example, I had a cookbook that breathlessly extolled the microwave’s time-saving virtues for nearly anything:
Alas, microwave cooking doesn’t work well for everything. In a microwave, the ingredients in a casserole or stew cook independently, without the lovely co-mingling that defines the dishes. And don’t get me started on roasting meat.
We’re seeing similar excitement about using Artificial Intelligence in writing. People are extolling AI to do nearly everything—write their emails, outline and draft books, and so on. Like those cookbook authors, they’re thrilled about how much time we will save.
Yes, you can use generative AI programs to write things for you. But should you? And do you even want to?
Understand its limits and possibilities
The New York Times carried the story of a lawyer who submitted a brief generated by AI. The brief cited related case law to support the client’s claims. Alas, the cases didn’t exist.
(The lawyer explained to the judge that he asked the AI program whether the cases were real, and it said they were.)
You can experience this issue firsthand: ask ChatGPT for quotes on a subject. It will return great quotes, but many will be mis-attributed or simply made up.
AI is not good with detailed facts and citations, just as a microwave is not good at slow simmering.
Large language models like ChatGPT are excellent at detecting patterns in language. So, consider situations where language-based pattern matching will be helpful.
- Brainstorming titles
- Getting unstuck on a word or metaphor
- Identifying the words people use to talk about a topic (great for keyword research)
- Spotting grammatical and stylistic issues
You can also use AI programs to jump-start types of writing outside your comfort zone, like marketing copy.
If, however, you let AI actually write in your place, what it creates will probably sound like the amalgam of what other people write like.
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather my words represent my own voice.
Gazing into the future
To anticipate the future of AI, let’s return to the humble microwave.
People love microwaves for reheating leftovers, melting butter, and many activities in which they genuinely save time. Some people avoid them altogether, but most of us appreciate having one in the kitchen or break room.
But given a choice, few chefs would choose to cook everything in the microwave. Imagine getting this invitation: Come have Thanksgiving dinner with us—we are microwaving the whole thing!
I suspect that AI-based writing will evolve (at microwave speeds) to fill a similar valued role in a writer’s toolbox.
However, when you use AI to write for you, you may create the microwave-re-heatable frozen dinner of writing. Sure, it will satisfy someone’s hunger, but is that the kind of writing you want to do?
Experiment. Find the best time-saving uses, but don’t sacrifice quality. And don’t delegate your voice to the machine.
Other ways to brainstorm: Searching for Creative Inspiration
Balancing creativity and productivity: Finding Your Writing Balance