As I write, it looks as though we may be heading for a second lockdown of some description.
For many of us freelance copywriters, this won’t mean altering our working day greatly – we’ve been working from home for years. But there will be a major impact on our life in general, with renewed limitations on social interaction.
How is this relevant to our work? Well, if you’re like me, every contact you have feeds into your work.
It could be a comment by a mate at the pub that nails that tagline for a washing powder ad, or a road sign seen as you head out for dinner that feeds into that piece on road safety. Other people and our interaction with them are important helps us produce work that engages.
This thought struck me when the question of artificial intelligence (AI) taking our jobs reared its head again recently. The Guardian ran an article written by a robot and asked readers whether the idea scared them.
Well, I wasn’t that scared when I read the clumsy copy, especially after learning that it was edited together from eight separate articles the AI produced. Fascinated, yes, but not threatened.
It lacked the human touch – that sprinkling of wit, insight, sarcasm, whatever – that transforms a collection of words into writing.
The touch we all strive to bring to our work that we hope will make it stand out from the crowd and create the reaction our clients desired.
And who doesn’t want a transcription tool to cut those hours of unpaid labour?
Even authors are getting more than a little uplift from the machine.
Like Andy Maslen, the copywriter-turned-bestselling novelist, I was astonished to discover what the self-editing AI Marlowe can do. Initially sceptical, Maslen has now embraced what he sees as just another tool to help him shift vast quantities of his books.
Marlowe doesn’t replace or try to mimic a writer’s creativity.
It does the donkey work of analysing, checking and comparing what you’ve written with its database of thousands of best-selling novels to make sure you avoid repetition, cliché, overlong sentences. Leaving the writer to consider plot, character … the humanity.
Interestingly, after decades of computer programmers fighting each other to create a program that could beat the best human chess player, the final result is heartening for those nervous about AI.
While computers have beaten grandmasters, the latest belief is that the ultimate player would be a human-computer hybrid. So human intervention can even play a vital part in this most methodical, supposedly computer-friendly of battles.
Whoever our clients are – financial, technology, medical, retail – when we write we’re writing to another human being.
Our job is to interpret the message the client wants to share and express it in the most easily understandable way possible for anybody who may read the copy. AI can help us do that, but it can’t yet do it for us.
So here’s hoping the pandemic doesn’t keep us from other people and our inspiration for too long.
Because Zoom and its ilk will never completely recreate the conditions for that joke or insight shared between a small group of people in a pub, car or around a dinner table that finds its way into our next piece of work.