The Rise of Content Bots: Will Writing Robots Take Our Jobs?

6 minute read

Upland Admin

Much has been made of writing robots in recent years.

Heliograf, The Washington Post‘s “automated storytelling system” has been called upon to cover everything from elections to the Olympics to high school football.

And if you feel a rumble in Southern California, you may well turn to the Los Angeles Times, where the latest updates on seismic tremors are often published under the byline “Quakebot.” Quakebot’s stories aren’t long—one published on February 1, 2018, titled “Earthquake: 3.1. quake strikes near Aguanga” reads just 84 words—but they get the job done.

Journalists aren’t the only content creators looking over their shoulders. A novel co-authored by a robot recently made it through the first stage of a Japanese literary contest by judges who were not told which submissions had artificial contributors. (If you think you couldn’t be fooled, check out botornot, a site that challenges readers to identify whether selected poems are the work of human brains or computer chips. It’s not always as easy as it sounds.)

What should you make of this information? Well, let’s establish two framing principles:

  1. Lots of smart people are working hard to improve the ability of writing robots, and we can assume these robots will only get better and more pervasive.
  2. Perhaps we’ll have Pulitzer Prize-winning robots one day, but for now, nearly all content bots exist to move data from spreadsheets into sentences.

Should B2B Companies Use Automated Writing Software?

In an age where information is expected in real time, being the first to cover breaking news can make all the difference for a journalistic enterprise. It’s little wonder why news providers are investing in tools that can help them produce more content faster and cheaper.

But when it comes to the world of B2B marketing, our goal isn’t to get the most or the fastest information into the hands of potential customers. No, our goal is to serve our audience the best content out there.

Sometimes, of course, that means being at the forefront of breaking industry news. But rather than spewing out info as fast as we can get it, brands should aim to establish themselves as places people turn to when they want to truly understand.

Great content builds trust and positions a brand as an authority. And trust doesn’t come from just reporting the news—it comes from helping readers understand why the news matters to them.

Where Content AI Fits into B2B Marketing

As with any technological change, some companies will embrace writing robots more quickly than others, and some may entrust them with more than they can handle. Just as email made receiving a hand-written card all the more meaningful and iPods preceded a resurgence in vinyl record sales, the spread of machine-written content will make well-crafted, human-made content all the more valuable.

Those who seek to pawn off too much content creation on machines will quickly learn the value that creatives bring to companies of all shapes and sizes. With customers in control, the business value of quality content is greater than ever.

Companies that balance the complementary strengths of humans and machines will win. Those who don’t may fall behind.

How to Save Your Job from Robot Domination

There are some things robots can do better than us. There’s just no getting around it.

They don’t get tired or hungry or distracted looking at pictures of their robot friends on Instagram. They can analyze huge swaths of data with more speed and accuracy than a human ever could. They learn rules and operate consistently based on those rules. Quakebot knows to take the data from USGS and plug them into a predetermined article template. It will do so again and again, no matter the time of day or whether it’s on vacation.

That’s awesome.

But there are some things robots can’t do. Quakebot cannot arrive at the scene of an earthquake and interview people who experienced it first hand. It cannot express with empathy what it’s like to live through a major tectonic shift. It cannot pen an opinion piece that questions whether the local government was adequately prepared to respond. It cannot think proactively and creatively to move the conversation forward.

That’s where people come in.

Like so many other things technology can do—automatically adjust the thermostat when we leave for the day, remind us about that three o’clock meeting with sales, send a drip email to a prospect who downloads an eBook—we should welcome content bots as tools that will enhance our ability to do our jobs. Let’s approach them just as we do marketing automation, CRM, and other tools.

When I first used Kapost, for example, I encountered automated workflows that were already programmed (by people, I should note) to know which tasks were needed for a project, who should do them, and when each should be completed. Plotting these timelines and shepherding content through its various stages had always been part of my job description. But, as you might have guessed, the thought that I would no longer have to manually assign and update deadlines was hardly a crushing blow. Yes, something I had been responsible for in the past was no longer part of my day-to-day responsibilities. But did that make me less valuable? Far from it. Instead, I can now use that time to make bigger contributions to my team and take on more work that requires real strategic thinking.

In their current iteration, content bots should make your life better, not worse. We content creators aren’t hired to plug numbers into generic text. (And if you were, start job hunting: you deserve better.) We were hired to transform curious, empathetic, human energy into content that connects with its audiences. And when robots inevitably take over the busy work, you’ll be free to spend more time doing the things only you can.

Looking Forward: Keep Calm and Coexist

As we continue the inevitable march towards machine-made content, remember to let robots be robots. Embrace them as personal assistants, not competitors.

If the abilities of robot writers do threaten you, consider your current job function and what you can do right now to make yourself indispensable.

Content bots are a reminder to all of us to prove our worth. What makes you good at your job? What can you do that a robot never could? Channel that energy into everything you do, and you’ll be ready to welcome AI into your content creation processes with open arms.

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