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To stay ahead of AI, content creators need to be more human than ever

Written by: David Michael McFarlane

Published on: May 16, 2016

As artificial intelligence gets smarter, creative automation may become indistinguishable from a lot of human writing and design. Content creators’ edge will be our capacity for wonder and wit, personality and passion. These traits won't only keep us ahead of the robots — they’ll lead to better content.

When Elon Musk announced his new venture OpenAI, he emphasized the threat of malicious super-intelligence. The technology must be shared and free, he reasoned, to mitigate the risk of a SkyNet or HAL 9000.

There’s debate about Musk’s logic, but for content creators the more immediate threat isn’t robotic overlords, it’s creative automation.

The future of content automation is here

Robots have been painting abstractions for decades, and they’re becoming better at it. Associated Press uses Automated Insights to generate thousands of earnings reports every year. The University of Illinois is developing a program that teaches computers to collaborate on freeform jazz.

Are content creators out of a job? Not many — not yet.

Creative automation is currently derivative. Computers can learn little more than grammar and basic structure, organizing data into dry, repetitive news stories. Robotic painters and composers remain imitative, however nuanced and original their art may be. Content creators still have an edge, albeit slight.

Humans can’t be robotic

If we consider our industry honestly, derivative and dry describes many blog posts, logos, and videography.

More than unoriginality, there is a deadness to a lot of content that could be generated by machines, if not now then in a few years time.

OpenAI hopes to expand AI technology exponentially, and when it succeeds the automated creative output will be formidable. Designers and copywriters will compete with programs that can produce comparable work in seconds. We can dread this day, or we can delay it by creating better, more human content than ever before.

We’ve […] started to see what it might be like for computers to be creative, to dream, and to experience the world.

– OpenAI Blog, December 2015

The heart of human content

It is not our ability to combine colors or patch words together that makes us human. We are more than rational intelligence, more than our capacity to learn and adapt, to eat or be eaten.

Humans are a curious species in every sense of the word. We experience awe at the sight of galaxies and rare tropical birds; we emote in ten thousand different ways, from at least a billion unique triggers; we delight in our own minds, and the inventive, clever minds of others.

Content that expresses and inspires these qualities has always prevailed over the bland masses. Whether evoking nostalgia, laughter, or passion, design and copy succeeds when it celebrates the humanness of others. Of course logic can prove compelling, but it becomes transcendent when paired with empathy.

Maintaining our creative edge

Like all humans, content creators can be witty, imaginative, and poignant. We always should be. Sometime in the near future we must be.

Artificial intelligence will learn complex narrative structure and idioms, and it can already be programmed to include typos and tangents. This is to say, automated content can appear real, as though it came from an imperfect human. Individuality, though, is more than misspelling certain words and relying on similar metaphors.

Creative AI is many years from rising above fact and writing with feeling. It may never learn empathy, and it’s hard to imagine an algorithm that will replicate the personality of an individual human mind.

Our brains remain the most complex object in the known universe. When we use them to wonder and hope, provoke and celebrate, we become more human and better content creators. Super-intelligence, however brilliant, however malicious or benign, may never evolve to surpass our most human feats.