by Mark Hayes
November 1, 2018

Ah, AI. The thing that’s going to take all our jobs and make sure we’re all enslaved by machines in a hundred years. Tax accountants will be obsolete, fast food cooks will be replaced by robots, and journalists will be left crying into their keyboards thanks to AI content taking over. At least that’s what the conspiracy theorists would have you think.

Unlike the flat earthers of this world though, I need proof to believe in something – so I decided to go hunting for that proof. I wanted to know – could AI really replace a content writer? Could AI write as well as a human could (perhaps even better, given my terrible spelling)?

It was time to get testing. I decided to use one of my favourite companies, Allbirds, and see what came out the other end. (Before you ask, no, they’re not sponsoring us – unless you consider cradling my feet and making me comfier than ever before sponsorship.) I gave an Allbirds brief to three different AI content creators – here’s what I discovered.

AI content is sort of like a very thick child

Writers of the world, rest easy. Your jobs are safe from being taken over by our future robot overlords for the moment.

The AI content I generated reminded me of nothing so much as a pretty thick child trying to sound intelligent – think Joey using a thesaurus on every word to write a recommendation letter for Monica and Chandler in Friends.

“You just need to move forward. Yup, if you’d like to do one thing well, the one thing that matters is everything. Many folks have goals to decrease our time spent with our smartphones and boost the range of books we read. It’s simpler to grasp an idea similar to something we already understand. The notion of building strong consumer brands looks like a nebulous concept to the majority of people.”

Ah yes, the one thing that matters is everything. Thank you, wise AI content, for making this wisdom so clear to us all. That’s not nebulous at all.

AI might give you a good headline – but the carpet won’t match the drapes

What the In-Crowd Won’t Tell You About Allbirds

The Lost Secret of Allbirds

The 5-Minute Rule for Allbirds

These aren’t terrible headlines. In fact, as far as headings and subheadings go, these would be on par with an okay content writer. However, this super smart machine hasn’t QUITE figured out how to make content that aligns with these headings.

“The 5-Minute Rule for Allbirds

There is no lack of disheartening news in our world, so we chose to take time each week to take a rest and focus on What’s Good. Nowadays, the supply of consumer products greatly outstrips the demand which exists in the marketplace. By all accounts, physical retail isn’t dying, but it is definitely changing. When you walked into a store ten years before, your goal was supposed to buy an item. In the present retail environment, the stores will need to be destination-worthy. Opening its own stores is a way for an internet brand to have the whole customer journey, in place of selling wholesale to a greater retailer. While it’s true that apparel is a quarter-trillion dollar business, I don’t feel the upcoming great VCB will come from apparel.”

Has anyone figured out what the 5-minute rule is yet?

Turns out Allbirds is Kiwi…really Kiwi

Gabriel (Our CEO) and I have an ongoing debate on whether Allbirds should be called a Kiwi company – or if it’s just your average US startup with a Kiwi founder. Shockingly, our views align with our home countries (who would have thunk?) So for our second attempt at AI content, we added Tim Brown as the primary keyword and added related keywords around the history of the company to see if AI could give us an opinion.

The great news for me is, turns out Allbirds is definitely Kiwi. Literally. You see, we might have confused the poor AI content creator. Instead of getting an article about Allbirds’ history, or any insights into whether it’s a Kiwi or US company, we got a SUPER helpful article about the natural history of birds in New Zealand with the odd confusing reference to the company. Makes sense.

“There are two kinds of songs. With the majority of birds the song can be related to breeding. It’s possible to also search sounds from web sites like FindSounds.com. You can also locate sounds online for virtually any bird. Along with listening to them in your back yard there are lots of tapes of birdcalls you’ll be able to buy.

There is an amazing diversity. Each species of bird will require a different bird house program, with diverse measurements of the house and hole. In deference to their edibles, birds are categorized into carnivorous in addition to granivorous. Because they do not have a strong sense of smell they rely on vision and sound. The more ways you must recognize a bird the more you’ll enjoy, and the more success you’ll have at bird watching. Considering all the ways birds communicate sound is most likely the most crucial. Make certain you have the right nest that your distinct bird uses… 

The other option is not anyone gives a shit. For that reason, it’s a personal choice about which kind of bird you select for your pet. It’s essential to note that while we think they’ll do the job just about anywhere they’re created for casual use and we wouldn’t suggest running a marathon within them. Since you can imagine the recording equipment then was very cumbersome.”

Oh sweet Jesus, I think I broke the AI.

Would you trust this?

Brands are built on trust. If you visit a brand’s website and all you see is gibberish, are you really going to part with your hard earned cash? The AI content examples we got reminded me of a really badly translated website – the words might be related to the brand, but the language doesn’t make any sense (that’s why 48% of European web surfers resort to English for their internet use). When ‘Finger-lickin’ good’ becomes ‘We’ll eat your fingers off’ in China, who wouldn’t want to dig into a bucket of KFC?

AI content seems eerily reminiscent of those kind of mis-translations.

“Third is they have to be versatile. For all those of you the haven’t become acquainted with the sheer magic that’s merino wool, let me fill you in. Still, I want to observe a few changes here and there. I placed my purchase, and a couple of days later, they arrived. Expedited orders will reflect a rise in shipping price. In both instances, it costs nothing so the cost is appropriate. Increase the food the simple fact that we could dine on demand and you may quickly begin to see why so many folks rave about Cathay First.”

Really makes you feel confident in the brand, huh?

So is there actually a place for AI when it comes to content?

AI is without a doubt changing marketing, and it will likely make writing a hell of a lot better. Namely, it will likely speed up some of the things that can take forever – researching, collating data, and all those other things that creatives aren’t quite so keen on.

The New York Times is using it to simplify the research process and speed up accurate fact checking, while The Washington Post used Heliograf software to create automated news writing around the Rio Olympics in 2016. This is where there’s real potential – when writing is based on numbers and facts (like taking data from a sports match), there’s no reason it can’t be done by clever AI software. If all that AI has to figure out is that Steven Adams scored a three pointer in the second half, then that’s no worry (do I sound like I understand sports?)

Another place I’m pretty sure we’ll see AI content used in the future is in product descriptions; blurbs that describe the size, materials, and use in fairly simple terms. Basically, in situations where AI can pull from data and straightforward information, it should eventually be able to create something that makes sense enough to be published. But is that enough?

Not for me. While AI can supposedly create poetry, that might just be because most poetry barely makes sense anyway (or maybe it’s just mine?). For all the talk we have about machines taking jobs, the three examples I had generated are pretty clear signs that creatives are safe for the time being. Sure, they can give you some words, but humans are still needed for creativity (and to have a logical read of content so it actually makes sense!) After all, a machine would never take the piss out of itself, would it?

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