September 2020, the guard published an opinion piece written by a program. The artificial intelligence, called GPT-3, is a large language model developed by OpenAI, and it posed a bold question in the headline of the machine-generated text: “A robot wrote this entire article. Are you scared yet, human?”
It is indeed a scary time to be a professional writer. Earlier in 2020, Microsoft fired journalists to replace them with a writing AI. And as AI language models continue to improve, researchers argue that AI-generated text will soon be indistinguishable from text written by a person.
Our research team from the University of British Columbia explored what the rise of AI means for human writers. In particular, we tried to understand what human writers expect from AI and where the limits are when it comes to writing.
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We interviewed seven hobbyists and 13 professional writers, using a design fiction approach. We first showed the writers several speculative designs from futuristic AI writers. We then asked them to think about how co-writing with an AI would change their practice and perception of writing.
We found that writers wanted AIs to respect the personal values they attribute to writing. These personal values are: emotional values and productivity.
Emotions and productivity
Hobbyists in our study said they find joy in the writing process, referring to writing as a “labor of love.” When considering scenarios where using AI would make them more productive, hobbyists weren’t interested in using the advanced writing technology if it were to supplant what it means to be a writer.
The writers attributed three different kinds of emotional values to writing. Some writers wanted to claim ownership of the words they wrote and feared that co-writing with an AI would mean the text wouldn’t be considered their own at all. Other writers attributed a sense of integrity to the writing, saying that using AI would be “like cheating”. Others simply enjoyed the process of putting their ideas into words.
For professional writers, on the other hand, writing was a way of life. If it could make them more productive, they were open to using AI and assigning parts of their work to the robot writers. The professional writers imagined that they would use AI as a ghostwriter who could turn their ideas into written pieces. To some extent, professional writers were willing to compromise their emotional values in exchange for productivity.
Some writers relied on AI to do a good job of simple writing tasks, such as making stylistic improvements, reformulating, and proofreading. But they didn’t have much faith in AI’s ability for creative writing tasks, such as planning a narrative flow and setting up the backgrounds of the main characters in the story.
When presented with other speculative scenarios, writers would agree to outsource writing tasks only if their confidence in AI exceeds their own confidence.
A good ghost writer
Our research implies that an ideal AI writing tool should behave like a human collaborator and such a tool should be aware of the limits of human writers and respond by adjusting the level of intervention and writing style accordingly.
Writing with AI can give writers energy and time for the creative side of the writing process. Ideally, our entrepreneurial drive should not Completely crowding people out of our creative endeavors.