The technological developments of our generation continue to astound me. Drone deliveries, self-driving cars, and semantic language interpretation are all automating processes we never thought could be automated, and while the convenience is certainly an exciting luxury to think about, there's also something scary about the advancements; they're replacing human tasks.
Take, for instance, "journalistic robots." As a writer and content marketer in my own right, I have to admit I've always felt comfortable about the need for my skills in the workplace. Computers have a hard time learning and using human speech because it can't be reduced to simple algorithmic processes, but now that advanced artificial intelligence systems are starting to write semantically decipherable articles almost indistinguishable from those written by human counterparts, I'm as nervous as I am impressed.
The old-school part of my brain insists to me that even the most sophisticated AI program would fail to out-write a journalist with years of experience, but the trajectories of AI programs already on the market seem to contradict that impression. Content marketing, the art of using written, informative, entertaining material to attract people to a brand, is in the midst of a long renaissance, but I have to wonder--are these journalistic robots going to kill it altogether?
The Current State of Robot Writers
Perhaps the most unsettling element of the "robot writer" discussion is how many robot-written articles you've already read--without ever realizing they were written by robots.
Automatically generated articles have been adopted by multiple companies in multiple industries, including the Associated Press. However, for the most part, currently technology has limited these auto-generated articles to news stories based on easily interpretable information; for example, if you read an article about how a stock priced doubled in one day, that could have been written by a robot. The article you read about a journalist's firsthand experience as an undercover motorcycle gang member probably wasn't.
According to tech enterprise Quill's own Professor Larry Birnbaum, the journalistic writing process today can be reduced into four main steps. First, the system starts importing raw data, such as graphs, lists, and other data structures that has been produced and distributed by other companies. Second, the system aggregates and sorts the information into meaningful snippets--think of it as forming a conclusion based on the research. Third, the system produces a narrative out of these conclusions--in other words, it tries to piece together a story from this information. Finally, the system weaves out the language necessary to make the article readable and editorially appropriate.
On the surface, this four-step process is practically identical to a human journalist's process; find information, interpret information, outline a story, and draft the content. The only difference, then, is in the degree of sophistication of the producer. Today, robots can only weave narratives from straightforward, numerical information, but in the future, they may become advanced enough to tell more personal, emotional, complicated stories.
How Content Marketing May Evolve
Content marketing is undergoing a radical shift, with or without the rise of robot writers. People are constantly connected to the Internet, and relying on information from mobile devices while on-the-go. They're looking at local businesses, scanning through content at a glance, and they're getting used to relying on personalized news lists for aggregating all their favorite items. The world is becoming more on-demand, more personalized, and more intuitive.
According to a recent WIRED piece, the future of news (and by extension, content marketing) could be producing and recommending news pieces that are not just selected for individual users--but also written for them. Complex algorithms and artificial intelligence could work actively to understand a reader's tastes, interests, preferences, and reading level, and piece together individualized articles that speak directly to that reader. These could be generated automatically as new information breaks, directly eliminating the need for journalists in anything news-related.
The Inevitable Robot Takeover
Considering the already-advanced nature of robot journalism, it may be inevitable that all human writers will one day be replaced. It's already started with simple numbers-based news stories, but will likely evolve to more complicated, emotional news pieces with multiple angles, and from there, who knows? We may have robot writers producing thriller novels or movie scripts based on criteria that have governed successful pieces of media in the past.
In the distant future, human-based content marketing will no longer be relevant. People won't need to actively seek out their content, so it will have no benefit for online visibility or enhanced customer experience. The companies with the most sophisticated or most reliable journalistic algorithms might attract a larger number of customers, but that's a one-time investment versus the ongoing expense of a long-term human-based content marketing strategy.
Pinning Down a Timeline
Before you cut your marketing spend, remember this: we're still years away from the widespread adoption of even the most basically written robot articles. Beyond that, we're decades away from any sort of meaningful robot takeover. By that time, you might be retired, or you might have moved on to other opportunities.
Content marketing is probably going to die at the hands of robots, but it's still got a long life ahead of it. In the meantime, it's still in your best interest to write the best material possible for your readers, and continue building those consumer-brand relationships.