Are Robots Taking Over?

by Sarah McLaughlin '23 on January 29, 2023

Editor's Column

What AI Means for the Future of Writing

What if we never had to write another essay in our lives? What if someone—or something—could do it for us? 

Recently, artificial intelligence (AI) has become  capable of exactly that and much more. This summer, the OpenAI research group released Playground, which is free to use for three months, and can accept prompts ranging from “write an abstract for a research paper on the effect of microplastics on honeybees” to “write a love poem in iambic pentameter from Harry Styles for Taylor Swift.” It could almost certainly write mediocre essays (this is plagiarism, of course) and probably some half-decent articles for The Cowl.

Some may profess that this spells the end of writing as we know it, especially as a viable career path. Why would a company pay a writer a $45,000 salary when they could hire a robot for a few dollars per month? Recent developments in AI-generated art, too, have artists wondering if their future livelihoods are threatened, as do robots replacing cashiers in fast-food restaurants, and drones delivering packages in place of drivers.

Writing is sometimes cited as one of the key foundations of what makes a civilization. We learn in DWC about cuneiform and hieroglyphics, and the texts we read in class are all building blocks of a long history of writing’s development. Do AI writing tools mark the end of civilization, or the start of a new one?

AI has the potential to revolutionize the way we live, work, and interact with each other. It is clear that AI will become an increasingly important part of our lives in the near future. AI technology can provide us with greater efficiency, convenience, and accuracy, while also helping us to make better decisions and create new opportunities.

Does that sound about right? The last paragraph was written entirely by Playground, so maybe it’s a little biased. The prompt I used was “Write a conclusion to an article about the future of AI.”

In reality, while AI does have the potential to “revolutionize” our way of life, this is not necessarily a revolution we need. However, it has the potential to spur on some positive changes in how we talk and think about writing. This might mean that professors will, in the near future, have to come up with more creative written assignments. It might mean that training writers in structure, idea organization, and honing their unique voices will become much more important than teaching grammar, because AI can easily correct such mistakes. These discussions have already been occurring in the Writing Center, as many believe that these changes will allow more students to thrive and remove the stigma surrounding being a “bad” writer.

Writing is an art. Even if AI can copy the meter and rhyme scheme of a limerick, it’s missing the aspect of poetry that is innately human. Only a human could invent a complex metaphor based on her own unique life experience, give emotional life to an inanimate object, or move a reader with dialogue that is so perfectly imperfect.

Writers also still have the crucial job of being brainstormers. The articles we publish in The Cowl aren’t going to write themselves without our writers noticing stories to highlight at PC and the local or national communities, having their own personal or emotional reactions to pressing issues, reaching out to subjects for interviews, and contributing their own experience and perspectives. Maybe it is naive to think so, but I believe these are things a computer cannot imitate.