Transparency is the way to save this profession.
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I’m barely one year into my writing journey. You could say I’m a newbie writer, but it’s been more than enough time to fall in love with this profession. I’m, however, more versed in artificial intelligence. I got into it after finishing my engineering undergrad studies around 2017 and decided to pursue it seriously. I landed a job soon after and spent the following three years working for a startup that wanted to change the world — as most AI companies do.
The combination of my knowledge in AI with my passion as a writer put me in a singular position to witness and recognize the impending future that’s about to fall over us — of which we’re already feeling the first symptoms. The AI language revolution took off in 2017. Just three years later, OpenAI released the popular language model GPT-3, an inflection point in a trend that isn’t giving any signs of stopping — and which limits are yet to be discovered.
Large language models (LLMs) like GPT-3 have permeated through the fabric of society in ways not even experts anticipated. I thought — as many others did before — that AI was a threat to blue-collar jobs; physical workers would be replaced by robots. However, with the advent of LLMs, it has become increasingly clear that white-collar jobs are too in danger. In particular, jobs that revolve around written language — whether creatively or routinely — are on the verge of being impacted in a way never seen before.
Companies like Google, Microsoft, and Facebook have been pumping millions of dollars for years now into the language branch of AI. Other, less known AI companies like OpenAI, AI21 labs, and Cohere have also taken these promising tech developments and converted them into commercial products ready to handle tasks previously reserved to humans. News articles, emails, copywriting, team management, content marketing, poetry, songs, dialogue, essays, and entire novels, are just some of the areas where LLMs have started to show genuine proficiency.
And it doesn’t matter that these systems are “dumb” when compared to a human. They don’t need to understand what they write to write it well.
Liam Porr, Berkeley alumnus, proved this to be true when he successfully conducted a surprising experiment with GPT-3. He set up a Substack newsletter entirely written by the AI and in just two weeks he attracted +26,000 readers. He even got one article to the number one spot on Hacker News — only a handful of perceptive people noticed the trick. “It was super easy, actually, which was the scary part,” Porr told MIT Technology Review reporter Karen Hao. “One of the most obvious use cases is passing off GPT-3 content as your own… And I think this is quite doable.”
This happened more than a year ago.
In the span of four years, language AI has gone from a shyly blooming trend to a technology explosion without precedent.
Companies like OpenAI and AI21 labs have now open APIs that allow people to access these powerful language models, as Liam Porr did. There has been no better time in history to start a writing career. Not because people respect bloggers and indie writers more now. Not because there are more platforms to grow an audience — although that’s true.
The reason is people don’t need to know how to write to succeed in the field anymore. And I’m not talking about skill here. With systems like GPT-3, you don’t need to actually type a single word to go from an idea to a finished piece.
How can we, the writers who are genuinely trying to improve our craft, compete against that? Some people will manage to obtain the benefits without making the effort. No writing skill required.
Writers — among many other professionals — are going to face an unprecedented amount of competence. GPT-3 can’t match a high-quality, coherently structured article with a polished style and a clear thesis, directed towards a specific audience. But we know quality isn’t the only variable to getting views and grabbing attention. When anyone can ask GPT-3 to write 100 articles in a few hours, the phrase “sheer numbers” gets a whole new meaning.
GPT-3 is the most popular language model today, but it isn’t the most powerful. Newer LLMs have already improved their capabilities and future ones will overshadow anything we’ve seen to date. Technological progress won’t slow down and the field is too profitable for AI companies to ignore. Firing entire teams of writers to hire AI services for a fraction of the cost will become the norm.