Artificial intelligence is no longer the stuff of science fiction movies or esoteric single-task tests. As 2016 has arrived—and we’re trend watching already—it’s no surprise that artificial intelligence pops up time and time again. When it comes to content creation, artificial intelligence (aka AI, and I don’t mean Allen Iverson) is poised to have a huge impact on how we create and consume content in 2016. Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about whether or not robots are going to make us their minions (yet), but there are plenty of semi-moral quandaries that arise from the use of AI in content creation.
As we watch trends with an eye toward business transformation, it’s important to understand what artificial intelligence can and can’t do, why it’s #trending, and what you should know about these extra-crafty computers.
As major social platforms move toward creating in-feed stories and telling you what’s trending, AI is easing its way into your daily life without you noticing. Facebook and Twitter both create summaries of trending news and events based on algorithms that aggregate buzzy content from publications and private users alike. We consume these blurbs and grids unquestioningly, but they’re a surprisingly big step toward robotic content. From the brief story overviews to the images and videos selected to accompany trending content, AI is responsible for what you see and why it’s arranged how it is. This version of artificial intelligence creating content seems rather simplistic and benign—that is, until you realize that robots are deciding what’s newsworthy and where it belongs in your News Feed. Still, the majority of the content the robots push upon us is generated by actual people in the form of eyewitness photo and video, multiple mentions of a given topic that cause it to trend, and real live users choosing to share content that resonates with them.
What does all of this aggregation mean for content marketers?
Even as we are forced to share the cyber spotlight with robots, there has perhaps never been a more critical time for original content to be truly imaginative—if the post-SEO world needed content that could trick Google into still looking for keywords, albeit in a more subtle way, the post-post-SEO world needs shareable, trend-worthy content more than ever. Robots are (generally) better at sniffing out cheap tricks than people are, so only content that’s getting lots of real shares by real people will get the attention of the benevolent AI overlords. Funny how that works.
Many media sites that are trend watching artificial content creation intelligence are touting the exciting prospects of uber-customized content, tailored for audiences of one. While personalized reports have their place in small applications like fantasy football summaries and paragraph versions of RSS feeds, the threat to long-form content and brand journalism is smaller than we think. To convey a brand’s story or create a compelling content marketing narrative, a team of writers and thinkers has to get to know the people behind the brand—something that robots are still a long way from doing. I’m inclined to think they’ll never be able to get to know people or come up with bad puns and pop culture references, but I’m a crotchety old Luddite. Regardless, what’s been pitched as an existential threat to content marketers is far from it. Highly-tailored reports that are more like written versions of math problems than sentient prose are hardly substitutes for the type of content that gets users to share, subscribe, and engage.
There is definitely a place in the world for bots to turn charts into words. As a literature major who almost failed my only econ class, I greatly appreciate that computers can now take other computers’ droll data charts and turn them into droll paragraphs so I can better understand the arbitrary statistics they’re feeding me based on a limited sample size with a large standard deviation. So, the trend of robots turning data into something resembling stories is important and a must-watch in 2016. But it isn’t a sign that the writing-pocalypse is nigh or that I’ll soon be replaced by robots and then forced to edit their writing for ten cents on the dollar.
Content marketing is so much more than getting as many words on as many Web pages as possible—it’s about creating a consistent, personable brand story that appeals to humans, not just search results. Only the human element can create stories that go viral enough for robots to notice. Many pundits have prematurely predicted the death of bookstores and the written word alike, but it turns out that Barnes & Noble is slated to expand in the coming years, and robots have yet to create the type of stories that cause Hemingway or Steinbeck to shake in their graves.
As we contemplate the power of robots in the writing world, it’s easy to see that they’re capable of amazing things. But it’s even easier to see that they’re robots. Artificial intelligence in the business world is worth keeping an eye on, but it’s not even close to being time for top-down business transformation to accommodate robotic coworkers. That being said, if you need a good story or a year’s worth of enterprise journalism written, I know a guy.
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