Robot and poet

On Writing: Who Does It Better, a Robot or a Person?

Today, I received an email pitch on the wonders of artificial intelligence writing. AI robots can write faster and more prolifically than a human, the pitch noted.

Bots, such as Watson, have written ad copy variants, the proponent of AI copywriting informed me. (I have no idea if a bot wrote the email, but I am guessing it’s possible given how dull the wording is.)

AI is already used to spit out news blurbs generated by sports scores and financial statements, the pitch added. Uh-huh, but can the robot tell you about how a pitcher reacted to a certain call or provide context for financial results that might be counterintuitive for some reason that is not in the data? Sure, speed is of the essence, but for those who want to immediately see numbers, they can already get them in that format.

Now, as someone who has written a fair share of earnings reports, I do think it’s silly for a human to get bogged down in writing a long, comprehensive overview of a report that already is an easy-to-read long, comprehensive overview of financial data. By the time a human writes one sentence, computers are already trading off the statement’s data. But a human with institutional knowledge and historical perspective can place the data points in context.

Granted, a bot could do that too, if programmed with all the permutations and historical data. Well, maybe. It would lack emotion and sincerity. It would also be bereft of an authority that only a human can possess: experience.

A human can tell you what it’s like to walk a mile in his or her shoes, based on experience. My bot emailer cited an example of AI writing merchandise descriptions for e-commerce of shoes. Sure, it can describe color, size and mode of dress. That’s nice, but what is it like to wear them? For that, a consumer will likely read the reviews written by real customers. This is where experience can provide specifics, such as whether a pair of boots was truly waterproof, as advertised.

Making your reader feel as if they are there in the space you are describing is essential to good writing. This is what made writers such as Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe, known for their New Journalism style of lively, descriptive writing. Such a writer would not tell you the specs on a pair of loafers; he would tell you about the type of person wearing it, which is much more descriptive and useful.

Same goes with blogs about businesses. The blog is an opportunity to persuade a prospect that you product or service is precisely what they need to reach a goal or resolve a problem. You don’t want to waste time dwelling on the nuts and bolts of how you do your job. Instead, explain why you do it a certain way. In other words, don’t just tell them (like a robot would). Show them.


Katharine Fraser, Adroit Narratives