I wrote an opinion using an AI-based writing assistant. Here’s what I learned.
Last week, I participated in a panel discussion at the Bennett University’s Roundtable on “How AI is transforming journalism,” along with Mr. Ashish Verma from Singapore Press Holdings (SPG). Mr. Verma, the Head of AI at SPG, focused on the technical aspects. I chose to demonstrate how editorial teams would/could take to the AI in their daily workflows. I ended up reviewing an off-the-shelf AI-based writing assistant.
Figuring out the talk
For the talk, I wanted to pick an AI technology that is widely available so that students at the college can try it out themselves.
In June 2020, OpenAI announced that it had released GPT-3, a language model that produces human-like text. Since then, AI-based writing assistants have popped up that are available off-the-shelf at a price point of $20-$100 a month. I chose one and paid up for a personal account.
Additionally, I wanted to juxtapose two articles—one written without AI and one with AI.
Without AI: In December last year, I wrote a blog post that explained the concept of collectibles.
With AI: Back then, I collected many notes for another post on NFTs. This time, I wanted to write an analysis/opinion to recommend businesses to study Supreme. This company has been in the collectibles business for over 25 years. However, I never got around to writing the article. So, over the next 12 hours, I extensively used the tool and converted my notes into a blog post.
Read both the articles
Before we proceed, I would recommend that you read both articles. It won’t take more than 10-13 minutes.
Here’s the article written without AI
And this article was co-written with AI
Review of AI-based writing assistant
I think specialists — beat reporters, researchers, and domain experts — might not enjoy working with AI-based writing assistants since the AI will not return suggestions that match their knowledge level.
The AI is a good tool for generalists.
Going into the experiment, I knew that any AI-based writing assistant would not have been good for current affairs. GPT-3 relies on its training data set, and it cannot be retrained every few hours to catch up with current affairs — at least not right now. However, it can be useful for context, timeline, history, etc. around the current affairs.
But I further realized that the AI tool could not help me with extreme niche and recent topics like NFT x Supreme.
The AI should work for long-tail, evergreen topics like health, wealth, history, lifestyle, etc.
Structure and core idea 👎
Additionally, the AI tool could not give me meaningful arguments to build and prove my central thesis. I had to develop the story idea, central thesis, arguments, flow/structure, or data to back my arguments.
Writing experience 🙂
It was enjoyable to write using this editor. It almost felt like I was pair-programming (pair-writing?) with another person? The AI would write some text, and I would edit it. Then, I would write, and the AI would elaborate.
I have been sitting on this article for the past two months. With the AI editor, I completed it within a few hours. Here’s how it helped
- There were times when I knew what I wanted to say, but I could not articulate it. This is where the AI converted my notes into a draft paragraph. Instead of producing the first draft, which is always tougher, I had to edit and improve.
- Second, there were times when I needed to google obvious facts about Supreme. Instead, I wrote something and asked the AI to fact-check it. While it did not precisely fact-check it, it gave me enough links and hints to find my answers.
Adds to fragmented toolkit 👎👎👎
I already built/maintained my walled garden in a private Notion. I am not a trained writer. Hence, I rely on Grammarly to fix obvious grammar issues. I was expecting the AI tool to do what Grammarly does. It did not.
Hence, if I were to adopt this tool, I would have to pay for Notion, Grammarly, and this AI tool.
Shocking realization 🤔
By this time, I had completed my AI-based post, and then I compared both the blog posts and got my friends to review them.
Everyone pointed out, “Ritvvij, your writing style changed!!“
In the first article, where I wrote without the AI editor, I took the cognitive load of writing my article’s building blocks. It was a conversation and argument that I was having with myself. Hence, the eventual article was much more straightforward and full of examples that I, an average Indian, would relate to.
When I wrote with the AI editor, the AI helped me articulate my thoughts. That’s when I was having a conversation with the AI editor. At times, I got lazy and accepted the suggestions made by the AI tool instead of asking myself, is this truly what and how I wanted to say it. At some level, I was assembling blocks instead of building them.
This realization that the AI changed my writing style hit me the hardest. That said, I am also thrilled that I could complete an article that I have been procrastinating on for two months.
If this is a shock to me, I wonder how professional writers would feel about this. Maybe, AI tools should come with a statuary warning about things like this, similar to the kind of warnings on cigarette boxes or mutual fund advertisements (it is risky to invest in mutual funds).
To conclude, when writing an opinion or nuanced explainer piece, the AI tool was extremely helpful in rephrasing, elaborating fillers, and fact-checking.
I plan to try out the tool for other use cases like product descriptions, marketing copy, help text, social media posts, FAQs, etc.
Do DM me if you have had other experiences with AI-based writing tools. I would love to learn from you.
Credits: Cover Image by Andrea De Santis on Unsplash