Did a robot write this blog?

MY MOTHER is, what many would call, a “technophobe”. She doesn’t like computers, she doesn’t trust computers, she doesn’t use computers. Or anything associated with them, for that matter. She has never owned a smartphone, or had an email address, and my recent offer to buy her a fitness tracker (she loves to walk – and does so religiously) as a gift was met with abject horror.

She’s pretty old-school in her trepidation, with fears rooted firmly in what many would attribute to sci-fi-spurred paranoia. She saw the original Terminator back in 1984 (… five years before I was born. Feeling old?) and has since been convinced that machines will eventually take over, in some shape or form.

Robot img 1

My siblings and I were introduced to The Terminator (original and Judgement Day – arguably the better of the two) long after their release, but only after my mother warned us that this may be fiction now, but could very well become a reality in the future.

Well, welcome to the ‘future’. My mother is much the same, I love her just the same, but we have yet to be thrown into a AI-instigated nuclear war (I am very happy to report).

But even so, things are markedly different since I was a nipper enthralled by the robotic-antics of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Robots are in abundance. One monitors my heart rate at the gym, another keeps me in touch with my partner when we are hundreds of miles apart, another helps me avoid small talk at the supermarket checkout, one has written half the content flooding my inbox…

Yes, you read that correctly. Robots write now. They write emails, they write social media posts and they even wrote this very article.

Robot img 2

… I’m kidding. I am a human and soft, fleshy and flawed as the next one. My aforementioned mother is a human too, as opposed to a particularly paranoid android. But that doesn’t mean that a great deal of the content you consume on a regular basis wasn’t partially, if not entirely, constructed from algorithms.

It’s of no surprise, really. Innovation and technology exists in order to fill in the gaps. In this instance, consumerism has dictated that some gaps need to be filled. We are, to an extent, driven by social media as a species, with some age and socioeconomic variations. And, if social media is the vehicle, content is the fuel.

The bigger the vehicle? The more fuel is required. However, there are only so many super talented, super sexy content creators out there able to fill the ever-hungry void. Ahem.

So yes, robot writers are a thing. They may not actually sit at desks and type at a keyboard, as lovely as that would be, but they create content nonetheless. And it’s usually pretty well spec’d in terms of SEO et al. And that’s pretty much what it’s for: the clicks, and very little else.

Robot img 3

So, why am I, a soft, fleshy content creator who needs an income to keep being soft and fleshy telling you about my much cheaper binary counterparts? Well. I needed something to write about, and who doesn’t like reading (or writing) about robots?

But there’s more to it than that, of course. Automatically-generated content is in its infancy. And while fact-and-stat driven content can be convincingly written by an algorithm, most readers require a different quality of word.

Humour. Happiness. Sadness. Whatever it is, emotion is the very thing that engages, enthrals and entertains once the original piece of information has been effectively conveyed. The je ne se quoi that a lump of flesh brings to the table (well, desk) is, as so far, what separates crafted content from generated content. And yes, there’s a big difference.

When something is generated, it is done en masse. And that’s what’s required for this sort of content. It either has to be quickly generated, fact-driven ‘NIBs’ (news in brief) ideal for the quick-fire world of sports, or it has to hit the right number of buttons for a high quantity of traffic.

Robot img 4

And big businesses love lots and lots of traffic… right? Well, that’s another argument for us soft, fleshy wordy types: quality is the new quantity when it comes to traffic. Poor content guarantees a higher bounce rate, and as such is an ad-magnet to maximise the opportunity. Click here, buy this, flash, flash, flash, crash.

… it doesn’t really work, which is why traffic has to be high. If you throw enough at the wall, some of it will stick. I’m happy to say that while the quality stuff can’t be produced quickly enough to produce the same reams of dense traffic, it is far more likely lead to conversions of some form, or at least a higher level of engagement and brand positioning with the people you actually want to engage with. Your target demographic.

If this article had really been written by an algorithm, you probably wouldn’t have read this far. It wouldn’t have engaged you enough to warrant your time, and would have probably tried to sell you something by now, directly or indirectly. And because you have read this far, I have a reward for you.

There are some very clever people out there, writers, mathematicians, computer scientists and creatives, who have taken the concept of virtually-generated content… and decided to have some fun. They are a community of flesh and binary known as Botnik, and here’s what happens when they made algorithms and Harry Potter collide:

Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash


Here’s a taster:

Leathery sheets of rain lashed at Harry’s ghost as he walked across the grounds toward the castle. Ron was standing there, and doing a kind of frenzied tap dance. He saw Harry and immediately began to eat Hermione’s family.

Ron’s Ron shirt was just as bad as Ron himself.

“If you two can’t clump happily, I’m going to get aggressive,” confessed the reasonable Hermione.

Yeah. I think you people still need me around. And guess what? I’m not a robot.

… yet.

Raven Brookes – Sub Editor at drp



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