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Why our new robot writer frightens me

By Chuck Woodbury
PUBLISHER
Aweek ago I told you about a new service I discovered that uses artificial intelligence to write articles. I gave it a try. It horrified me. Yet I was so curious to learn more about it that I signed up for a trial subscription. I call the new service “Johnny Robot.” I’ll explain why I find Johnny Robot so interesting and, yes, frightening.

Let’s say I were a barber — a damn good one who earned top dollar. One day, a salesman walked in with a new, inexpensive machine. He offered to demonstrate it. He attached it to the back of my barber chair and plugged it in. A customer, he explained, would sit in the chair and push a button to select a particular haircut from a “menu” of styles.

How it would work

When he did, the machine would begin to buzz. In two minutes it would stop. The customer would get up, his hair neatly cut. It would not be as good as what I would do, but it would be adequate for many (if not most) people. And the haircut would cost a mere $5, not $50 that I might charge.

The salesman would tell me the machines were selling like crazy. Someone could open a barber shop down the street with a few machines and do hundreds of haircuts a day with hardly any overhead and not a single human to pay.

I AM LIKE THAT BARBER, except I write articles, not cut hair. Johnny Robot is essentially my “writing machine.” He can crank out articles 20 times faster than any human. All Johnny needs is a headline and a few keywords, and he’ll spit out an article almost instantly. And “he” will write it in a way that Google will like, so the article will stand a good chance of ranking high in searches, ahead of websites like RVtravel.com that focus on the quality of the material, not cranking out generic content to please Google, which will attract lots of traffic and earn the “content creator” money.

Using “Johnny,” someone can set up a new website that looks professional (easy to do) and start posting articles one after another. For example, with my knowledge of how the web works, I could start a website about anything — say, about breeding hamsters. With no knowledge of the subject, I could earn an excellent income if I could write good “click bait” headlines, e.g., “Ten ways a hamster can energize your sex life!”



And that is what’s happening! Everywhere! Most of the articles written by artificial intelligence (AI) could be tweaked in a few minutes by someone with knowledge of the subject to ensure accuracy. Johnny does, in fact, make mistakes and at times offers bad or confusing advice. But the publisher of a website half a world away with hardly any knowledge of the English language doesn’t give a hoot about the value or accuracy of the content. He makes his money by simply getting you to click to his site. Ka-ching!

And here’s the rub for me and honest writers: Johnny’s service can be as little as $100 a month. What human being could turn out hundreds of articles in that time for $100? None!

At our staff meeting last week, we discussed Johnny. I believe all of us were disturbed. We’re all very committed to producing quality content, and we will not use Johnny except in rare cases where we have some special motive, most likely for entertainment value. For example, earlier today, I asked Johnny to answer five really stupid questions about RVing and here is the result. You will either find this funny or sad. Or, like me, both.

P.S. Read what I wrote last week about Johnny.



##RVT1052

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Dave Ferguson
1 day ago

The Luddite’s were terrified of the weaving looms. I agree with what you are saying (in concept) but it has gone on forever. Do you drive a truck to pull the camper, use a cloths washer, use a Dewalt drill. Why not saddle up a horse to pull a covered wagon, wash on a rock down by the river, chip out a hole with a stick. Those “robots” are “ok” and accepted. I was a programmer of controls equipment. There are programs to write programs out there. I mumbled and said they did a horrible job, and then they get better.

This has gone on forever and you either adapt or die……ask the farmhand who threw hay, when the hay baler was invented, the blacksmith shoeing horses, those {bleeped} cars. It stinks when it happens to you.

We have been automating for eons……We are all participants with our 401k’s and wanting the best price on widgets from Walmart and Amazon…..this drives stock prices and what is made, we think nothing of the people we lay off when we switch funds. Markets decide good or bad.

Last edited 1 day ago by Dave Ferguson
Dennis G.
5 days ago

Just read a New Travelers to Europe article today. As a veteran European traveler, there were a number of glaring errors in that article. If I had not been to Europe, and had not ‘been-there, done-that’, I would have been deceived.
Your insight on Johnny Robot is spot on. Novice readers, will often do what Johnny suggest,… often to the readers detriment. Maybe Google likes Johnny’s key words, and works cheap, but who really benefits?

Paul Fredendall
8 days ago

Oddly enough, I encountered what must be a robotic post on Facebook last week. It was an unsolicited article about failures in one brand of 5th wheel hitches. I own a load equalizing hitch from the same manufacturer and the two share some components, so I was interested.

In a nut shell, the article was an advertisement for another brand of 5th wheel hitch! There were no facts cited, just conjecture and possiblities. The writing was bland and simplistic, but it did contain a number of “hit phrases”. And to top everything off, the article concluded with a number of links to another brand of hitch, produced by a much larger manufacturer. It was a hit-piece, plain an simple.

Thank you for your journalistic work and honest reporting.

Pursuits
9 days ago

Not so much different than auto cameras which make everyone a photographer…in their mind!

Virginia Reeves
10 days ago

As a honest-to-goodness article writer myself and self-publisher of 55 eBooks, I am saddened that those who use AI and PLR (private label rights to articles others have written – maybe human and maybe not) call themselves writers. Tweaking something a tiny bit does not make you an author. We will have to be even more diligent in what we read and listen to.

Alex
10 days ago

Ah ha! With the exception of the Economist and Atlantic, all my news feed read alike! Now I know why … sending you quirky topic for Johnny to word smith.

Jim Langley
10 days ago

One of the worst parts of these robots, Chuck is that the robots create content by stealing content from other writers. This is plagiarism and violates copyright laws, but no one is doing anything to stop it as far as I’ve been able to tell.

Ray
10 days ago

If one is smart enough to be aware and wary of them, you can usually spot minor misuses of the language and/or the outlandish claims made in the article or video. However, AI is getting better at presenting ideas such that people lacking the maturity to doubt will accept as the truth. Unfortunately, there is an increasing portion of the population in that category, thru no fault of their own. They having been educated, or perhaps I should say entertained, with that purpose in mind.

Scott Davis
10 days ago

HAL 9000 a Genetically Modified Writer.

Richard Brandt
10 days ago

How can we tell if an article is written by a robot? The web must be full of them 🙁

John Macatee
10 days ago

Gawd, I think most articles are AI written. There should be a disclaimer at the top of each one giving you the AI’s country, company, & sources.

Stephen Malochleb
10 days ago

Oh Chuck you know you need to do the right thing. I know you have probably never done this before, but, I would tell Johnny Robot, (YOU’RE FIRED) and wait for his reply.

wanderer
10 days ago

Sickening news. We already have problems with internet searches returning junk sites or canned generic ‘typical searches’ where years ago they actually located your search terms. Add to this this garbage content, and it doesn’t look good for the future.

Dave
10 days ago

Someone is going to be really upset when they learn Q is really a bot built by Cyberdyne

Bryan
10 days ago

This has been an eye-opener for me! I’ve wondered why some articles I’ve read seem to have been written by someone with no more background in the topic than what they were told by their sister’s mailman’s plumber. I’ve shied away from those sites in the past but now will actively avoid them, after letting them know why.

Steve
10 days ago

Would always having a by line for the author be helpful?

KellyR
10 days ago
Reply to  Steve

Some of the stuff I have read does have a by line. BUT it appears to me that they used Johnny to write the article for them.

Jay
10 days ago

The internet has been a world changing invention, enabling information and misinformation with a few clicks. It’s up to the user to be a little critical about what they see on there, unless they just don’t care.

KellyR
10 days ago
Reply to  Jay

Jay, you are correct, except for: the newer generation that has gone to school on computers. And except for good parents, I doubt there is any Critical Thinking classes in school, at least until you go to college and take that course as an elective. Yep I’m a bet scared.

John Irvine
9 days ago
Reply to  KellyR

When I taught all the freshman took a critical thinking class, it was great.

John Irvine
10 days ago

Sad to say but Johnny probably knows grammer better but that few writers (not here of course). I wonder if real estate agents are using this in their property descriptions, if not maybe they should. People could write better 100 years ago that they do today.

Micheal Whelan
10 days ago

All this is true with the exception of one very important advantage the true author or artist or photographer has…. Johnny can not make meaningful personal appearances at rallies meetings and shows, Johnny can not do in person interviews and Johnny certainly can not set down and have a beer or a cup of coffee and discuss life at a bistro with me…. Johnny 0 Real Person SCORE!