Writing is a truly revolutionary advent in the course of human progression. The use of writing to record thought and provoke ideas and discovery spans the centuries of civilization. It allows for the free exchange and recording of ideas, allowing them to live far beyond the life of their creator. Indeed it is one’s ability to perfectly articulate meaning through writing that has lead to many of the world’s most significant inventions, discoveries, and works of art. It is a tool that has allowed humans to communicate across cultures and time periods, and its importance cannot be understated. These are just a few of the reasons AI assisted writing has grown in popularity in the last year.
To begin, what even is AI assisted writing? Simply put, a writer uses an AI program to help with the writing process. This can include things like grammar correction, spell checking, and even coming up with ideas. The technical explanation for how this works is fairly straight forward: a language model AI is constantly being fed the writer’s input and outputs predictions based on what it has learned. The writer can then choose to accept or ignore the suggestions. At the time of writing there are a great many AI Large Language Models, or LLMs for short. Currently the best one is GPT-3, a model created by OpenAI in 2020 and has billions of parameters helping to create its outputs.
Now that we have that basic explanation out of the way we can explore a few of the use cases for this novel concept. The most basic applications for this as covered above are basic proofreading and grammatical corrections being provided in real time. While it may not sound like much to the average person, as someone who frequently has to review drafts of publications this can be a serious time saver as well as removing a lot of the stress that writing at more advanced levels usually entails. Another aspect of AI assisted writing is the ability of the AI to keep track of things in a fictional environment. For example, to ensure in a fictional story things like plot holes don’t appear. While a novel series can take hours of rereading to ensure continuity is not broken, an AI can do the same task in mere seconds. This can allow for a much more streamlined and efficient writing process, not to mention the freedom it gives the writer to make last minute changes without having to worry about breaking previously established continuity.
Taking this to the next level, one can do far more than just editorial aspects with AI. The next big thing that can be done with AI assisted writing is the real time outlining and citation of academic level papers. This is an incredibly powerful use for the technology as it can save hours, if not days, of work for students and professionals who write regularly. By taking a few minutes to input the parameters of what is needed, the AI can then provide a detailed and accurate outline complete with citations that would otherwise take hours to compile. An interesting side note to this is the opposite ability: the ability of AI to create a thorough summary of otherwise long research papers, or even entire collections of papers. Papers that warrant farther information gathering can be read in full, while others the summary will suffice and save all that time that would have otherwise been wasted.
However, there are of course drawbacks to this technology. First, there is the potential for plagiarism if the AI is not configured correctly. Second, there is the potential for the AI to make mistakes in its editing or outlining, which could lead to wasted time and effort, in addition to risking the credibility of the person who signed their name to the document. Finally, there is the potential for the AI to simply be not as good as a human at writing, which would defeat the purpose of using it in the first place. The reason for this potential drawback of using AI to assist with writing is that the AI may not be able to produce work that is of the same quality as a human. This could be due to the AI not understanding the context of what it is writing, or simply not having the same level of creativity as a human. As current AI writing assistants are just LLMs (a far cry from even Proto-AGI in their current form) context and intuition are two things that must constantly be provided by the author using the program.
To someone acutely aware of my writing style, you may have noticed the slight difference in tone of this article. You would be correct as this article was written with the help of none other than GPT-3! I wanted to put the best model in the world through what I do for any given piece of literature my pen composes and I must admit I wasn’t disappointed. Usually an article like this one with the lightest of citations can still take hours spanning several weeks. With the AI assisting me I have composed this entire article in under two hours in one setting. That kind of time savings is not to be taken lightly.
While there are certainly many, many more use cases for AI in the field of writing as they become more advanced I would dare to say they are already quite useful. For any technology there is a point in which the practicality and affordability of a novelty reach equilibrium. For this application I think that threshold has been achieved. We will only continue to see adoption of this technology grow and the price continue to come down. Eventually and sooner than most think this technology will become available on hardware as lowly as a phone and it’s impacts will become ubiquitous. The discussion of low level AI and a future internet however, is one for another day.