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PHIL SIMON

Award-winning author, dynamic keynote speaker, trusted advisor, & workplace tech expert 

Can AI improve atrocious writing?

Yes, but that's the wrong question to ask.
Jan | 4 | 2024

 

Jan | 4 | 2024
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Way back in May 2021, I wrote a post about how not to start a book. Although not even three years ago, my rant reflected a very different world. For starters, generative AI tools like ChaptGPT didn’t exist in their current form.

I recently revisited that post and the cringeworthy prose that inspired me to write it. I asked Bard if it could simplify these two objectively awful sentences that introduce an unfortunate 2020 book:

Building on the arguments of our previous foray into this topic, this book envisions the emergence of the Fifth Wave in American higher education—a league of colleges and universities, spearheaded initially by a subset of large-scale public research universities, unified in their re­solve to accelerate positive social outcomes through the seamless integration of world-class knowledge production with cutting-edge technological innovation and institutional cultures dedicated to the advancement of accessibility to the broadest possible demographic representative of the socioeconomic and intellectual diversity of our nation. The Fifth Wave primarily augments and complements the set of American research universities, which, for reasons that will readily become apparent, we term the Fourth Wave, but will also comprise networks of heterogeneous colleges and universities whose frameworks are underpinned by discov­ery and knowledge production, and institutional actors from business and industry, government agencies and laborator­ies, and organizations in civil society.

Here’s my prompt:

Click image above to embiggen it.

Not surprisingly, Bard was up to the task:

Again, click the image above to embiggen it.

This begs the question: Does Bard’s rewrite accurately summarize the author’s original intent?

I’m not sure. I sure as hell am not going to read the entire dense book or subject my ears to it. (My ears and eyes are thanking me as I type these words.) One can’t argue, though, that Bard’s output is at least more digestible than the original claptrap. It’s not even close.

Learn to write well—or hire a coach or ghostwriter who can do it for you.

As I write in The Nine, genAI tools are only going to improve and become more ubiquitous. Still, it’s presumptuous and counterproductive to make your readers need to use them to understand what you mean.

Simon Says: The onus is on authors before publishing their books, not on readers after those books arrive.

The answer to the question I pose in this post appears to be an unequivocal yes, but so what? (At the very least AI can make stitled scribes write like humans.)

There’s still no excuse for submitting writing this horrendous. It reflects a remarkable lack of self-awareness. The presence of Bard, Claude 2, and their ilk does not change that simple fact. Here’s the money quote from this post, though: Authors need to make their messages clear before publishing. They cannot and should not expect readers to attempt to decipher their inscrutable words after a book goes to print.

If anything, the explosion of generative AI makes publishing gobbledygook like this even less acceptable than it was in 2021. (When presented with a mess, discerning readers will fairly ask a question like, “Why couldn’t you take a few minutes to run your text through Grammarly, for God’s sake?”)

Brass tacks: Learn to write well—or hire a coach to help you or a ghostwriter who can do it for you.


 

On a different note, RIP to Tom Wilkinson. This scene still blows my mind (NSFW).

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