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Are human writers becoming obsolete?

Before we knew better it was predicted that the Internet would make newspapers and magazines obsolete. But now we can see that most people who read these things do so on their smartphones.

It’s starting to look like the Internet has resulted in more reading rather than less. But does that mean that we now have more writers? And if so, what are they doing and what is their future?

Since I’m a writer (of sorts) this is something that is of great interest to me. Is it possible that I will become obsolete because all the future writing will be done by computers? Can they write better than me? Is it possible that in the end computers will do all the writing? If so, what is left for human writers like me? If I am going to become obsolete, what things will need to be invented in order for that to happen?

Are there entrepreneurial opportunities in the field of automated writing that I could participate in? That anyone else could participate in? Let’s look at all that to see if I, as well as other writers, have any kind of future at all.

Can human writers beat the AIs?

Check this out from Wired magazine: “The Associated Press uses software to generate news stories on corporate earnings reports. Fox auto-generates some sports recaps that appear on its Big Ten Network site, while Yahoo uses similar technology to create fantasy sports reports custom-made for each of its users.”

Or this: “Article Forge uses incredibly sophisticated deep understanding algorithms to automatically write articles in the same way that a human does. These deep understanding algorithms allow Article Forge to research ANY topic, exactly like a human does. Article Forge reads millions of articles, learning everything it needs to know so that it can write about any topic in its own words.”

I think this field is going to split up into a couple of areas. There will be the commodity articles and the high-end articles. Big Data ensures that the AIs can have precise knowledge of the cognitive biases of any individual. So the commodity articles will be general content specifically targeted at and customized for specific, named individuals and to their precise interests and cognitive biases. Human writers of course cannot do this. So the vast majority of writing will be commoditized but very attractive to the intended readers. Human writers will disappear from this market.

You might think that I’m arguing that there will be a high-end category where only humans can write articles that are highly insightful where AI cannot compete. Nope. I don’t believe that at all.

AI apps will soon be able to write highly insightful articles too and most humans will believe that it could only have been written by a human. Check out computer apps such as Wordsmith from Automated Insights. So even the production of insight will soon be mastered by AI apps too. And, of course, they are going to have the advantage over a human writer that they know the cognitive biases of the reader so can customize the article in ways that would be impossible by a human.

So is there anything that a human can write that an app can’t that will be better than what the app can do, even when it is intimately knowledgeable about a person’s specific cognitive biases and even his current emotional state?

It’s a difficult question but here’s my answer. I think it has to do with words and concepts like irrational, quirky and idiosyncratic. We could even throw in the American slang word “whacko” to denote people who are a little crazy and unpredictable. People maybe like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos or Richard Branson. Of course we could also include the classic whackos like James Joyce and Eugene Ionesco – could an AI create something in the genre of the Theater of the Absurd?

In other words we’re talking about people and ideas that are either on the fringe, or even a little beyond it. People like this think in ways that are not programmed in any sense. They link concepts from totally disparate areas in ways that appear senseless or irrational. I think that’s going to be difficult for AI apps for quite some time.

Maybe the AI apps will be able to take over in this area when they taught how to think irrationally. But even humans really don’t understand much or anything about that currently so I don’t think the AI apps can catch up until humans have cracked the code on irrationality and apparently senseless propositions.

However there a downside here. Just as AI apps are going to have problems catching up in this area, so too are most human writers. The likelihood is that the commodity writers will have to find another job. They won’t be economically competitive against AI apps that will produce good content tailored to specific individuals and most won’t be able to produce the quirky articles that AI apps cannot (at the moment at least).

So the outlook is that in writing there will be much more content which is much more attractive to most people which will lead to significantly more readers, of whom a higher proportion will be more satisfied than with articles written by humans.

There will be a much smaller amount of ultra-high-value content written by humans which will be read by far fewer people to whom it isn’t customized. These people will form their own intellectual elite.

I think many of these humans will be contracted by the AI app people to give them their secrets so that the AI apps can be improved further. So I think even the remaining human writers will become app developers rather than writers. Writers will become obsolete, just like scribes in old times who used to write the beautiful and artistic characters and letters in old books. Writers now are becoming scribes and even that will end.

What about publishers?

The vast majority of publishers will become AI app operators. Give a subject to an AI app and give it a database of people who it must target.

The few remaining publishers will have to go upmarket and will have a much smaller readership. However readers will be the intellectual elite so advertising rates will be high. These readers will also form the nuclei of new social networks which will be ultra-high value-add and of great interest to certain companies – e.g. executive search, tech companies, venture capital, who will pay high rates to be able to connect into these networks

Most publishers will change their business model to AI publishing. They will use the neural targeting information provided by neural marketing companies that specialize in identifying and measuring the cognitive biases of millions of people.

This neural marketing information will be provided by both new companies specialized in this task and traditional marketing companies. A few of the traditional publishing companies will transform themselves into neural marketing companies.

Publishers who don’t adapt to the new AI publishing model and who don’t become neural marketing companies will go out of business. That’s the creative destruction of capitalism as originally set out by Joseph Schumpeter. That principle is still alive and kicking, even stronger than ever. It’s about to mow down most of the traditional publishing industry.

It’s a new game. We might not like it but it will come.

  1. My advice; if you are a publisher, form a company to get into the cognitive bias analysis area if you really want to do something new and impactful.
  2. If you are outside the industry form a new company to conduct neuro-marketing based on cognitive biases. Particularly focus on ways to re-engineer data from social media, and from facial recognition.
  3. If you already doing AI writing, focus on new ways to develop insights, based on new models of mixed rationality, as have been emerging from behavioral economics and behavioral finance.

Then hold on for an exciting (or depressing) ride (depending on whether you are a disintermediated or unemployed writer or a gung-ho AI publisher!

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