The AI is here, and it’s pumping out articles — inaccurate, messily copied, poorly disclosed ones — at a rate that I probably couldn’t achieve even if I skipped sleep, gave up eating, abdicated all hobbies and responsibilities, and forwent all those other annoying little human things that seem to get in the way of the glorious goal of making my company money.
That’s right. I work for Red Ventures, the company that owns the tech news site CNET, the financial advice sites Bankrate and CreditCards.com, and many more — sites the company is now pumping full of articles churned out by a shadowy AI system.
If you think about it, it makes laughable sense that CNET and Bankrate’s first attempt at a bot fell on its face. It’s just an algorithm. All it can do is spit out things that sound approximately right, lacking the inconvenient context of truth that a human with expertise would figure out.
A human freelancer might have a typo here or there, or maybe a misconception about APR versus APY. But an article by an AI can be total, authoritative-sounding gibberish. The poor editor in charge of fact-checking whatever the Machine produces isn’t looking for a needle in a haystack; they’re faced with a stack of needles, many of which look remarkably like hay.
The funny thing about it is that up until now, it’s been going down with very little fanfare for us employees. Each monthly meeting before the media storm, they gave us an update on how the Machine is progressing, usually in juxtaposition to how long it takes a human writer and editor to produce an article.
Look here. The bar graph shows a tall red line for Writing Time when it’s a human. The AI has a little sliver, hugging the ground like a stump. Isn’t that efficient?
But now look at Editing Time. The human writer is midway up the graph. They’re only human, after all. The AI’s bar, however, stretches high — it’s more than the combined writing and editing time for the humans.
We’re safe. I breathe a sigh of relief.
A month passes. They give us an update. The AI’s editing time is down a little more. Week by week, month by month, the tree is chopped shorter and shorter. Soon, it’s not only efficient — it’s sufficient.
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I had no idea when they started publishing articles with the AI. I don’t think many writers did. Maybe they were trying to avoid a fuss. Maybe they were just testing the waters.
Now the cat’s out of the bag. Readers are angry, journalists are angry, the staff here are angry, and higher-ups are sending out mass messages and holding meetings and promising us that it’ll all pass.
Because it’s going to pass, of course. The AI will continue whether morale improves or not. They’ve all but said it aloud. We’ve thrown those darn inefficient humans under the bus, they say, for not minding the bot well enough, and we’re so, so very sorry we were caught — I mean, we made those mistakes. We’ll do better. Be nice to us and our algorithm, pretty pretty please.
I’m going to do you a favor by telling you to drop the pretense of Red Ventures being a good or ethical or caring company when it’s using AI. The AI’s work is riddled with errors that will convince trusting readers to make bad financial decisions. It has the potential to be racist and biased. And it’s clearly plagiarizing from other sources.
But we aren’t the bad guys. Trust us on this one. At least, that’s what they’re telling us.
There’s an argument out there that claims text-generating AI is going to benefit humanity in the long run. How, you may ask? By robbing writers of their livelihoods? By recruiting an algorithm to craft stories, a core part of the human experience? By severing us further from human connection — the art of learning, of teaching, of writing by humans for humans?
Sure, it’ll make it easier to write SEO bait. But I really don’t think that was benefitting our species in the first place.
I’m friends with a lot of artists from college. They’re all in despair, of course, as they watch DALL-E and Midjourney and Stable Diffusion rip off their work and make perverted copies of a skill they took years to practice.
The book cover and movie poster and featured image commissions they used to pay the rent are going to disappear soon. No point in paying some pesky human and waiting for weeks when you can generate the image you want with a click.
Some of you might laugh at the idea of an AI taking us writers’ jobs. Don’t be ridiculous! It’s just going to supplement our jobs and let us focus on the real stories. Obviously.
And they’re right, in the sense that employers aren’t going to suddenly fire every writer and editor on staff because of AI. Few things happen all at once.
It’s going to squeeze. It’s already happening. The water is heating up. The sea is up to our knees, and it’ll keep rising. Writers are going to leave and they aren’t going to be replaced. Layoffs and resizings and restructurings will continue, and the sites will be told to do more with less, like it’s always been after the company decides to lean up.
But not to worry! We have the AI. We can hit our KPIs. We might have lost half the staff, but we can still keep up our outputs and clock out on time. Everything’s fine. Everything’s fine.
And what’s happening here is going to happen at other companies. The story will repeat. Someone else is going to have the same concerns I do. If they’re brave enough, they’ll even say it aloud. Few people will listen. Maybe higher-ups will respond with platitudes about Transparency and Responsibility and promise that it’s not as bad as everyone says it is.
Then a week later, there will be another meeting. Your clicks are down, the executives say. You haven’t published enough. You’re not up to standard. We know you can do better. Make it happen.
And so it marches on, directed by the banal evil of numbers.
I wonder about what the future will be like for my children. I wonder if they’ll have the same dreams of being a writer like I did when I was young. I wonder if that job will even be there when they grow up. Twenty years from now, will they cut their teeth on freelancing, learning and developing their style and getting their beat?
Or will it all be dried up? Will the door be closed forever, the ladder pulled up behind us, the last writers, our words used to feed the ever-starving algorithm?
(Of course, I’m just one of those silly folks filled with fear, uncertainty, doubt and misinformation about AI. C’mon, guys, Pet the wolf. It’s fine, it’s got sheep’s wool over it. Aren’t those big ol’ teeth just darling?)
I wonder what the executives in charge of the pop companies thought about what would happen when they switched to plastic bottles. Did they think of the floods of unrecyclable waste their product would end up producing? Did they think of the microplastics in the sand and in human placentas? Did they think of the Pacific Garbage Patch?
Of course they didn’t. They thought of how nice and cheap and lightweight plastic is. They thought of how much they’d save on shipping. They thought of the goal all these companies think of when the Sun sets: Money.
Is this how we want to be known? Red Ventures is going to be the company that led the charge on AI content. We’re the dam breaker, the Pandora’s box opener, the scientists who didn't stop to think if they should. What a legacy!
Other sites are going to follow. Some have already. Google’s going to be clogged with AI-generated content of dubious accuracy. Will it turn into an endless prism of echoes, as the algorithm scrapes articles from other algorithm-generated articles, over and over again? Will the cultural vernacular be changed when the majority of content we read is filled with the syntax and semantics of a robot?
I’m reading about teachers scrambling to find bot-checking tools to scan their students’ assignments. It’s easy to throw a prompt into ChatGPT and have it spit out a five-paragraph analysis, after all.
What’s the point of learning how to write, anyway, if we have a bot to do it for us? Why paint a picture when typing a prompt into Midjourney takes moments? Why chew food when there’s Soylent?
Let me be clear: I don’t hate AI. I am not a Luddite. I think machine learning could have the potential to solve some of humanity’s greatest problems, to free people from misery, and lift us to heights we never could have dreamed of.
But that’s not what AI is being used for now. All it’s doing is forcing writers away from their jobs, delivering a worse product to readers, and putting more money into corporate pockets off the hard work of others.
It’s unstoppable, of course. Red Ventures doesn’t care. They never will, no matter how much they say they do or will. Why would they? They’ve discovered the Infinite Journalist, capable of pumping out masses of content for pennies.
Red Ventures won’t listen, no matter how many ethical issues people rightfully raise. The only things they pay attention to are user clicks, revenue, legislation, and whatever Google decrees.
It’s my hope beyond hope that Google in particular will take a stance on this, if only to avoid its search results becoming clogged with garbage from an algorithmically-generated echo chamber. Time will tell.
I started my job wanting to write for people. I wanted to help them, to guide them, to reassure them that even in times of layoffs, even in economic turmoil, even in disasters and emergencies and everything else they could still dig themselves out of debt, they could still pull through and buy a house and build credit and fulfill the American dream.
Now it all feels false. The writer is vestigial, an obstacle, mere fodder for the Machine. The audience is mere fodder for clicks. Maybe that’s how it always was.
I’m sure this is going to make a lot of people angry. Is there such a thing as loyalty when employees can go around writing long-winded essays about their companies being part of systematic, technology-fuelled devastation? Then again, loyalty goes both ways. And I know where Red Ventures’ lies.
And at least I could make them angry in the only way I know. Loquaciously, selfishly, human.
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