“These language models enable the automation of certain tasks that we’ve historically considered part of the creative process,” Olson told me. I couldn’t help but agree. Writing is less than half of my job; most of my work is reading and deciding what’s important enough for me to put in a paragraph. If I could train an AI to read as I do, and to determine significance as I do, I’d be essentially building a second mind for myself.
So Derek Thompson wants to oursource his research, and, as we saw yesterday, Noah Smith wants to outsource his writing. Is this boredom or frustration with the basic elements of their work universal among journalists these days?
I hope I’m not the only one, but just for the record: I like researching, and I like writing. I like the hard work of making my prose more clear and vivid. I like overcoming my ignorance. I like synthesizing the disparate things I read and then trying to present that synthesis to my readers. I like it all.
UPDATE: As I was walking this morning I suddenly understood the most fundamental thing that’s wrong with the way Smith and Thompson think about these matters: Smith assumes that at the outset of a writing project he already knows what he wants to say and just has to get it said; Thompson assumes at the outset of a writing project that he understands what he needs to know and just has to find a way to know it. But for me writing isn’t anything like that. For me writing is discovery, discovering what I need to say — which often is something I had no intention of saying when I set out. And some of the most important research I have ever done has been serendipitous: I have been looking for one thing and instead (or in addition) found something quite different, something I didn’t know I needed but, it turns out, is essential to me.