And now for the second Good Talk piece this month, still not written by a robot. I’ve shared two pieces in such rapid succession because these stories warranted it: the one about whales and vocal fry (read it here in case you missed) because it was so seemingly a minor story, and this one about ChatGPT and AI-assisted writing because it’s so obviously major.
(If you have somehow avoided the frenzy about chatGPT and other AI-powered writing, click here for an explainer.)
I have the good fortune of coaching many thought leaders, and one – the leader of an Ivy League institution – shared with me his thoughts on AI and writing, and it’s about the best distillation I’ve encountered: AI will end writing as a product; it won’t end it as a process. In other words, anything that humans previously had to produce as an output – essays, homework, textbooks, certainly emails like these – will be created via AI. But the act of training the human mind to think critically and express itself with the necessary complexity to communicate profound ideas will still very much be relevant.
So the idea that AI will relieve us of the tiresome task of learning to write to develop our critical thinking and expression skills is probably false. If anything, it may make that process more essential! We’ve outsourced our sense of direction to GPS software to the point that lack of network coverage is a one-to-one correlation with being stranded. If we do the same with writing, it may well be that we strand ourselves with less ability to think and analyze.
An interesting corollary is this new technology for maintaining eye contact in video interfaces. The initial benefit here is painfully obvious: “I’ll look like I’m looking at the person, and therefore look good!” What’s not so obvious is this: many, many of the people I coach experience a significant improvement in the Content and Delivery of their presence when they focus on maintaining more organic, consistent eye contact. It’s not just that they create a better impression by looking attentive; maintaining eye contact actually helps them be more attentive, and therefore say more insightful stuff. Even more intriguing, for many of them the very act of keeping their eyes trained on a target (in this case another human’s eyes) makes their language more direct, linear, and devoid of non-fluencies.
Back to learning to think by learning to write, smarter folks than I have debated through the centuries if language is the progenitor of thought, or the other way around. Slice it anyway you like, having a well-developed and educated relationship to writing, ordering, and saying words helps you navigate existence. So AI won’t end Language for Learning.
You know what else will probably become more essential? Presentation skills. Don’t take it from me; listen to David Brooks in this column extoll the importance of being able to Talk Good and Stuff:
“Presentation skills. ‘The prior generation of information technology favored the introverts, whereas the new A.I. bots are more likely to favor the extroverts,’ the George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen writes. ‘You will need to be showing off all the time that you are more than ‘one of them.’’ The ability to create and give a good speech, connect with an audience, and organize fun and productive gatherings seem like a suite of skills that A.I. will not replicate.”
What to do, then? In my humble opinion – and it’s not just because I’m the founder of a communication training company – double down on building your skills with how Words Work, both on the page and out-of-the-mouth.
It’s the same advice I’ll be giving my two kids. Hopefully they’ll listen to me (so long as my avatar in their VR brain-stem interface uses free and released hand gestures and employs the 5 P’s of vocal variety to get their attention).