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Forbes Is Using AI to Create Content & (Surprise!) Now I Want My Own Robot

Forbes Is Using AI to Create Content & (Surprise!) Now I Want My Own Robot Blog Feature

Liz Moorehead

Director of Web & Interactive Content, Speaker, Host of 'Content Lab' Podcast

January 4th, 2019 min read

Forbes now uses a CMS called Bertie. Bertie uses artificial intelligence to suggest headlines and propose topics for contributors based on their publication history. 

"That's nice."

OK, here's the "big deal" news.  The team at Forbes is currently testing an AI-driven tool within Bertie that gives Forbes writers a very rough draft to build upon, instead of having them start a new article from scratch. 

In addition to starting copy, this "rough draft" might include links to other resources -- both internally from Forbes, as well as other sites -- and images. 

Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

What do content marketers, publishers, and media companies need to be thinking about and doing now to future-proof their content creation infrastructure?

And what new questions do we now need to answer?

Why Forbes' Use of AI in Content Is Good

I have the reactionary temperament of a hormonal teenager not getting asked to prom by her crush whenever I learn about massive shifts in our industry -- particularly those that involve robots that may or may not try to take my content job from me one day.

That said, I find myself positively elated by this AI development for two big reasons. 

#1: It Solves for Common Pain Points & Makes the Writing Process More Efficient 

Given that more than a handful of writers and content creators -- myself included -- have spent so much time wringing our hands about how robots are conspiring to replace us, we've never given much thought to how robots can help us instead.

"The tools (within Bertie) are not designed to produce something that a contributor or reporter would feel comfortable publishing as is. Instead, (Forbes Chief Digital Officer SalahZalatimo said, they are more like thought-starters, designed to get contributors’ creative juices flowing. That’s partly a function of artificial intelligence’s limitations, and partly because reporters and contributors would rather make the pieces their own.” (Source)

The rise of artificial intelligence doesn't have to be a zero-sum game.

In fact, what we're being told about Forbes' Bertie shows us that we can become better, more efficient writers and content publishers with expanded strategic capacity through a supportive, symbiotic relationship with robots. 

How many of you find your biggest roadblock in writing a piece of content is the fact that you have to create something from nothing?

Now, imagine that -- instead of a blank screen that mocks you with its neverending nothingness -- you are given a rough draft that already has some completed research included, links to articles on the same topic that you've already published on your site (and may have forgotten to include), and more?

Rather than having to create something from nothing, we begin with raw materials that provide immediate inspiration. 

#2: AI Can Empower Publishers to Increase Output 

Whether you're a publisher or a business who understands they also need to be a media company to be successful, we're all facing the same challenge. 

The 24/7 news cycle has created a ripple effect that has crossed over from the newsroom to the marketing department. 

There is a built-in consumer expectation now that when "news breaks" -- from the government shutdown to (in our case) HubSpot changing the name of a tool -- an individual will be able to get almost instantaneous contextual feedback from trusted publishers and resources. 

For example, when the political world explodes, I find myself immediately refreshing my podcast feed over and over until a new episode of NPR Politics appears. And even though I know I'm being ridiculous, I'm annoyed when my immediate need for content gratification isn't met. 

So, we need to be creating more content. Faster. 

The Washington Post has been using AI for a few years now to produce more content faster. In 2017 alone, WaPo robot reporter Heliograf published more than 850 stories

Of course, those 100% robot-reported stories weren't complex in nature, nor were they designed to be.

"Media outlets using AI say it’s meant to enable journalists to do more high-value work, not take their jobs. The AP estimated that it’s freed up 20 percent of reporters’ time spent covering corporate earnings and that AI is also moving the needle on accuracy. 'In the case of automated financial news coverage by AP, the error rate in the copy decreased even as the volume of the output increased more than tenfold,' said Francesco Marconi, AP’s strategy manager and AI co-lead." (Source)

Again, although this use case suggests taking human writers out of the equation entirely for certain types of stories, the end goal is to free-up their capacity to create more high-impact stories, articles, and features. 

What Content Marketing Leaders & Publishers Need to Be Asking Themselves Now

This may sound like one of those, "Well, isn't that nice for them," stories. However, if you're a content marketing leader or publisher, this story should be forcing you to find the answers to the following questions:

  • How do we help our content people be more successful? We know we need to create content. But what can we be doing more of, less of, or differently right now to empower our thought leaders, business "beat reporters," and other various content writers to feel less friction in their process and be more efficient, while also allowing them to spend more time on the stories and tasks that matter?

  • What kind of content organizations do we want to build? The frequency of news-worthy change and innovation, especially within the context of AI and technology, is only increasing. So, before we react, we need to define what value we want to provide that meets the demand of our target audience and differentiates us from our competitors. If we don't define a clear mission and purpose for our content organizations, we will not be able to be strategic in our reactions and responses to change. 

  • And as we continue to architect and refine broader visions of the future for our content organizations, what should we be investing in? What types of technology and different tools do we need? What dimensional network of writers -- in-house and/or outsourced -- do we need to be building right now? What kind of talent do we need to be investing in? What should our content org chart look like?

(I'd like to think some of you were already asking yourself at least one or two of these questions, but let's just say if you weren't, now is the time to start.)

I Do Have a Nagging Question, Though

I said in the title I want a robot of my own. Adorable as that may sound, I'm not kidding. Unfortunately, I'm going to hazard a guess that this kind of AI-driven content technology isn't exactly cheap.

So, while this is a big deal for the Forbes and Washington Posts of the world, how long will it take for this kind of opportunity to scale down enough for small and mid-sized publishers to reap the same kind of rewards?

As things currently stand, only a few major players are able to enjoy the perks of having robot content assistants, while the rest of us twiddle our thumbs, as we wait for the accessibility of AI to appear. 

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