AI: a speechwriter’s friend, or foe?

Corporate speechwriter Caroline Neuenfeld thinks her colleagues should receive AI advances with gratitude and eagerness.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is taking the world of writing by storm. Not that it has written any Pulitzer-prize winning novels. Or a speech for the history books. But consider the many ways in which AI is already involved in content creation and editing. Don’t you—perhaps a member of the writing guild yourself—feel inclined to say “not yet”?

Many of us already use automatic editing and proofreading that goes far beyond those established word processing programs. Cloud-based software text editors that use AI for grammar check, spell check, stylistic issues or plagiarism detection, such as Grammarly, are clearly on the rise.

So are machine translation services such as Google Translate or DeepL.

These are all functions that assist a writer in making his work more polished, less flawed, and safer. But can AI actually write texts?

AI can write texts, but what about speeches?

Yes it can. It is not at all unusual these days that the creation of political news stories is automated. Some Breaking News stories have been written by AI, and several publishing houses test or already use AI to make their newsrooms more efficient – that is, let AI do the repetitive grunt work.

So what about speeches? An AI would probably be able to write a political stump speech. With a standard storyline, repetitive arguments and a few political slogans. An AI that has learned how to write political speeches that are remarkably similar to real speeches (which maybe says something about the originality of many of today’s political speeches) has already been created.

But what about those great landmark speeches that really touch people, inspire them, move them? Those speeches that go down in history and will be commemorated for their shining rhetoric? The kind of speeches that will be presented as masterpieces in speechwriting classes forever?

The kind of speech that Dain Dunston, speechwriter and novelist, maybe had in mind when he wrote: “A great speech reaches inside you and rips your heart out. And in its place it gives you a bigger heart. A heart that’s on fire with a passion to stand up and be counted. If you can do that in a speech, then you’re a great speechwriter.”

I don’t think that a machine, sophisticated as it may be, can ever produce such a speech. For once, great speeches are deeply personal. They reflect not only the wit of their author, but also heart and charisma. They tell a moving story, and they convey humanity – from a real person to real people. A really good speech that resonates with its audience relies almost entirely on emotional appeal, values, and compassion. On subtleties in ton and tenor that are born of intuition and instinct. And knowledge on the “big picture” and the target audience’s emotional needs. I doubt that this kind of human empathy can be replaced by a machine.

And would we want to know that a speech that literally moved us to tears was crafted by an algorithm? Some argue that if remarks aren’t a speaker’s own work, it doesn’t matter whether it originates from another person or a machine.

Personally, I wouldn’t like to learn that a speech that really touched me and maybe convinced me to donate or to vote for somebody or something was written by an AI. But I think that AI can be a great partner of speechwriters.

AI and speechwriters as partners

From the chess teams composed of a human expert and artificial intelligence, for example, we know that they are way more successful than teams made of AI or humans alone.

And there is the story about a Japanese AI that wrote a novel and almost won a literary prize. Almost, and though it didn’t win the final prize, the AI and its work it made it past the first round of screening.

But here’s the catch: The AI couldn’t have done this on its own. The team behind it was guiding it, deciding things like the plot and gender of the characters. They also helped select prepared sentences, which the AI then used to autonomously “write” the book.

For now, AI as a writer still needs humans to create the content that it processes.

But as a partner speechwriter, AI can already ease our life substantially. Apart from menial help like automated editing after writing, AI can do the necessary research before. It will find you the most useful and relevant information in the most efficient manner by analyzing and processing a huge amount of data.

And it can do more than just cough up information. AI can help us to overcome the dreaded writer’s block – when you stare at your screen and don’t know where to start. Because AI will also provide the connecting dots between existing ideas, theories or programs. It will come up with things we would maybe never have thought of to give us a starting point. Thus it can spark creativity and enhance our human imagination.

As one author puts it: AI cannot replace human creativity and idea generation, but it may be the greatest supplement to the human brain ever discovered.

A version of this article originally appeared at blog.telekom, the corporate blog of Deutsche Telekom.

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