How I Built My Own Guillotine

Image via MidJourney

I’ve been working on systems to streamline news gathering and blog creation for a while now and I built one of the first automatic news creators that I called CopyDesk.

The goal was simple: to make it easy for anyone to turn a press release or reporting notes into a news article and publish it to a WordPress site. This worked amazingly well and because I liked the product so much I worked on a new version, now called SublimeWire. It also works really well. You can try it here.

Image via SublimeWire

But I want to tell you a secret: I don’t want it to work.

I wrote about my original product a few months ago:

An app I wrote, Copydesk, can create journalism instantly. It takes in the truth and spits out the truth. It doesn’t hyperbolize, offer opinion, or lie. It can’t. It can hallucinate, sure, but it can’t lie.

But here’s the problem: I don’t want this app to exist. I can feed the app my notes — the who, what, where, when, and why — and it will write a news story instantly. This is amazingly dangerous. It puts journalists out of business and it opens the door to folks who will use these tools to practice propaganda.

SublimeWire is perfect for the solo head of content at a company. They can create an industry blog in seconds, rewriting press releases and news stories that can then be used to give their company a leg up in visibility. It’s great for PR people who need to summarize industries for newsletters and the like. And, as much as I hate to say it, it’s good for grey-slime content creators who want to blast out lowest-common-denominator content for SEO purposes.

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The problem is that a tool like Sublimewire will eventually be writing the news you read. That’s scary. The app works well, but it still needs a human in the loop to make the content fresh and exciting. It needs a human in the loop to add context and color. It needs a human in the loop to turn it into journalism.

I know that by building this tool I took another step up to the guillotine. I know that by building this tool I could put another journalist out of work.

But unless we figure out how to embrace and extend this technology, we’re doomed anyway. When anyone can write an acceptably good blog post, what good are writers? I’ll answer that rhetorical question with another rhetorical question: do you want a robot to tell you what’s happening in the world or do you want a human, from a human perspective?

You know the answer to both those questions. SublimeWire and other tools like it are just that: tools. Let’s put them into the right hands.

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