Over the past few months, we have seen an explosion of interest and exploration of new Artificial Intelligence tools — particularly writing generators or "writing assistants".
This huge sudden attention arose in our niche by the recent release of Notion AI (limited release at this stage), and more broadly by the free ChatGPT from the artificial intelligence company OpenAI. (You can try it here for free, click the "Try" link in the top-of-page banner)
I have had early access to Notion's new alpha-stage AI writing tool for a while now. It's certainly convenient to have it right there on every page, in every block when working in Notion. But is it useful? Let's explore and compare with the suddenly-famous alternative, ChatGPT.
What is AI Writing Software?
I've been drilling deep into the AI rabbit hole on both of these to see how they might be useful for productivity or personal growth. These new AI tools are quite good, they form sentences and paragraphs that address most questions or requests and can sound surprisingly human, matching a tone of voice or personality as requested (funny, witty, academic, or matching a known personality such as in the voice of famous writers or modern celebrities). They're not replacements for people in most cases, but they can help users go further and create faster — opening new avenues of exploration and expression.
AI writing algorithms work by looking at the vast samples of input they have been trained on, then go word-by-word assigning a selection from the immense data samples — calculating what is most likely to be the best word to follow one-by-one through the sentence, based on the information provided in the assignment (or "prompt"). In rare cases, they can fail a plagiarism test (there are tools to test this), but those failures are about .001% of the time according to the AI algorithm creators. They are generating original sentences virtually all of the time.
Can you imagine being a school teacher giving your students a writing assignment in the age of AI writing apps?
How Good is AI Writing at this point?
Ali Abdaal did an experiment posting a Twitter thread almost completely compiled by an AI writing app called Lex which uses the same back-end AI as ChatGPT, but Ali kept the AI authorship secret. It quickly became one of his highest-performing Twitter threads of all time — he confesses and breaks down the experiment here.
However, I'm struggling to find a place for these tools at the core of my work. I share through a personal lens, filtering my observations — coloring and shading these ideas with my experiences, learnings, and perspectives. I try to identify the essential ingredients to a successful life and then (hopefully) enable these insights to resonate with others.
The AI writing results I have seen are generic or broad overviews — while specifics and personal references are more valuable and helpful. I'm sure AI text generators will get better, but they seem far from sharing authentic experiences through their words. They are drawing on human experience, so it is potentially possible that they could do this. These AI algorithms are trained on massive sample sets of human writing. But the output seems determined to be vague and efforts to push it into specifics increasingly result in false information.
You can see for yourself. I gave Notion AI and ChatGPT a series of prompts (questions and tasks) and here are the results, side-by-side.
Practical Use Cases for AI Productivity Today
I see four immediately useable and practical applications with the currently available AI writing assistants (or coming very soon, in the case of Notion AI).
1. Summarizing Long Articles or Meetings
The summarization capabilities of the AI writing tools are impressive. Give it a long written passage — a formal article or a transcript from a call — and the AI will give you a summary in whatever length you specify (2 sentences, 5 sentences, 300 words, or whatever).
I entered my blog post "The #1 Thing You Need to Track" into ChatGPT with the prompt "Summarize the following article in 4 sentences". It produced this summary of the full article:
"The most effective way to track daily progress and improve one's life is to rate each day on a scale of 1 to 10, with 5 being average. Anything above or below 5 should be accompanied by a note explaining why the day was above or below average. This practice brings clarity and awareness, allows for daily insights and self-reflection, and allows for gradual improvement over time. By rating each day and reflecting on the reasons for the rating, individuals can identify patterns and make small improvements that can have a significant impact on overall satisfaction and success."
Not bad. Imagine having every meeting or every valuable article you read saved with a succinct summary to easily review as needed. Or perhaps your highlights from your favorite book chapters, condensed into the key points.
2. Starter Drafts
You can use this software to get started on your writing. Often the blank page is the most intimidating moment and leads to a psychological block. If you can effortlessly generate in the initial draft to then build upon and refine, that may reduce startup challenges.
In practice, I found this to be helpful in the opposite way — I was not happy with the results of the drafts, but it was clear to me why I didn't like them. That reaction got ideas flowing about what was really needed. The shortcomings immediately sparked new thoughts for me to start writing about — moving away from the AI draft.
3. Create Better Titles
For content creators, titles matter a lot. Blog posts and YouTube videos can live or die by their titles — regardless of how good the content is. If no one is intrigued by the title, nobody reads or watches.
Similar to summarizing, AI engines can read an article or a video transcript and generate 10 Title ideas to choose from — applying each platform's known best practices.
For fun I asked ChatGPT "Write 10 clickbait titles for this blog article" and gave it the article you are reading right now, here is what it produced:
- "Revolutionary AI Writing Tools: Are They the Future of Writing?"
- "Notion AI vs ChatGPT: Which AI Writing Tool Reigns Supreme?"
- "AI Writing Assistants: A Game-Changer for Writers?"
- "The Pros and Cons of Using AI Writing Tools"
- "AI Writing Tools: A Threat or Opportunity for Writers?"
- "Get a Head Start with These AI Writing Tools"
- "Maximize Your Productivity with These AI Writing Tools"
- "The Rise of AI Writing Tools: What You Need to Know"
- "Discover the Wonders of AI Writing Tools"
- "Is the Future of Writing Here? A Review of Notion AI and ChatGPT"
4. List or Bullet Point Generators
The AI writing tools are great at spitting out lists in whatever quantity you specify, again sparking ideas and points to cover in your work or thinking. Here's an example with actual AI results:
I asked ChatGPT "What are the 5 best foods for vitamin D?". It said:
"Vitamin D is a nutrient that is essential for maintaining strong bones and teeth, as well as supporting immune system function. It can be difficult to get enough vitamin D through diet alone, as it is found naturally in very few foods. Here are five of the best food sources of vitamin D:
1. Salmon: This fatty fish is an excellent source of vitamin D, with a 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving providing almost half of the daily recommended intake.
2. Cod liver oil: This is one of the best natural sources of vitamin D, with a tablespoon providing more than the daily recommended intake. Cod liver oil is also high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have numerous health benefits.
3. Mushrooms: Certain types of mushrooms, such as maitake and shiitake, can be a good source of vitamin D. They are also a good source of other nutrients, including selenium, potassium, and B vitamins.
4. Egg yolks: Egg yolks are a good source of vitamin D, with one large egg providing about 10% of the daily recommended intake. They are also a good source of other nutrients, including protein, iron, and choline.
5. Fortified foods: Some foods are fortified with vitamin D, which means that the nutrient has been added to them. Examples of fortified foods include milk, orange juice, and cereals.
It is important to note that while these foods can be good sources of vitamin D, they may not provide enough of the nutrient on their own. Getting enough vitamin D through diet alone can be difficult, and many people may need to get additional vitamin D through supplements or exposure to sunlight. It is always a good idea to talk to a healthcare provider about the best way to meet your vitamin D needs."
This could pose a real threat to Google's search engine supremacy.