Google’s AI pitch is a recipe for email hell

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From The Verge:

Of all the emotions I expected out of this week’s Google I/O keynote, “dread” was not on my short list. Google has spent a couple of decades creating products that make my life easier. This week, it demonstrated the exact opposite: a way to make communicating with other people worse.

Google I/O, this year, was focused on artificial intelligence, and one of its centerpieces was prompt-based text generation, particularly in Google’s office suite. At several points throughout the keynote, it demoed a system called “Help me write” — which rewrites simple prompts in Gmail and other apps as more polished paragraphs of text. But more polished doesn’t automatically mean better.

Good writing can delight us with an intriguing turn of phrase. It can tell us something about how a person thinks and feels. Or it can offer some kind of useful detail about the world. And there’s no reason AI can’t play a role. I’ve seen authors use generative tools to create unexpected prose or summarize data in a readable way. I’m excited to see people explore new uses for it.

But Google’s onstage ideas were almost impressive in their ability to serve precisely none of writing’s core purposes. Its examples of Help me write calcify the worst tendencies of “professional” communications. They’re bland, bloated boilerplate that turns a human prompt into something that uses more words to say less.

Let’s look at one of the examples. Early in the keynote, a presenter auto-generates a job description for a textile design position that they (in the demo’s scenario) send into the world. Later, another presenter responds to it, supplying the following prompt:

interested! 8 years exp with intl brands. Call on Tuesday.

Help me write works its magic and produces the following:

Hi Lori,

Thank you so much for reaching out! I am very interested in the Senior Textile Designer position at Cymbal. I have 8 years of experience working with international brands, and I am confident that I have the skills and experience that you are looking for.

I am available for a call on Tuesday at your earliest convenience. Please let me know what time works.

The latter version is obviously the way you’re expected to apply to a job because, written by a human, it suggests you’re committed enough to type out a multi-paragraph reply and are capable of hitting certain class and cultural signifiers. An AI-generated response doesn’t serve either of those purposes, though. It was created almost instantly based on a predictive text system that requires minimal English-language competency, and so far, that system can only handle fairly formulaic writing; it won’t substitute for human work in many real-world situations. So all it does is construct a longer and more stilted version of the original prompt — one that probably only has value until everyone expects it was written with AI.

And even worse, the AI generation reinforces the idea that overenthusiastic US business speak is the required way to write, regardless of whether it’s a necessary skill for the job. I’ve seen thoughtful stories about people with dyslexia using ChatGPT to produce text that is — as a Washington Post article puts it — “unfailingly professional and polite.” But there’s an unspoken, simpler alternative: being willing to accept wider variations in how people communicate. I don’t begrudge anyone who uses AI writing to meet largely arbitrary standards, but at a society-wide level, it’s a linguistic arms race toward a more boring future.

Link to the rest at The Verge

PG expects business emails to be changed quite a bit when AI is frequently used.

“Is that your real opinion or was it an Ai screwup?”

“I hope your AI prompt wasn’t as offensive as the email you just sent me.”

“Since it’s obvious your AI wrote your email, I’m having my AI respond.”

“Let’s get your AI together with my AI to work this out.”

1 thought on “Google’s AI pitch is a recipe for email hell”

  1. My regular AI is on vacation so this memo will seem off.

    I’ve had to change AIs. HR caught my AI harassing another AI and fired it.

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