A journalist and a robot sub-editor having a lively debate over some copy

Adversarial AI: A Tool for Self-Improvement in Journalism

Getting AIs to write instead of you is for the mediocre. If you want to be great at what you do, get an AI to challenge you.

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

In journalism, the integration of artificial intelligence has sparked both curiosity and apprehension, for very obvious reasons. Many hacks are understandably worried that it’s a threat to their jobs. However, Mike Masnick of Techdirt points towards an alternative approach. He has been using AI not to write copy for him, but to help him elevate his writing:

I have been using some AI tools over the last few months and have found them to be quite useful, namely, in helping me write better. I think the best use of AI is in making people better at their jobs. So I thought I would describe one way in which I’ve been using AI. And, no, it’s not to write articles.
It’s basically to help me brainstorm, critique my articles, and make suggestions on how to improve them.

He asks the AI to make suggestions about what he’s already written, and if they’re better, he adopts them, but with rewriting to make them even better. He uses it to push himself to be a better writer than the AI.

And that’s an interesting idea.

Adversarial AI to make us better

I’m fascinated by the idea of adversarial AI as a technique for forcing humans to get better. I first came across the idea at NEXT Conference in Hamburg last year, where Harry Yeff talked about how he used it to hone and improve his performances. He trained an AI model on his own voice, and started duetting with it:

Yeff’s experience was that, as he reached the pinnacle of his skill set, there was less challenge, less to learn from and draw from. He loved hearing and being challenged with these new ideas coming from his second self. “That was the ‘ah-ha’ moment, when I realised I was being challenged in new ways,” he says.

His interview is worth a watch:

AI as automated editor and sub-editor

And that brings us back to Masnick, using AI to challenge his own writing. He uses Lex.page, an AI-infused word processor, as a form of combined editor and sub-editor, but only once he’s written his piece:

While it said my opening was good, I wondered if it could be better, so I asked it for suggestions on a better opening. And its suggestions were good enough that I actually did rewrite much of my opening. My original opening had jumped right in to talking about “There I Ruined It,” and Lex suggested some opening framing that I liked better. Of course, it also suggested a terrible headline, which I ignored. It’s rare that I take any suggestion verbatim, but this time the opening was good enough that I used a pretty close version (again, this is rare, but it does often make me think of better ways to rewrite the opening).

This is a much more compelling use of AI. Don’t stuff your site full of deeply mediocre AI-generated content, just like everyone else is. Instead, use it to help drive you to do better work.

As a one-man band here on OM&HB, the one thing I’ve always missed is someone to challenge, push and edit me. That’s why I’ve enjoyed writing for NEXT so much over the past decade; I have Martin Recke to perform that role for me.

I’m going to have a look at Lex.page in the coming weeks — and let you know how I get on.

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.