Save the Human is a campaign founded by me a few weeks ago in response to the sudden furore around the rise of artificial intelligence programmes, particularly ChatGPT. For some, AI seems to have burst onto the scene, but we’ve all been using AI for a long time. Alexa, Siri, etc., are all examples of AI. This we know and appreciate when dealing with these tools. But how do we know we’re communicating with real people when we’re online? And when we’re consuming content from our favourite brands, how do we know it was written by real people rather than by artificial intelligence software? Do we care?

My feeling is that people do care. Or at least they do care about being informed. Many businesses use chatbots as an initial point of contact to cut waiting times. Many people accept that if a question can be answered quickly by a standardised response without needing a person to get involved (which invariably involves waiting), they’ll deal with a bot. In fact, we’ve all become quite conditioned to accept this process, even though I suspect most people don’t particularly like it. But in these instances, we know we’re interacting with a bot rather than a person in the first instance. What about those websites with pop-up chat boxes? They usually have a human face on the box, so it appears you’d be communicating with a human being. But are you? How do you know? Some customer service AI programmes are so advanced you might think you’re talking to a human. How would you feel to discover you’d been communicating with a programme?

I think most people would feel duped, somehow cheated, because they thought we were building a connection, however temporary, with another person. Much like that eye roll with a stranger on a train when someone falls asleep on your shoulder, and you’re too polite to wake them up. Or when someone’s taking forever to pack their bags and move off the checkout at the supermarket (which always happens when you’re in a hurry!) Human moments.

One tool I’ve been using in babelMonkey for many years is Grammarly. It started as a sort of advanced spell and grammar checker, and to be honest, in the early days, it wasn’t great, although, to be fair, it did a good job of teaching me about compound sentences. These days, Grammarly has advanced to a point where it makes suggestions for rewriting sentences, sometimes whole paragraphs, to make them more concise or clearer. That’s all well and good, but when you’re trying to inject a voice, a personality into the writing, this can have the effect of stripping out the personality of the storyteller and causing a jarring juxtaposition in the flow and style. There is a time and place for being concise, but for a piece written in a conversational style (such as this one), the brevity of sentences is used to underline a point. Grammarly also suggests alternative words, and that can be helpful for choosing a more impactive descriptor. Other times, the suggestions simply seem picky, as if you’re not writing in Grammarly’s tone of voice. For example, it might suggest switching ‘essential’ to ‘critical’ (I’ve not worked out why unless it’s simply giving you a real-time thesaurus). Sometimes though, it suggests nonsense like two paragraphs above where it wants to switch the word ‘box’ for ‘TV’ – which clearly wouldn’t make sense in the context of talking about human faces on chat boxes.

There are thousands of examples of AI tools out there now. There’s a tool for almost everything: want a tool to generate Powerpoint presentations? Try Slides AI. A tool to create avatars? Starrytars. AI to generate code? Replit. Then, there are other tools which really disturb me: for generating art and music – surely two cultural representatives which speak to the very essence of being human. It’s great for people like me, perhaps, who can’t draw for toffee, but using AI to generate a piece of artwork and then to claim it’s my work? To me, that’s taking disingenuousness to a whole new level. A bit like using AI to paint pictures with words – which is my art. I can’t help but feel the Lord of the Rings or the Harry Potter series would not have had the same magic had those stories been written by AI. And some of that is the magic perceived by the reader. The fascination for me is that Tolkien and Rowling came up with these strange and wonderful lands, colourful characters, and captivating storylines – that’s part of the magic: humans did this and did this with nothing but their imaginations.

As I write this, Grammarly is showing me 21 suggestions for changes. It will be an interesting exercise to write a piece in my style, then take all the suggestions and make a comparison, getting some opinions on what people think of the difference and whether they can tell.

In the meantime, I’m sticking to #SaveTheHuman.

About the author:

Sarah Marsh-Collings is a digital marketer whose love of stories was ingrained from an early age. After a varied career in Catering and then Recruitment, she moved into Marketing and finally founded babelMonkey in 2014. Growing up as a global nomad and gaining a BSc in Environmental Science (Earth Sciences), her life experiences and natural curiosity have given her a passion for helping others tell their stories. She currently resides in Belvedere, on the Kent/London border, where she enjoys walks with her Springer Spaniel and her rescued Brittany Spaniel and creating culinary experiences for friends and family.