Copywriters: Come with me if you want to live (in harmony with ChatGPT)

I come before you today, dear copywriter, as a sort of reverse Terminator:

A 𝖼̶𝗒̶𝖻̶𝗈̶𝗋̶𝗀̶ ̶𝖺̶𝗌̶𝗌̶𝖺̶𝗌̶𝗌̶𝗂̶𝗇̶ human dweeb sent 𝖻̶𝖺̶𝖼̶𝗄̶ forward in time from 𝟤̶𝟢̶𝟤̶𝟫̶ 2010 to 𝟣̶𝟫̶𝟪̶𝟦̶ 2023 to 𝗄̶𝗂̶𝗅̶𝗅̶ ̶𝖲̶𝖺̶𝗋̶𝖺̶𝗁̶ ̶𝖢̶𝗈̶𝗇̶𝗇̶𝗈̶𝗋̶ offer you some gentle reassurance,̶ 𝗐̶𝗁̶𝗈̶𝗌̶𝖾̶ ̶𝗎̶𝗇̶𝖻̶𝗈̶𝗋̶𝗇̶ ̶𝗌̶𝗈̶𝗇̶ ̶𝗐̶𝗂̶𝗅̶𝗅̶ ̶𝗈̶𝗇̶𝖾̶ ̶𝖽̶𝖺̶𝗒̶ as you wrestle with the question of how to save 𝗆̶𝖺̶𝗇̶𝗄̶𝗂̶𝗇̶𝖽̶ yourself from extinction by 𝖲̶𝗄̶𝗒̶𝗇̶𝖾̶𝗍̶ ChatGPT – a 𝗁̶𝗈̶𝗌̶𝗍̶𝗂̶𝗅̶𝖾̶ really quite useful artificial intelligence tool in our post-apocalyptic 𝖿̶𝗎̶𝗍̶𝗎̶𝗋̶𝖾̶ present.

So, 2010.

The year I finished my languages degree and started working as a freelance translator.

Back then, if you spent any time in the world of translation, one conversation topic dominated all others:

Machine translation.

(That’s translation done by a computer, to you and me.)

Google Translate was already four years old and improving by the day. And the doom-mongers were predicting that translation as a profession would pretty soon be toast.

There was a lot of hype, fear, anger and denial kicking about. Much of it similar to what we’re seeing today with ChatGPT.

For a novice like me, it wasn’t hugely motivating. And at times it felt like I’d made the mother, grandmother and extended maternal family tree of all career mistakes.

But I stuck with it.

And as time passed, and I learned to shut out the noise, I saw that machine translation wasn’t really making translators redundant at all*.

It was just creating different tiers of service and pricing. The three main ones being:

🤖 Machine only (£) – Words in, words out. For clients who’d never cared about quality and never would.

🤖 🤝 🧠 Machine plus human (££) – Known as machine translation post-editing (MTPE). Where a qualified translator or linguist reviews and corrects the machine output.

🧠 Human only (£££) – Where a skilled professional translates everything, using technology only for their own productivity. Used when a high level of creativity or specialist knowledge is needed.

*Well, it was replacing some people. But mostly just those at the bum end of the market who weren’t really qualified to provide professional translation in the first place.

I wanted to be in the top tier, as you do.

So I chose a niche – sports marketing and journalism – where specialist knowledge and creative thinking were valued. And where the machines wouldn’t be coming for me any time soon.

It worked. I found a regular supply of good clients, with not a single bit of translation robotry in sight. And I stayed busy until 2014, when I decided to take an in-house role.

I’ve been out of the translation biz for six years now. But I still keep an eye on things.

And while translation technology has improved immeasurably in the time I’ve been away, those three tiers of service don’t seem to have changed at all.

Most importantly, human translators still exist.

The good ones are still in high demand. And those who’ve learned to treat translation technology as a career enhancer, rather than a threat, have more opportunity than ever. Who would’ve predicted that 13 years ago?

I see things playing out in a similar way with ChatGPT and copywriting.

  • The high-volume, low-value stuff at the bottom of the market (and those who create it) will be replaced by raw AI output.
  • In the middle, copywriters will use their skill and expertise to improve the stuff the robots crank out. The role of AI copy(re)writer will become an actual thing, if it hasn’t already.
  • And at the top, not a lot will change. The copywriters cracking big creative briefs and solving high-stakes business problems will keep doing what they’re doing. But AI will be working hard for them – not the other way around.

So, my copywriting comrade – today’s the day you stop worrying about silly little chatbots.

Channel that energy instead into making yourself the sort of writer a robot can never replace.

Skill up. Niche down – whether that’s choosing a specialist subject or focusing on a particular type of copy. And master the AI writing tools before they master you.

Do all of that, and you don’t just have a future. You are the future.