Almost Timely News: AI Content Is Preferred Over Human Content (2023-12-03) :: View in Browser

Almost Timely News

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What’s On My Mind: AI Content is Preferred Over Human Content

Today, let’s talk about a really, really important paper in generative AI. This is from September of 2023, so it’s not terribly old, but it’s very interesting. The title of the paper and the study is Human Favoritism, Not AI Aversion: Peopleโ€™s Perceptions (and Bias) Toward Generative AI, Human Experts, and Human-GAI Collaboration in Persuasive Content Generation, by Zhang et al, from the MIT Sloan School of Business.

Let’s dig into what the study did. Working with consulting firm Accenture, the study looked at 4 different content creation scenarios: human only, AI generated and human edited (what they call human augmented), human generated and AI edited (what they call AI augmented), and pure AI generated. They did this with the GPT-4 model in the consumer ChatGPT interface, the same one you and I pay $20 a month for.

Participants had to create 5 pieces of persuasive copy and 5 pieces of straight up ad copy. Each piece of content had to be 100 words or less. The ads were for an air fryer, projector, electric bike, emergency kit, and a tumbler; the persuasive copy was for five causes – stop racism, recycle, get more exercise, wash your hands, and eat less junk food.

After they gathered the created materials, they enrolled 1203 participants to score the content in a survey. The population was gender-balanced with a median age of 38. They were broken into 3 groups – uninformed that AI was involved, partially informed, and fully informed. Partially informed meant the survey participants knew AI was involved, but they didn’t know whether any given piece was generated by AI or not. Fully informed meant they know whether a specific piece was generated by AI or not.

They were specifically asked 4 key questions for each piece of content – satisfaction, willingness to pay, and interest for the ad content, and persuasiveness in the persuasion content.

So, what happened?

Well, this is going to make a lot of people uncomfortable.

The AI content was rated higher than human content, across the board. And in groups where people didn’t know whether the content they were reading was AI or not (partially informed) or had no idea where the content came from (uninformed), survey participants found AI content more satisfying than human or human-led content.

Well, it’s been nice knowing you.

Here’s an even more interesting twist: when people did know that AI generated the content, they rated the content more favorably – a clear bias for humans. However, when they knew AI generated the content, the raters didn’t ding AI for being the creator. So people may favor human-led content, but they don’t penalize AI for AI-generated content.

What does this all mean? It means that for anyone in content creation, the use of AI isn’t going to harm your marketing. In the uninformed trials, AI content outperformed human content, both for ads and persuasive content. That’s a big deal – it means that the machines did a better job than highly-paid consultants. And in cases where people knew AI was at work, they didn’t downrate the content because of AI, though they did bias themselves more favorably towards human content when they knew it was human-led.

This means that fears AI is going to create a sea of garbage may be overblown. Certainly, skillful use of AI will lead to skillful content, and unskilled use of AI will lead to the same boilerplate marketing garbage we read all the time. But the cost and time savings are massive; highly-paid consultants invested a lot of time and effort into their tasks (though the study didn’t say how long), and ChatGPT spent seconds. The authors point out there are massive capital savings to be had, when AI generates better results than humans in a fraction of the time – and those results are measured in real-world tests, not synthetic benchmarks.

The critical takeaway for many of us is that disclosing the use of AI didn’t harm survey participants’ perception of the content quality. That means it’s safe to use AI to generate content AND tell the truth about it, that you used AI to generate the content.

The human bias also means that you can use human-led content with disclosure as a marketing tactic. People perceive content that’s human-created as more favorable (even if it’s lower quality) simply because of our bias towards people.

And that means in the big picture, it is always worth disclosing the use of AI. It doesn’t harm audience perception, and when you have human-led content, disclose that to take advantage of our bias towards human-led content.

(this is also why I disclose my use of AI and usually make my newsletters almost entirely by hand, because I want to take advantage of that human bias, too!)

Now, this study will also have repercussions. Because AI content is better than human content in a real world test, and it’s so, so much cheaper to have AI generate content than human content, organizations which are cost-focused are going to use AI much more – and they may not disclose its use. That imperils the jobs of content creators because you’ll need fewer creators overall. This is something that aligns with what we’ve been saying forever – a person skilled with AI will take the jobs of people who are not skilled with AI.

What you take away from this study and what you do with it are up to you and how your organization values people and productivity. The reality is this – if you get better content out of AI and you get it much faster and much cheaper, organizations which measure productivity based on how much good stuff you can get quickly at the lowest cost are going to use AI for everything. If you work for such an organization, you need to get skilled up right this very minute, because that organization will retain fewer workers. If you work for an organization that values the organic, hand-crafted artisanal content approach, then you’ll probably use AI as part of the creative process but it won’t replace the process in whole.

Either way, now is the time to get comfortable with AI, because it’s doing a better job than we are.

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See you next week,

Christopher S. Penn


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