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AI accountants approach the content uncanny valley

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AccountingWEB technology editor Tom Herbert has a few tips on how to spot people and publications trying to pass off ChatGPT’s work as their own and wonders if it really matters if they’re using an AI writing tool.

7th Dec 2023
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One unexpected consequence of the recent artificial intelligence (AI) hype train has been an uptick in friends and relatives commenting on my job security.

Given my role and my interest in all things technology, I often find myself fielding enquiries along the lines of “You’ll be out of a job soon won’t you?”

First of all, rude. Secondly, have you read the stuff it puts out? It feels at the moment like we’ve reached a kind of content uncanny valley, where humanity is squinting at words on a webpage trying to work out why they don’t quite fit. 

I’ve actually become a bit obsessed with spotting people and publications trying to pass off ChatGPT’s work as their own.

Sports Illustrated landed themselves in hot water last month by publishing AI-generated stories from fake writers, and there’s a publication in the accountancy arena putting out a few pieces that have got my AI antenna twitching. 

Unmasking the robot

As a back of the vape packet calculation, I’ve probably sub-edited more than 10,000 accountancy-based articles over the years, so I feel (relatively) qualified to proffer a few tips for unmasking the robot behind the writing.

Let’s start our digital detection with a few tangible titbits to identify the AI ghost in the content machine. 

Adverbs such as “similarly” or “thereafter” are a dead giveaway. While they might score you a few marks in a GCSE English essay (Lord knows I had to deal with enough of them during my unsuccessful spell in the classroom), they’re clunky to read and feel, well, quite artificial. ChatGPT in particular also seems to be very fond of bullet points.

It seems almost absurd to say but often the writing is too good, and by good I mean correct in terms of spelling, punctuation and grammar. Of course, it is – it’s scraped the whole internet for content, so presumably it’s sucked up a few textbooks along the way.

Unless specifically promoted not to be, it’s incredibly verbose. Glass houses and stones, maybe (given I’ve just hit 600 words), but if you ask a chatbot to shorten the copy, it often misses the key messages. Perhaps the advent of “closed-loop” systems like the recent BudgetGPT experiments conducted by firms may help with this?

Inevitable creep

I’m not going to say all this is good or bad. It’s kind of inevitable and has been silently creeping up on us for longer than we might think.

If you happened to receive an email from me in the past year, can I honestly say I’ve written every single word? No, because as a Google Workspace company, my email browser offers an AI-powered autocomplete function that suggests what to write next. If it matches what I’m after, I hit tab and it does it for me.

It’s like asking an accountant if they’ve completed every single keystroke involved in a tax return. Some might have used invoice or expense scanning tools to get the data into the system, others might have copied and pasted.

But does it really matter? Well, to give a classic accounting answer, “It depends on how you’re using it.” 

I don’t necessarily think there’s anything wrong with the principle of deploying AI writers, but as Sports Illustrated found out to its cost, a lack of transparency can leave your robot copywriters red-faced. In a profession underpinned by trust, how would clients feel about a similar situation?

By and large, the old “people buy from people” adage still holds strong, and if you’re leveraging software in favour of your experience, skills and personality, what’s to stop the firm down the road from subscribing and undercutting you?

And finally…

To end this mechanical musing, I believe it’s now de rigueur for writers or presenters to conclude with something along the lines of “and believe it or not ladies and gentlemen, ChatGPT wrote this whole thing”.

Well, dear reader, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I’ve done this the good old-fashioned journalist’s way – left it until the last minute and then wrote in a blind panic until it was finished. If only there was software that could have helped me…

Replies (3)

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By FactChecker
07th Dec 2023 19:17

Self-deprecation? ... not seen that before in AI-generated output!

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Tom Herbert
By Tom Herbert
08th Dec 2023 09:35

'Inevitable creep' is actually my Mexican wrestling name

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By johnjenkins
14th Dec 2023 09:31

Great article, Lucha Libre. Although amusing it does highlight some very worrying issues.

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