Inbox Invasion: Why Google’s AI Pitch Could Spell Email Hell


Gmail is about to launch a tool that attempts to improve your writing, but striving for flawless prose may not always correlate to better communication. With a focus on artificial intelligence, this year’s Google I/O presentation highlighted a text creation system known as “Help me write,” which is notably integrated into Google’s office suite. While the goal is to rephrase simple instructions into more polished text paragraphs, the question is whether more polished is always better.

Google is known for developing tools that make our lives easier, but this time it appeared to go in the opposite direction, potentially making communication less effective. Good writing can captivate readers with lyrical sentences, reveal insights into the writer’s thoughts and emotions, or convey useful facts about the world. Authors have utilized generative techniques to create original prose or summarize data in a digestible manner, thus artificial intelligence can surely play a role in this. AI has significant possibilities in the field of writing.

However, Google’s onstage demonstrations of “Help me write” appeared to fall short of meeting the essential needs of writers. The examples given during the keynote demonstrated the worst aspects of “professional” communication, resulting in dull, verbose boilerplate that frequently employs more words to express less substance. One example was an auto-generated job description for a textile design position. The AI system turned a brief request into a lengthy, robotic response, which likely conveyed less commitment and personality than the original human-generated query.

Because they are generated fast by predictive text algorithms that need minimum English-language expertise, AI-generated responses fail to serve the actual aims of writing. Furthermore, these systems are currently limited to very formulaic writing and are incapable of replacing human labor in many real-world settings. As a result, the language is generally longer and more stilted, adding little value and losing attractiveness as more people learn it is generated by AI.

Furthermore, AI-generated writing fosters the notion that complying to overly exuberant US business communication conventions is the only acceptable way to write, even if it is not a required skill for the job. While AI writing can assist humans in meeting arbitrary norms, it adds to a more homogenized and limited future of communication. Another example is an executive’s AI-generated congratulatory greeting, which, while entertaining, takes longer to read and makes the sender sound less distinct.

An email concerning an airline refund request exemplifies the practical utility of this AI writing process. While the AI can supply additional verbose information and fill in concrete facts depending on the prompt, it frequently results in bureaucratic, demanding prose that may not match the actual scenario. This strategy may be beneficial in the short term while readers believe it is generated by humans, but once the AI aspect is revealed, the illusion vanishes, leaving us with lengthier, less thoughtful, and boring messages.

Google’s most useful “Help me write” application, on the other hand, involves expressing information concisely, such as summarizing a list of dishes for a potluck event. This example did not rely on seeming to be written by a human and instead exhibited true benefit in streamlining communication.

To summarize, while artificial intelligence has the potential to improve writing and communication, Google’s “Help me write” tool, as demonstrated in its keynote, falls short of that goal. It produces lengthy, formulaic responses that may not suit the genuine aims of writing and may contribute to a future of communication that is less varied and engaging.

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