No One Wants to Be a Prompt Engineer When They Grow Up
Ask the question "Is AI taking jobs?" and many will answer that the technology is actually creating jobs. Whether writers and editors want those jobs may be another story.
Headlines like 'The Skill Future Writers Will Need: Prompt Engineering' and 'The Demise of Blogging and Rise of the Prompt Engineer' abound. Sites like Upwork now have lots of job listings for roles like ChatGPT writer and prompt designer, and organizations are looking for contractors to "write articles via ChatGPT." And the Washington Post just published a long-form piece on prompt engineering as a career for "super-creators." Is it any wonder that writers are contemplating what the future of content creation in media and marketing will look like?
Some of us dreamed of writing and publishing novels. Others of crafting stories in gritty newsrooms. Still others of the Mad Men life. What most of us had in common was the desire to make an impact with our words—key word, our. We didn't imagine ourselves filling the world with as many words as possible but rather of crafting beautiful words for people who would appreciate them. That's still possible, of course, but the question is whether it'll pay.
DataRobot's Tori Orr writes that "'prompt engineer' will be an artistic career of the future, requiring a blend of scientific and artistic talents that will guide the algorithm. It will continue to be humans who inject their ideas into machines in service of the newer and ever-changing language of creation." There are a lot of writers out there, both established and newly-minted, who didn't realize the language of creation could ever change, and therein lies the problem.
Too Many Writers See AI Copywriting Tools as Trendy Toys
In a lengthy and emotional thread in one notable professional group for writers, thoughts and feelings were all over the map. Many writers worried about AI taking away writing jobs but others asserted that writers would always be safe from the impact of automation because tools like ChatGPT, Jasper, Anyword, and CopyAI will never be able to think, feel, or use nuance. Among those who don't see artificial intelligence as a threat to creative work, the idea that AI generated writing will never be as good as copy produced by humans abounds. Still others expressed their belief that generative AI is just the newest shiny tech toy—one that will dazzle VPs and executives but ultimately fall flat when the excitement over its capabilities fizzles out.
Those of us old enough to remember when digital publishing platforms kicked the foundations out from under print media may make up the bulk of those less inclined to write off AI as a disruptor. Yes, some outlets will continue to solicit and pay well for meticulously composed long-form content or bespoke marketing copy. But those outlets don't make up the bulk of organizations that are the bread and butter of writers and editors. Anyone still earning $1.50/word is probably safe, but that's not most writers—which means most writers should probably hedge their bets and start learning the basics of prompt engineering.
What Exactly Is Prompt Engineering and How Does It Work?
Prompt engineering involves designing and refining the prompts that are used to generate language by AI language models. This can include developing AI writing prompts that are optimized for specific types of content, such as marketing copy or social media posts, as well as prompts that are tailored to the specific needs and preferences of individual clients. Individuals in prompt engineering roles may work closely with copywriters and other content creators—or be content creators themselves.
Prompt engineers (also called prompt designers, prompt writers, and AI writers) need to provide clear guidelines for the type of content they are looking to create and then provide feedback on the relevance and quality of the generated prompts. Trial and error is the norm in prompt engineering. Troubleshooting why a prompt isn't producing the desired output can be just as important as figuring out what level of detail to include in a prompt.
Writers who dabble in prompt engineering need a deep understanding of AI copywriting tools' capabilities and limitations to produce accurate, engaging output. To get the best results from tools like ChatGPT, prompt engineers typically experiment with different prompts until they develop a functional formula for producing specific types of output (e.g., social posts, articles, or emails). Writers need to understand that this can take months to do—and that many media and marketing outlets started experimenting with AI last year.
Writers Need to Stop Ignoring Prompt Engineering as a Skill
This new job title is being hailed by some as the key to staying relevant as AI copywriting tools become more sophisticated. The idea being that demand for prompt engineers will only increase, and writers who develop their AI prompt engineering skills will be the ones to keep their jobs. As scary as it is to contemplate a world where most written content is generated by AI writing software, content professionals can't ignore the possibility that artificial intelligence will automate some content creation. Want to keep your job? Then it's worth investing the time it takes to learn to create AI writing prompts like this one shared on Reddit:
"You are an expert on software development on the topic of machine learning frameworks, and an expert blog writer. The audience for this blog is technical professionals who are interested in learning about the latest advancements in machine learning. Provide a comprehensive overview of the most popular machine learning frameworks, including their strengths and weaknesses. Include real-life examples and case studies to illustrate how these frameworks have been successfully used in various industries. When responding, use a mix of the writing styles of Andrej Karpathy, Francois Chollet, Jeremy Howard, and Yann LeCun."
But They May Not Want to Call Themselves Prompt Engineers Just Yet
There is a lot of debate around the term 'prompt engineer' as a title. Some people are embracing it while others see it as pretentious or inaccurate. The latter group's rationale is that ChatGPT and AI copywriting platforms are tools, and using a tool doesn't make someone an engineer. They're not wrong, but writers and editors should keep in mind that it's employers who create job titles, for better or for worse. Right now, most job listings for prompt engineers looking for writers with ChatGPT expertise are gigs on Upwork, but some notable exceptions—Prompt Engineer and Librarian, for example—are out there and there will certainly be more as the buzz around generative AI grows.
But there's no debate about the growing utility of prompt engineering as a skill. Whether you can take advantage of new opportunities moving forward may just depend on whether you have prompt engineering skills listed on your writing resume.