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Is proofreading dead?

Written an important article? Writing up your dissertation for your Master’s degree? You probably want to make sure the spelling and grammar is top notch. Traditionally, that’s where the demand for proofreaders has come in. A professional, presumably well versed in spelling, punctuation and grammar, can comb through your work and suggest corrections.

But with the advent of generative AI such as ChatGPT and Google Gemini, which can supposedly pass exams from law and business schools, there’s a sense that proofreading as a profession is under threat. This is part of a wider trend in which AI is believed to be putting many jobs at risk. Copy your essay, paste it into ChatGPT and prompt it to check for any mistakes. Within a few seconds, you’ll have your corrections.

So, do we even need proofreaders anymore? Is proofreading dead?

The answer is no. Well, not yet anyway. If you visit a freelancing platform such as Upwork, there are people still being hired for proofreading. Either the clients haven’t yet heard of ChatGPT (unlikely) or proofreaders still provide value that generative AI is yet to match. Perhaps you need your sentences to be written in a certain style that’s appropriate for a fantasy or romance novel. Or maybe you need an expert to review a highly specialised submissions such as an article of a medical journal.

And then there’s the issue of generative AI just being a bit… boring. The job of a proofreader may start shifting to one that isn’t focused on spelling and grammar, but rather to one that’s more focused on sentence structure. AI-generated content can be seen a mile away and oftentimes is a chore to get through. Even with the right prompts, it leaves a lot to be desired. And so the value of proofreading will likely come from its ability to convey a message in a certain way.

Usain Bolt breaking the 100m world record at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
How well does ChatGPT convey the excitement of the 2008 Beijing Olympics?

Let’s take an example. Usain Bolt breaking the 100m world record at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. This is a brief summary by ChatGPT:

“In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Usain Bolt won the 100m sprint in a record-breaking performance, clocking in at 9.69 seconds. Bolt dominated the race, visibly slowing down to celebrate before crossing the finish line. His incredible speed and charismatic showmanship captivated the world, solidifying his status as the fastest man on the planet.”

Informative, but kinda boring. We’ll ask ChatGPT to make it sound more exciting.

“In a jaw-dropping display at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Usain Bolt electrified the world by winning the 100m sprint in a blistering 9.69 seconds. Bolt exploded off the blocks and, by the halfway mark, was already pulling ahead of the competition. With effortless grace and unmatched speed, he glanced around, arms outstretched, celebrating even before crossing the finish line. His record-shattering performance and sheer charisma made this an unforgettable moment in sports history, cementing his legacy as the fastest man alive.”

The harder ChatGPT tries, the worse it gets. Again, it’s informative but there’s something lacking. Now we’ll give it a try.

“Usain Bolt’s 100m win at the 2008 Beijing Olympics was pretty damn epic. Here was this cocky kid coming out of nowhere, smashing his competitors in the heats in what often seemed like he was just jogging. Then in the final, he broke the world record WHILE celebrating. Did you get that!? He could’ve run faster but chose to celebrate. An unforgettable 9.69 second win.”

Now whether you think our description sucks, one thing is clear. It’s written by a human. With generative AI, the emotion just isn’t there yet. In the same way people argue that AI-generated art doesn’t compare to real, human-made, emotive art, AI-generated text struggles to inspire and excite. Instead of a proofreader’s job dying, it’s more likely the job will adapt. Instead of being ‘corrective’, it will likely become more ‘suggestive’.

For the moment proofreading isn’t dead. The industry, however, much like many others, will be affected. Over time, those who were able to get jobs on the basis of knowing the difference between “your” and “you’re” will likely reduce in number. But proofreaders still have one main advantage over AI. They’re human. And given the quantity of AI-generated articles flooding the internet, one could argue that proofreading is needed more than ever.

PS. We didn’t proofread this article, so there may be some spelling mistakes. Oh well, we’re human.

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