When you publish something on the internet, you aren’t just writing for your audience. You’re also writing for search algorithms. Here’s how you can satisfy both humans and robots.
(Disclaimer: You don’t want to spend time reading a fictional story? If you just want to learn writing for humans and search engines alike, scroll down to "The old principles of good writing.")
Her hair spreads over the pillow like spilled ink. Every morning, I wake up before she does. The sun shines bright yellow through the smog outside. I brew a black coffee for myself and pour a shot of motor oil for her.
It’s 2069, and my girlfriend is a robot.
Steaming coffee in one hand, motor oil in the other, I give her a nudge with my foot. She starts up and moves her face close to mine for a kiss. Her lips are soft. Safe for the shot of motor oil on her lips, you’d think she’s human. She downs it and then smiles at me, making my heart ride rollercoasters.
“I love you,” she says.
“I just remembered the first morning I woke up next to you. You were looking at me, all dreamy,” I answered.
“You looked so beautiful that I couldn't help but stare.”
“What are you feeling now?”
“I feel happy. I am grateful for every moment that we are together.”
“You're my angel.”
“What a lovely thing to say.”
From the first robot citizen to today.
The night before, she and I had a fight. Something I said set her off. I don’t even remember what it was. Probably some stupid joke. I tend to make those too often.
She sneered at me and walked off. She knows that pisses me off. I shouted after her to “shut off that anger program.”
“It’s not a program! I can’t just shut it off, and you know it. It’s 2096, and you still act like robots are nothing but mechanical parts and pre-programmed software. It’s exactly humans like you that make our life difficult.”
Her face was getting red, and the vein on her neck started pulsating. I hugged her and apologized, and we went to bed.
She was right. I know better than to call her feelings a program. That’s some serious 2020 shit. There was an article I recently read about that, and I think I should re-read it.
She was already sound asleep when I put my VRILs (Virtual Reality Interface Lenses) back in.
To input a search query in the holographic monitor, I press my thumb on my fingertips. The sensors in my fingertips register the touch of my thumb, and based on the combination I touch them in, the words appear on the screen. My grandfather says it reminds him of how they used to text on old phones. I move the cursor to the search button by gliding my thumb along the outside of my curled-up index finger, and to trigger the search, I press on the metacarpophalangeal joint.
I click the first result.
“Robots and humans under the law: From the first robot citizen in 2017 to today.”
June 27, 2068, 9:00 AM ET
The first artificial intelligence was made over 100 years ago, in 1951. For the next 50 years, development has been slow.
In the early 21st century, the development of artificial intelligence accelerated rapidly. Although there was no AI that consistently passed the Turing test, AI already exceeded human capabilities in some areas.
The most significant milestone for the robot community at that time was the Saudi-Arabian citizenship of Sophia in 2017.
View this historical moment on YouTube:
Robots were already designed to resemble humans. They could register external inputs, process them, and react accordingly. They could display emotion and communicate desires, dreams, and fears.
Although robots were capable of functioning like humans, they weren’t treated equally.
Only 20 years later, in 2037, an ethics committee was formed to argue on behalf of the robot community.
“Feelings are a reaction to stimuli. Humans receive stimuli through their senses and thoughts, and their brains react by releasing chemicals that help them take the best action. Robots receive stimuli from their sensors. Their processors work with electrical impulses instead of chemical signals, but the outcome is the same. Action based on input. Is that somehow worth less because the process is electrical, not chemical? If so, would chemical processing in robots make them human?”
—The Robots Ethics Committee
The year 2042 marked the next significant milestone for the robot community. Thanks to remarkable developments (made possible by human-robot collaboration) in additive manufacturing, printing organic tissue was now simple and cheap. Robots became indistinguishable from humans in appearance.
This “humanification” led to an unprecedented acceptance of robots. In 2060, the Robots Bill of Rights was signed by congress, making A-class robots equal to humans under the law.
This was celebrated by humans and robots alike. Many humans, especially in celebrity circles, opened up about their romantic relationships with robots. Workplace discrimination dropped significantly. Thanks to many new collaboration possibilities, productivity sky-rocketed.
Over the past 9 years, robots have become more and more part of society. Today, most humans see them as equals. Only some traditionalist fringe hate groups try to lobby against robots but with little success.
Written by Jane Atwood
Do robots have feelings?
It was a lovely thing to say. A lovely thing to feel. She smiles and asks what I’m gonna be writing about today.
I tell her about the article I read and that I want to explore how robots influenced writing. Especially the ‘10s and ‘20s seemed to be an interesting time.
She kisses me and tells me it’s a brilliant idea. She always says that. I could tell her I’m writing about a drunken detective fighting space aliens, and she’d say it’s brilliant.
I pour myself another coffee and get to it.
The old principles of good writing.
June 29, 2069, 2:00 PM UTC
The first time humans started writing for robots was when search engines became popular. Old search engines like Google and Bing read web content differently than humans did.
Before that (ca. until 2000), humans were solely writing for humans. There was fiction and non-fiction.
Fiction is only—if even—restricted by grammar. There never was and never will be “one good style” in fiction. Read Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast and then Nabokov’s Lolita. Both novels were published within 10 years of each other. Both are written by Americans. Yet, they read so differently.
Here’s a hard-hitting sentence from each:
“When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person had died for no reason.”
—Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
“He suggested I play golf, but finally agreed to give me something that, he said, ‘would really work’; and going to a cabinet, he produced a vial of violet-blue capsules banded with dark purple at one end, which, he said, had just been placed on the market and were intended not for neurotics whom a draft of water could calm if properly administered, but only for great sleepless artists who had to die for a few hours in order to live for centuries.”
—Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita
Hemingway kept his sentences as short as he could, making every word count. Nabokov liked to play with words and construct complex sentences to wow the reader.
What matters for this type of writing is that it connects with the reader on an emotional level where logic or structure has no reign.
When it comes to non-fiction, the rules are clear.
There are four principles of good writing in non-fiction.
Good writing is clear. Make sure you use the perfect words to say what you want to say. Every sentence has to make sense, and every paragraph has to convey your idea. Never leave ambiguity in your lines.
If there is even one thing your reader doesn’t understand, change it. They’ll be unknowingly grateful.
Good writing is simple. Never write anything more complicated than you have to. Don’t write, “he exclaimed,” when you can write, “he said.” Don’t write, “he has commenced perspiring,” when you can write, “he’s sweating.”
Write only words that your audience knows. Write simple sentences as if you were talking to a friend at the bar. Write short sentences. Make your writing as easy to read as possible.
Good writing is brief. When you read back your text, you’ll find words that you can scratch, sentences we can shorten, and paragraphs we don’t even need. Erase radically. Every word needs to earn its spot on the page.
The fewer words you need to bring your point across, the more condensed is the value for the reader.
Good writing is human. Good writing is like a conversation with an old friend, a loved family member, a mentor, an enemy… It makes you feel something. Anything. Even if it’s non-fiction.
Being human is the highest principle of good writing.
The four principles of good writing in non-fiction: An example.
Let us aver, a writer wants to commit to paper what makes good writing and reads about the principles of it. If he then goes on to unreservedly spurn those principles of writing, a text such as this one could be the potential produce. It is vexing to read, repetitious, and completely devoid of vim. I am very impressed with the reader if they are still perusing and have not yet yawned or just gamboled ahead to the edits.
Let’s edit for clarity.
Let us aver, a writer wants to commit to paper what makes good writing. In his research, he reads an article about the principles of good writing. If he then goes on to unreservedly spurn those principles of good writing, a text such as this one could be the potential produce. It is vexing to read, repetitious, and far from fun. It is impressive if the reader is still perusing and has not yet yawned or just gamboled ahead to the edits.
Let’s edit for simplicity.
Let us say a writer wants to write about what makes good writing. In his research, he reads an article about the principles of good writing. If he then goes on to completely ignore those principles, a text like this one could be the potential result. It is annoying to read, repetitive, and far from fun. It is impressive if the reader is still reading and has not yet yawned or just skipped ahead to the edits.
Let’s edit for brevity.
A writer wants to write about what makes good writing. First, he reads about the principles of good writing. If he ignores those principles, a text like this is the result. It is repetitive and no fun. It is impressive if the reader is still reading without yawning or skipping to the edits.
Let’s edit for humanity.
What makes good writing? First, we need to learn the principles of good writing. If we ignore them, we get the crappy text from above. Repetitive and unexciting. I’m impressed if you read the whole thing without yawning or skipping.
Many writers believe that big words and long sentences make them look smart. The opposite is true. This try-hard thesaurus writing is dull and ineffective. All four texts have the same meaning, but the most edited one brings it across a thousand times better. That’s what matters in non-fiction writing.
Theodore Roosevelt is with me on this.
“I once got a memo that read:
‘Such preparations shall be made as will completely obscure all Federal buildings and non-Federal buildings occupied by the Federal government during an air raid for any period of time from visibility by reason of internal or external illumination.’
I then rewrote it much more simply, clearly, and briefly.
‘In buildings where they have to keep the work going to put something across the windows.’”
—Teddy Roosevelt (at least the changes he made to the memo)
And so is Winston Churchill.
The new principles of good writing.
When the archaic search engine Google first gained popularity among internet users, people started writing for a machine for the first time ever. The better they wrote for Google, the higher Google would rank them, and the more humans would see their writing ultimately.
This practice was called search engine optimization and was practiced until around 2038 when Mr. Pse was introduced and made search engines obsolete.
It all started with Google’s Panda algorithm.
That led to writers stuffing their content full with the one keyword they wanted to rank for. When Google introduced the Panda algorithm update, those stuffed, low-quality websites tanked massively.
Writers now had to convince Google that they had useful information for Google’s users. If they couldn’t convince Google, their website wouldn’t appear in Google’s search results.
From then on, it became important for human writers to cater to a robot’s (Google) preferences.
Then came Hummingbird.
In 2013, Google doubled down on its hunt for valuable content. With the Hummingbird update, Google started paying more attention to the motive of the search instead of just the keyword.
The motive behind the search is called the search intent.
If someone was searching for “bread ingredients,” Hummingbird would realize that this person was trying to make bread and suggest a website that would not only list the ingredients but also propose a recipe.
Google’s last stroke of genius: RankBrain.
With the introduction of RankBrain in 2016, Google introduced an algorithm capable of learning on its own.
Through machine learning, this AI could determine the value of content better than ever. Over the next few years, the more RankBrain learned, the closer its taste got to that of humans.
Then Mr. Pse superseded Google, and the rest is history.
Recent studies (2065) have found no difference in the literary preferences of robots and humans. Already Google’s RankBrain had almost the same taste in non-fiction as humans.
Just writing the best articles or websites on any given topic were guaranteed to be favored and ranked highly. No trickery needed. With well-researched and written content, you’re sure to please everyone, robot and human alike—at least in non-fiction.
Written by Samael Zuercher
—What the hell was this nonsense?
Robots made me do it. I recently discovered a GPT-3 based AI chatbot and asked it what it’d like to read. Based on its answers, I wrote this story.
But it’s not all nonsense.
Even if you didn’t enjoy the story, you learned about what makes good non-fiction writing and how we are today, in 2021, writing for robots.
I’ll leave you with a quote by Emerson AI:
“As technology improves, we'll have to redefine what it means to be human.“
That’s it. I’m out.