Don’t give me an AI editor

Chris Baraniuk
5 min readMar 22, 2023
Credit: Pavel Danilyuk

“Thanks so much for the draft, Chris! Looking forward to reading. Before I do, I’m just going to pass you over to Aidyn, our new AI editor. Aidyn is going to take a first pass on all stories from now on to make sure they’re in shape. Hope you two get along!”

I dread the day I get an email like this. Oh, I can see the supposed utility. Editors are so busy (freelancers are too, guys!) and in a bid to cut down on the time each task takes, they enlist an AI editor to “tune” copy so that it fits neatly alongside the publication’s other content. Cool!

But not for me.

I’m not begrudging the idea of a check on house style, here. I’m imagining a Chat GPT-4-style robo-sub that’s pretty capable. Able to rip up, restructure… re-voice.

Yeah, I know, writers are often overly precious about their copy and I am guilty of that sometimes. But that’s not really what makes my skin crawl when I imagine an AI editor of the future.

It’s more the sense I have of an increasing disconnect between me and the human beings who (perhaps not for long) commission me to write stuff. Whenever I get a commission, it’s because a person (or multiple people) agreed with me that the story I came up with would be fun and valuable to put out there to the world.

I work with human beings. The stories I craft are read by human beings. I speak to people whenever I write. (Always, actually. I don’t do churn.)

Far more likely, you may think, that publications will just replace both editors and writers to a large extent with AI that can pump out stories all day long. I’m less worried about that, funnily enough. I think some publications will want to retain a semblance that people work for them and that their output has a human origin of some kind — at least for a while. But, in spite of that, many managers might come to view AI editors as efficiency tools. How could they refuse!

Or maybe a publication will one day lie, telling me I’m working with a human editor when secretly it’s just a bot… Well, that would be deeply unethical. Maybe I’ll never find out. But I’m here in this blog to say, “Uh, don’t bloody do that”.

Perhaps I’m just hopelessly naïve but, to me, the writing process is a symbiosis. Mutualistic, preferably. I want to understand what an editor wants, what makes them go “woah!” and see if I can bring that to them. I’m not able to satisfy every editor — I know that — but I do try. And those I work with regularly are great communicators. They take time to chat through the merits of a story and they hone the draft with me. Yeah, I want them to keep their jobs.

It is a joint effort. Two minds are infinitely better than one. It is a process that need not take much time but it does require collaboration and straight-talking. Journalists don’t seem to discuss this very often and maybe I’m the only one who cares about it but it really, really matters to me.

The person who benefits most from this editorial tête-à-tête? In my view, it’s the reader. Because the editor is my first reader. They are the prototype. I want to know who I’m writing for and I need to know a person in order to appeal to them and other people, by extension. The editor sets a standard to meet.

Editors, really, are gatekeepers who allow my stories (eventually) to reach the wider public. AI could also be a standard-setter, sure. But what will it say about my draft next week, or the week after, following the latest software update? And does it just want me to jump through hoops?

I want to know what it feels. But we’re a long way from that.

I can imagine an AI complementing the editing process and perhaps even coming up with some great insights — but I wonder if that’s really necessary. A few suggestions might be welcome, just don’t give me the AI editor as my port of call. An opposite number. It would remove a key reason why I write in the first place. I write in order to engage with people. There’s no joy in sparring with a computer instead.

Just like there’s no soul in spellcheck. Or empathy in autocorrect. Yes, these are relatively dumb tools that ChatGPT et al can run rings around so maybe we shouldn’t compare and contrast. But however sophisticated AI gets, if I know I’m merely dealing with a machine, I am not sure I could carry on doing what I do.

What if one day AI becomes truly sophisticated? What if it has agency and rights and is basically another intelligent species populating the planet just like us? Let’s just say I’ll cross that bridge if we ever come to it. Because for now, that is very definitely science fiction.

I don’t really have a problem with using AI to quickly check house style, generate promotional content for social media about a particular story, or carry out various other mundane tasks that editors would probably like to spend less time on — and I am not against making editors’ lives better! Free the editors! Truly.

It’s the back and forth of humans engaging with one another and deciding on how best to say something that I want to protect. That search for how to enrich a reader’s day with knowledge and understanding. Two people. Working with words. Maybe coming up with a little piece of gold — for someone else’s benefit.

Human beings are not perfect. Not all that slick, really. But we stand to lose a lot whenever we stop talking to one another and over-mediate everything. We are already far-flung — freelancers working for editors halfway round the globe, for instance. Often, writers and editors are colleagues who have never met in person, or even had a conversation on the phone. Instead, we find ourselves embroiled in weary email exchanges that never do our passion for a story justice.

So let’s not let things get any worse. Spare me the AI-in-the-middle. It’s lonely enough out here.



Chris Baraniuk

Freelance science and technology journalist. Based in Northern Ireland.