Prominent Professional Speechwriters Association member Felcity Barber—whose new weekly speechwriting newsletter you should subscribe to—asked her techie husband if he thought her job might be taken by AI.
My job is safe for now and my husband was able to explain why. AI tools are only as good as what’s already out there on the internet. I often write about niche topics that are not widely explored online. If there’s not that much that’s publicly available AI won’t generate anything useful. And if the leader you’re writing for doesn’t have much content publicly available, AI can’t replicate their tone of voice. Furthermore, AI can only look back at what you’ve said about a topic previously. It can help with ideation, but it can’t come up with a new perspective. “It can be a thought partner, but it can’t be a thought leader,” were my husband’s words.
Chinese speechwriters, however, toil in a notoriously cliché- and idiom-addicted cultural tradition. Chinese presidents and premiers remind me of a government tour guide I had there 15 years ago, who spoke strictly in starchy idioms: He discouraged us from attending a local theater performance in Lijiang, which he compared to “a wet blanket on a long-suffering yak.” He compared a worrier in our group to “an ant on a hot stove.” He referred to his wife as “my better half,” his 93-year-old grandmother as “no spring chicken,” the local police as “stuffed shirts.” He called the disastrous and deadly summer flooding in China as “par for the course” and hotel prices “highway robbery” (because “you pay through the nose”). When he bid us farewell in the evening, he advised us to, “Sleep tight. Do not let bed bugs bite!”
That’s pretty much how Chinese political speeches sound. Check out these passages from a speech delivered by Chinese Premiere Li Qiang at the opening plenary of a World Economic Forum conference in Tianjin, China, last month:
Second, having experienced the shocks of global crises, we should all the more cherish solidarity and cooperation. The history of human society is a record of human battles against and victories over challenges and difficulties. In face of a momentous crisis, no country can stay unscathed, or solve problems single-handedly. Solidarity and cooperation is the right way forward. …
As a community with a shared future, we must cherish the gains of our cooperation, embrace the concept of win-win cooperation, and work together to tackle these global challenges and promote human progress. …
Third, having experienced the ups and downs of economic globalization, we should all the more cherish openness and sharing.
Without peace, nothing can be achieved. This is a hard lesson humanity has learned from history.
Let us be united in our wish for win-win cooperation, paddle together with one heart and one mind, and steer the giant ship of the world economy toward a brighter future!
Great Scott, is that brutal. Not only could AI create that—AI could beat it.
Which gets me back to the point I made about six months ago in Fortune: ChatGPT will write speeches for leaders who don’t care to communicate original ideas with an audience, but only want to get up and say the expected thing. And we’re about to find out just what percentage of leaders that is—foreign, and domestic.