Will Editing Software Make Writing Teachers Obsolete?
Machines rising up against humanity and taking over the world is a pretty common theme in film: The Matrix, Terminator, 2001: A Space Odyssey, I, Robot. It’s one of those irrational fears we experience when confronted with technology that’s beyond our comprehension. But I figure we’re safe because movies never get the future right. In fact, I still periodically get annoyed that it’s 2011, and we still don’t have hover crafts or jet packs.
I admit I have been concerned, however, about software programs that aim to put us writing teachers out of business. There are several out there that purport to evaluate writing. They are essentially super-juiced grammar checkers. You submit a paper and it gets run through an evaluation metric that likely provides data on sentence length, variety and vocabulary level. It surely finds what at least appear to be grammatical faux pas.
Honestly, it’s a good idea. Grading student papers is a difficult, specialized, and time-consuming thing after all. Imagine if you could write a paper and have all the problems immediately identified (or even corrected for you!). I see the appeal.
But there’s a reason why I’m not really worried that technology will render writing teachers and WriteAtHome obsolete. Writing is and will forever be a distinctly human endeavor. It is an aesthetic and unavoidably subjective thing. It transcends the kind of formula that can be translated into computer code.
Would a computer be able to tell the difference between trashy summer romance novels and D.H. Lawrence? Between greeting card poetry and Robert Browning? Can a computer tell you if your tone was spot on or your attempt at humor successful? If you adeptly defended your argument or painted a striking word-image? If you touched its heart or got on its last nerve? The answer, of course, is not just no, but never.
I don’t much care what a computer program thinks about my writing — do you? I don’t write for electronic devices. I write for breathing, feeling, thinking people with tastes and opinions and an appreciation for beauty. That’s why I only care what humans think about my writing.
And it’s why aspiring writers will always need real, live writing teachers. Even if the machines really do takeover.
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