iA Writer 7 is out today, and it’s a $50 one-time purchase on the Mac, and another $50 purchase for the iPhone/iPad version. They’ve been leading up to this release for a week now with a series of posts about AI and writing.
I previously shared my thoughts on their first post, and I liked this from their second post:
You can not trust it. It has no conscience in any way. It does not understand what it does, and it does not know what is good or bad. […] Using AI in the editor replaces thinking. Using AI in dialogue increases thinking. Now, how can connect the editor and the chat window without making a mess? Is there a way to keep human and artificial text apart?
Yes! Many (especially LLM skeptics) struggle to understand this distinction, but my best experiences with ChatGPT have been when I have it help me do something, not when I try to have it do something for me. Sure, it can do things you don’t want to do, but it’s at its best when it’s helping me indirectly.
Another example of how I’ve used ChatGPT to try and make my work better is to feed it blog posts of mine that I’m about to publish and have it critique the post for accuracy, general readability, and obvious grammatical mistakes. It’s not always perfect, but it sure has helped me find a bunch of things I could improve in my posts, and that’s been valuable.
Back to today’s post, I think their solution is quite interesting. As they strongly indicated in their “No Feature” post, they have not integrated ChatGPT or any other LLM into their app. Instead, they have assumed that people will be using AI tools outside their app, and they’re hoping to make it easier to work with those tools and bring their generations into your work and easily be able to distinguish between what you wrote and what the robot wrote. This does effectively shield them from one of these LLM makers from Sherlocking iA’s functionality and destroying their business proposition. It also leaves them open to supporting whatever LLM gets hot in the future. If Apple builds one into iOS next year iA will be just fine with that. They can’t get left behind because they’re not hitching their cart to any horse in particular. It’s a BYOR situation: bring your own robot.
Oh, it also keeps their AI costs at $0 since they don’t need to make any API request from their app, which is honestly the only way to go for a paid-up-front app like iA Writer.
But here’s how it works. Here’s an example of something I wrote, something ChatGPT wrote for me, and then a sentence I asked ChatGPT to improve for me.
Basically, anything you write is in black text (or white when in dark mode) and anything generated by an AI tool is in grey.
I think this is interesting, although the implementation details make this a little less of a slam dunk for me at this exact moment. For one thing, while the app is supposed to be able to detect if you copied something from the ChatGPT site and mark pasted text as AI automatically, it never did that for me, and I had to use the “Paste As” or “Paste Edits From” option every time to get it to gray out ChatGPT text (I tried with Safari, Chrome, and Arc to make sure it wasn’t just a weird browser issue).
It’s not the end of the world, but it is some friction, and I’m worried that many won’t do this even if they like the idea of it. We’ll see, though.
iA is also trying to address the problem of identifying parts of a document that are human-written verses AI-generated, and they’ve proposed a standard that others can use.
Basically, this appends a block to the end of the document with who wrote what. It was created to separate human and AI work, but it could also actually be used to distinguish who wrote what in a collaborative document among a bunch of humans. iA Writer hides this block in the UI so it’s transparent to you as you work, but it’s there for other people to see, and if iA did this well, other apps will adopt in the future.
I don’t have a strong opinion on how iA implemented this, but as we work on better ways to distinguish human and AI-generated content online, I appreciate them taking a swing.
I use Ulysses for my writing, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Ulysses has the best Ghost publishing flow out there, and that on top of the rest of the excellent experience makes this hard for me to give up. Still, I love what iA Writer is doing, and I hope it does well for them.