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Rise of the Robots: Editors’ Edition

Here’s a new product that could send a shiver down the spine of editors across the country: a new app called Drafts. Billed as the “Uber for Writing”, here’s how the founder describes the service:

One constant I’ve recognized in my writing is how much feedback I like to have. I’ll write an email, and I’ll send a draft to a colleague to see if it’s right. I’ll write an application to something, and get feedback from friends to see if it makes sense. I’ll write a blog post, and send it to my wife.

But being a solo entrepreneur and working alone at home, I often find myself stuck, not being able to get a friend to look at my work.

My wife can only take so much.

At the same time, I’ve gotten hooked on how simple it is to order a cab on Uber. Click a button, and a bunch of steps happen I don’t need to worry about.

So now, Draft, the version control for writing tool I’m making, has a magic “Share with an Editor” button. One click, and you can send whatever you’re working on (Christmas letter, cold email to a potential customer, blog post, etc.) to a staff of folks who can review your writing and suggest edits.

When we write about “jobs of the future” here at Via Meadia, it’s often to point out interesting ways that people are leveraging technology to come up with clever products and services that would have been inconceivable only a few years ago. But we also try to point out that young people today should think carefully and critically about which skills they choose to cultivate as they embark on their careers. The question college students should ask themselves: which skills can be outsourced and which can be commoditized (if not ultimately automated)?

We like to think that writing and other creative jobs are safe, if not exactly lucrative. But that hope may very well not hold tomorrow. If ideas like Draft take off, one could imagine smaller companies relying on it rather than individuals to take care of less mission-critical editing jobs. And certain kinds of journalism—especially daily market fluctuation finance reporting, or even rote recaps of sporting events—can already be executed passably well by computers.

So should people like our trusty editors here at VM feel threatened? We don’t think so. Consider it in terms of Adam Smith’s insights into the division of labor: specialization leads to higher productivity. It’s true, technology’s ever-accelerating pace is disrupting old guild-like structures. Ambitious young people will have to be more creative, building things and leveraging the resources that technology is constantly putting before them, rather than rising up the ranks in a predictable manner. This can all be very disorienting.

But the end result is more and better output as editors and writers are freed to concentrate on the things that really matter: reporting, learning, speculating, imagining and providing engaging narratives for readers hungering to understand the world. And that’s a win for all.

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