Artificial intelligence is becoming more and more a part of everyday life, from self-driving cars to voice-based interactions with machines.
It’s found in health care, psychology, marketing, education, business, games and more.
Now the BBC has profiled one new application that writes ad copy for products sold online.
At the rate of 20,000 lines per second. Millions of lines per day.
Some examples are “Inflatable duck baby pool with canopy” and “Hot selling colorful temporary full arm tattoo for men.”
The report explains it’s found on e-commerce site Alibaba, which has been called China’s answer to eBay.
“You’ll find images and descriptions of anything you could wish to buy, from kitchen sinks to luxury yachts,” BBC News said. “Every item has a short headline, but most are little more than lists of keywords: hand-picked search terms to ensure this USB phone charger or that pair of flame-resistant overalls float to the top in a sea of thousands upon thousands of similar items.
“It sounds simple, but there’s an art to this copywriting. Yet Alibaba recently revealed that it is training an artificial intelligence to generate these item descriptions automatically. … They’re writing advertising copy, 20,000 lines of it a second.”
The computer program was launched by Alimama, an arm of the online sales company. The AI applies deep learning and natural-language processing technology to create descriptions of millions of items on the site.
A corporate official said: “The tool removes the inconvenience of having to spend hours seeking design inspiration by looking at competitor listings and manufacturer sites. The user can create their ideal copy with just a couple of clicks.”
BBC reported June Wang of University College London explained the system works because the goal is clear.
“You want to maximize the number of people that click and then buy,” he said. “We’re not talking about generating art.”
It works for people who provide a link to an item for which a description is needed.
There are then options for copy and Alibaba said the user “can then alter everything from the length to tone, as they see fit.”
The company said its tool handles 20,000 lines of copy per second and it is being used nearly a million times a day.
BBC said it’s not just Alibaba.
“The company’s main rival JD.com says it is also using software – which it calls an ‘AI writing robot’ – to generate item descriptions. According to tech website ZDNet, JD.com’s system can produce more than 1,000 ‘pieces of content’ a day and has a flair for flowery language, describing wedding rings as symbolizing ‘holy matrimony drops from the sky,'” BBC reported.
Mark Riedl of the Georgia Institute of Technology told BBC it’s the kind of chore “generative systems” have become adept with.
“You can take an image or a few keywords and produce something that looks like a product description,” he said, pointing out that’s where AI often falls short.
“AI is really good at generic formats but the more you want to specialize or customize it becomes a much, much harder problem,” he said.
Most ordinary ad supply companies already track consumers and tailor the ads consumers see to their previous traffic online.
Wang told BBC the technology already is being developed to generate consumer-specific ads, including images and sound.
“Or in Alibaba’s hands, such a system could generate a bespoke item description, designed to appeal to your individual preferences, based on what it knows about your purchasing habits,” the report said.
BBC said the AI systems are getting smarter but are they getting more creative?
“Here’s a famous six-word story by Ernest Hemingway: ‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn.’ It’s ad copy, similar to the descriptions churned out by Alibaba’s AI. But the emotional resonance of Hemingway’s words comes from his deep understanding of a human life that machines do not have. Even if they produced those words, we would not react to them in the same way.”