The future of content may be artificial intelligence. But before we look ahead to what’s coming, it might be helpful to first look back at where we’ve been. With that in mind, let me give you a short history lesson about how the tools that we use to create content have evolved over time. I promise to keep it brief.

If we look way back in time, the earliest writing implements emerged at around 4000 BC, when people would fashion pieces of bronze or bone into implements that they could use to mark soft clay tablets. About a thousand years later, the Egyptians improved on this when they started using thin reed brushes to create hieroglyphics on papyrus scrolls. By 600 AD, we find the Europeans using quills and ink to record their ideas. That practice fell out of favor by the 18th and 19th centuries thanks to the invention of pencils and pens. Then, in 1868, along came the first commercially successful typewriter, which reigned supreme for many years until it was overtaken by the personal computer more than a century later.

OK, that’s enough history for one post.

Suffice it to say that as I write these words on my laptop, I can appreciate how far we’ve progressed when it comes to the tools with which we write. I think we can all agree that typing words onto a screen — and being able to easily change them over and over — beats writing them out by hand. But, as thankful as I am for not having ink-covered hands and pages full of scribbles and cross-outs, the reality is that most of the advances we’ve made haven’t really changed much about how we write.

After all, no matter whether I’m using a fountain pen or a MacBook, writing is still a frustratingly manual and labor-intensive process. The good news is that it may not always have to be.

When Artificial Intelligence Meets Content

Artificial intelligence certainly isn’t new. In fact, it got its start back in 1950 when Alan Turing published a paper entitled “Computing Machinery and Intelligence.” And while artificial intelligence made some important advances in those early days, it eventually came to a standstill only to be picked back up decades later when the technologies necessary to unlock more of its potential were finally developed. Fast forward to present day, and artificial intelligence is being used in all kinds of business applications to make everything from self-driving cars to the Jeopardy!-winning supercomputer known as Watson.

Among the many applications of artificial intelligence are content creation and optimization. Let’s take a closer look at each.

Natural Language Generation

Some companies use artificial intelligence to drive natural language generation (NLG), a process whereby computers rely on the data that you provide them to automatically generate content. For example, they might use NLG technology to turn financial results into text-based reports or baseball scores into the narratives that make up a sports column. When the underlying artificial intelligence platform is sophisticated, the result is very natural sounding copy — you’d never know that it wasn’t written by people — that reads well and can be created at the touch of a button. For companies looking to save time and money, that can be a welcome change.

Although NLG technologies haven’t yet reached the point where they can create great content that isn’t data driven — say a great novel or your favorite blog — with each passing year we’re getting closer and closer to that reality. While I doubt that human writers will ever go away, it’s nice to know that at least some content creation can be automated.

Content Optimization

Artificial intelligence can also be used after your content is created to help you make it as effective as possible. Content optimization software like Acrolinx relies on artificial intelligence to read and analyze your content so that it can offer you practical guidance on how to improve that content — not just in terms of grammar and spelling, but also style, tone of voice, and liveliness.

While this doesn’t make creating the content any easier, it does help ensure that your content is consistent, aligned with your brand standards, and easier to translate. Plus, it means that anyone in your organization can write effective content, even if that’s not a skill that comes to them naturally.

Where to From Here?

While it’s unclear where artificial intelligence will take us in the months and years ahead, rest assured that it’s creating huge opportunities to help you with your content. Whether it’s generating original content for you, or helping you optimize the content you’ve already written, the fact is that artificial intelligence is going to help companies create better content at scale, saving them time and money. It may not be long when writing our own content on computers seems as antiquated as writing with a typewriter or fountain pen.