#342: Futurist Kevin Surace on Why Writers Must Jump on the AI Bandwagon (and Why the Future Is Bright)

As I record this episode in March of 2024, we’ve yet to feel the effects of generative AI in our solo businesses. 

 So why are so many writers, copywriters and solo marketers losing business?  

Everything that I’m hearing and seeing points to other factors for the challenges many creative professionals are experiencing. And the main factor seems to be the softening economy.  

You wouldn’t know it by the state of the stock market, unemployment rates and economic growth. All those factors seem to be pointing to a strong economy. But the marketing profession is seeing something very different.  

It’s no secret that marketing is one of the first things to get cut during challenging times. It makes no sense, but it is what it is. And that seems to be the biggest reason behind cancelled content marketing initiatives, marketing team layoffs and clients that can’t seem to make a decision on pending projects. 

AI is certainly starting to have an impact on our work. But where that’s been happening is not where we want to be. You’re seeing it in the lower tiers of the market—SEO content mills, small companies, and lower-budget organizations that wouldn’t be viable clients even before ChatGPT entered the picture. 

However, that’s going to be changing. And the changes will be palpable.  

Joining me today to explain why—and to dive deep into the issue—is Kevin Surace. Kevin is the CTO of Appvance.ai and is a renowned futurist, disruptive innovation keynote speaker and pioneer in the AI space since the 1990s.  

This guy is the real deal. He’s the recipient of INC Magazine’s Entrepreneur of the Year (2009), he’s built multiple startups from ground zero to $1B+ valuations and has been awarded 94 worldwide patents, including the groundbreaking technology behind Siri and other virtual assistants. 

I wanted to bring Kevin on the show because I’ve had multiple discussions in this show about AI and its impact since early 2023. But most of these discussions have been with fellow writers and marketers.  

And as fascinating and practical as those conversations have been, I wanted to bring in someone who could bring in an outsider’s perspective. Someone who could explain what’s really happening outside our marketing ecosystem and share his perspectives on what’s coming and what we can do to prepare. 

Or better yet, what we can do to profit from the tsunami that’s coming our way? 

Kevin did not disappoint. We dive deep into the issue in this conversation. Some of what he shares might feel uncomfortable to some. It may feel disheartening. And I’m sure it will ruffle some feathers.  

That’s OK. I’m a big believer in hearing all voices. I hate echo chambers, especially when it comes to big, important issues. And Kevin’s is an important voice with a perspective you’re going to want to hear. 

I hope you enjoy our conversation. 

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Key Topics and Bullets: 

  • Kevin discusses the impact of technologies like GPT-4 and Copilot in Word
  • The need for writers to embrace AI tools, alongside critical thinking and strategic planning
  • Kevin explains prompt engineering and emphasizes the need for precision in prompts and fact verification
  •  AI’s impact on consulting firms: reduction in partner ascension time and increased productivity
  • Productivity improvements in marketing writing due to AI technology
  •  3x to 10x increase in speed
  •  Rapid generation of illustrations, reducing the need for additional resources
  • Kevin disagrees with the idea that AI is more disruptive than previous technologies
  • Historical patterns of technology increasing productivity, creating jobs, and decreasing costs
  • Importance of scaling productivity gains to increase revenue when adopting new technologies
  • Legal aspects of using AI-generated content
  • Concerns about using AI as a crutch for ideation and brainstorming

Timestamp Overview:

04:14 Kevin– When the smartphone came out, some people didn’t want to embrace it. I’m never going to get one. And that included people at work and included parents and included all kinds. I’m never gonna get one of those. Well, today, I don’t know, 4,000,000,000 people have them or 3,000,000,000 people have them. Why? Because it’s a perfect productivity enhancement. And can you imagine running your business, Ed, today without when you’re on the road or wherever you are being able to look at your email just like that or someone text you just like that? So it’s expected that you’re going to get that information almost in real time, save if you’re in a movie theater. Right? So in fact, when you are in a movie theater and you come out, there’s almost always emails or texts that say, where have you been? I’ve been texting for 3 hours.

06:31 Kevin– I’m gonna tell you that throughout history, we’ve seen teams and people and everything get more productive, creating more output, driving the cost of goods and services down because they’re getting more output, you know, per human hour. Right? And, that drives demand up. So a quick example in this field, if I am an independent freelance writer and I’m writing copy marketing copy, blog post, maybe advertising copy, whatever, for data sheets, etcetera, for, for companies. I only had so many hours. If, let’s say, 50 hours a week, I could devote to that. And sometimes I had too many companies that wanted too much. I, you know, I couldn’t take on anymore, right, unless I’m building out a firm.

11:12 Ed– I’m gonna play devil’s advocate here for a little bit. Those who think, well yeah. But what I fear or what I’m hearing is that my clients are actually taking these tools on, you know, inside, internally and using it themselves. So they’re not gonna need me.

Kevin– Well, here’s the problem with that. Right? What they’re doing is they’re taking people that already have a full plate. And someone’s saying, we can cut that budget completely, and I’m gonna add to the things that you need to do. So let’s say I’m a director of marketing, and I used to hire Ed to write all my content. And I go, Ed, I don’t need you anymore. I’m going to do it myself, which means I’m going to become an expert in prompt engineering, an expert in understanding what comes back, an expert in editing, am I right? So, apparently, I had a lot more time on my plate as the director of marketing or one of my people did than I thought. Were they just sitting around doing nothing? Right? So they have to gain that expertise, and they have to get good at it. And then they have to produce the content, and they have to edit the content.

15:38 Kevin– And by the way, we’ve had, you know, essentially machines even before Gen AI pushing out SEO content and taking content of a writer and automatically rejiggering it and pushing it again and rejiggering it and pushing it again. Those tools have been around for a decade. Right? They’re they’re not AI based, but they were good enough. And, of course, we see this, you know, in the stock market space, in the stock advice space where these robo articles have been written for a decade, and you could tell it’s written by a robot, and They’re terrible. The numbers aren’t right. Okay. But they’re just pushing stuff out, you know, against thousands of stocks every single day. Right? That was never going to employ a real writer. The quality…it wasn’t about quality. It was about pushing out junk. So I don’t think there’s a great business in the volume business anyway.

18:08 Kevin– It’s going to come back with things. It’s not always right. It’s not always in your words. It’s not always the way you would say it. It’s not always something you’d include. However, there are more ideas on paper in 30 seconds than you would have had all day. It just is true. You don’t have to use them all, and this is where all of your writing skills come into play. What am I trying to show? What am I trying to prove? What’s my outcome, and what do I need to say in x number of words out of this plethora of ideas that came back? Because I can’t use all of them. Right? And some of them don’t apply, and some of them will be great for another post or marketing or article or whatever. So, I think everybody’s gotta look at these tools as well, first of all, they’re a brain multiplier. What I always like to say is I’m taking Ed’s brain, and instead of one Ed, I could have 2 or 3 or 5 Eds. They’re still ads because you prompt it.

20:20 Kevin–  I have no ego about that. It’s like, actually, the voice clone is better, more articulate, sounds better. The writing is, you know, the words that it’s using are better. It’s just it’s a better me than me. I’m okay. You have to be okay with that. Right? I mean, that’s what these tools do. Excel made us better math people than we ever were.

24:35 Ed– I would say that a third to half of my audience is embracing the technology, and, the other, you know, half, two thirds are really cautious or against it. But, you’ve mentioned prompt engineering a few times. You have to be really good at prompt engineering. I know we could spend hours talking about that. But let’s talk a little bit about a realistic and practical plan for getting really good at prompt engineering quickly. Here and here’s where I’m coming from with that question. There’s a flood of prompt engineering information and advice out there, so much so that we almost need AI to be able to dig through it to understand. How do I approach it? How do I systemize the learning of that? Do you have a practical framework or or advice for, okay.

27:33 Kevin– You’ll probably get the best output you’ve ever seen because you gave it all the data that it needs. Right? The other thing is that in some of the professional versions like ChatGPT 4, you can set it up to go out and do some research from a particular website. So you can say, also based on the information gleaned from this page, give me the following stuff. Right? So it can learn from competition, for example. Right? More is better. That is if just remember that more is better. Who is your audience? These are all things a writer, a marketing writer, has already been thinking about in their mind, but they’ve never had to write it down before.

29:16 Kevin– Because that’s all it’s trying to do is create sentence structure. You know? If today was my birthday and and I and I and I said, chat g p t, what would you say to Kevin on his birthday? It has seen enough sentences where it says, well, I’m gonna start with the word happy. And then statistically, probability wise, the next word to come after that would be birthday. And perhaps there’s a third word in the sentence, which should be Kevin, Kevin’s name. Right? Happy birthday, Kevin. It’s about the only phrase that could come back because out of trillions of phrases that are learned when you’re acknowledging someone’s birthday, that’s all there is to say. Right? But it’s only putting one word after another with a probability. Right? So it’s not happy llama.

34:44 Kevin– So cursive isn’t as important, you know, getting that out of my hand, as it is to, forces generate the next patent or come up with a new invention in, you know, in my field. Or think about what the future looks like 5-10 years from now. Right? That’s a whole different level of strategic thinking, and that’s what I want all of these writers to do. Your outcome should be better because you’re not worried about sentence structure or which sentence comes after another. You’re worried about who’s my audience, What am I trying to accomplish with that audience? Is it just SEO? Is it selling something? Is it educating? Is it raising brand awareness? Any of those. Right? I gotta think about that. Right? And I gotta make sure that what my outcome is is that. And now I can come out with that in a quarter of the time.

36:31 Kevin– Now here’s what’s interesting. I don’t know if any of that was correct because I’m not an expert in extracting ethane from natural gas, nor are your listeners. Now interestingly enough, people in the audience, I had to ask them. Are those the correct steps? And they go, yeah. That’s it. That’s pretty amazing. Now here’s what’s interesting about that. If I am a manager in a company and I sent my you know, one of my people out to take a look at how I expect ethane from natural gas, I can actually educate myself now a little bit before they come in and actually be thoughtful about my questions even though I don’t know how to extract that thing.

41:12 Ed– I read an article recently that the big four consulting firms or whatever they are these days, they’ve been able to cut down the time it takes to make a partner by a year and a half, something like that. Because the first year, year and a half, people would have to spend all this time doing menial tasks, you know, doing all this grunt work. And, you know, part of it was character building. Part of it was weeding out, you know, the ones who aren’t gonna make it. But a big part of it was like, we need you here. We need you here to sort through this and do all this just menial work. And now they’re with AI, they’re able to just take care of well, first of all, these people, these new young consultants using these tools are able to just breeze through that year and a half.

Kevin– That’s right. And, look, there’s the menial, some of the menial tasks that we did are gonna go away. Like I said, sentence structure, yes, you’re gonna check everything, and, yes, you need to know what it is. But you’re not gonna slave over, should it be this word or that word? And is that the way to say it? You know, the models have that done for you. They have ideation, that you’re still gonna create your ideas on top of those. Again, just always remember, you’re in charge of the thing.

44:34 Ed– as a writer, it enables you to spend more of your time on your stone of genius. That’s the other thing we haven’t talked about. I mean, it’s been implied, but I don’t wanna spend, which is what we do, spend 90% of our time doing stuff that really that’s not what a unique capability is. I wanna spend more and more of my time doing what I do best.

Kevin– That’s a really good point. That’s a really good point because you might be really, really good at, I don’t know, this type of writing that’s very technical and very unusual and very tactical and very you know? And it takes a lot of time, and it’s really hard. You may be able to spend more time on those things or the things that really drive you, or maybe you’re writing a book. You know? You’ll be able to spend more time on that. Right? So we’re giving you time back. We’re making you more productive, but always when the cost of delivering services goes down and the price ultimately goes down to, you know, match that cost decline, then the demand for those services goes up. Right? The look. 

48:43 Ed– What about those who say but what about those who say, look. You can’t use it because we don’t wanna be sued. You as a writer can’t use these generative tools to…

Kevin– No. No. No. I mean I mean, the the the big general generative, tool guides, including, you know, OpenAI, etcetera, are indemnifying, the use of that tool in case the tool somehow absolutely copies word for word something, which, by the way, they’re highly programmed to not do. It’s very hard to get it to do that without attribution. Right? So it isn’t gonna accidentally come up with 3 lines from Hemingway. It’s just that it’s programmed to not do that so much so that they’re saying, we will take on the lawsuit if that accident happens so Microsoft said the same thing. We will take on the laws if you get sued because our thing gave you three lines from Hemingway, and you’re getting sued by the Hemingway family.

By the way… whenever you’re ready, here are 4 ways I can help you grow your freelance business: 

1. Grab a free copy of my book. 

It’s called Earn More in Less Time: The Proven Mindset, Strategies and Actions to Prosper as a Freelance Writer. The title says it all. 😉 — Click Here   

2. Get my Business-Building Toolkit.

Too many freelancers lack a critical set of business skills that would enable them to earn more in less time doing work they love for better clients. I’ve taught these skills to my coaching clients for years. And now I’ve packaged it in a way that will enable you to start getting results FAST. — Learn More   

3. Join my implementation program and be a case study.

I’m putting together a new implementation group this month. If you’re earning $5k+/month (or the part-time equivalent) from your freelance business … and you’d like to grow your income quickly with better clients … just hit reply and put “Case Study” in the subject line. 

4. Work with me privately.

If you’re a 6-figure writer who’s trying to earn more in less time, with less stress, I might be able to help you get there faster than you think. Just email me at [email protected] and put “Breakthrough” in the subject line, and I’ll get back to you with more details.