Will machines help us improve our writing skills?

It’s a professional writer’s worst fear – artificial intelligence technology that can compose an article or turn of phrase as deftly as a human being.

The Israeli startup AI21 has this potential. So, without any worries, I had to ask Ori Goshen, the CEO of the company, if AI21’s flagship Wordtune could put me out of work.

“Absolutely not,” Goshen told me.

“Of course, these kinds of AI systems will get better and better and the automation of the writing process will get more and more sophisticated. But all the original ideas and thoughts – it’s something where the mind human will have a dominant role in the creative process.Machines and systems will make the process more efficient, but we will be the ones who drive the wheel.

That said, Wordtune is quite an impressive offering, much more than just a grammar checker. Goshen calls it “a thinking assistant that helps you consider alternative ways to express your thoughts.”

For example, if you type “I’m intrigued by this opportunity”, Wordtune will suggest “My interest in this opportunity is piqued” or “I like this opportunity”.

If you type “Will Lapid or Netanyahu win the next election in Israel?” Wordtune returns with “When the next election is, who will win? Netanyahu or Lapid? or “How likely is Netanyahu or Lapid to win the next election?”

You can choose the type of rewrite you want – casual, formal, shorter, expanded. “I have some very exciting news for you” can be “You’ll never guess what happened” (casual), “I have some great news” (abbreviated) or “I’m delighted to let you know that we have some very exciting news of new developments to share with you” (expanded).

Wordtune has a standalone version plus plug-ins for Google’s Chrome browser and Microsoft Word. Wordtune also works with Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, Slack, LinkedIn, WhatsApp and more.

Wordtune has been on the market for just under two years and has over 3 million users.

You can perform 10 basic rewrites per day for free; thereafter, pricing starts at $9.99 per month.

Cliff Notes on Steroids

A second product, Wordtune Read, applies the same AI technology to summarize long or complicated texts. A page of academic or legal jargon is condensed into a paragraph with key points highlighted.

“It’s like Cliffs Notes on steroids,” Goshen says. “You can skim through a document and focus only on the parts that really interest you. The system can also customize the extracts it generates. So if you have a long report but only care about the CEO, you can specify “CEO” as a keyword. »

AI21 Lab founders, left to right, Amnon Shashua, Ori Goshen and Yoav Shoham. Photo by Roei Shor

AI21 puts the finishing touches to a translation module for Wordtune. It works in nine languages, including Mandarin and Hebrew, although output is only in English so far.

Goshen explains that non-native English speakers often mix languages ​​in real time. A Hebrew speaker trying to communicate in English might say, “Let’s have lunch machar.” Wordtune translates instantly machar in the English equivalent – “tomorrow”.

3 headed beast

AI21 Labs has an impressive pedigree.

In addition to co-founder and Stanford University professor emeritus Yoav Shoham, a third co-founder and active board member is Amnon Shashua, CEO of Jerusalem-based Mobileye, which is developing sophisticated self-driving car software for his company. parent, Intel.

The Tel Aviv-based company, founded in 2017, currently employs 120 people and has raised $118 million, including a $64 million Series B funding round in July. AI21 Labs was named one of the 100 Most Innovative AI Startups of 2022 by CB Insights.

Goshen calls AI21 Labs “a three-headed beast.”

The first responsible is a research laboratory working on basic fundamental research in NLP – natural language processing. The second head is products like Wordtune and Wordtune Read, and the third is a platform intended to “democratize technology so others can build on it.”

The AI21 Labs team in Tel-Aviv. Photo by Roei Shor

To achieve this latter goal, the company announced AI21 Studio, which allows software developers to integrate AI21’s NLP technology into their own applications and products.

“Studio has a web-based API, so it’s very easy to use. Developers don’t need NLP expertise. Anyone can sign up for the platform and use it up to a certain volume before having to insert a credit card.

The launch of AI21 Studio in 2021 was “pretty successful”, says Goshen. “We had 10,000 developers signed up to use the platform.”

Customers include Latitude, which created a popular video game, AI Dungeon, using technology from AI21; QAnswers, which generates FAQ content; and Tweet Hunter, which promises “to help you grow and monetize your Twitter audience.”

Which came first: the Studio or the apps?

“We needed the right strategy to let others understand the capabilities and limitations of the technology,” Goshen says. “So we said, ‘Let’s build the apps first.’ We quickly realized it would be too restrictive to only have our own apps, so we decided to open up the technology as a platform.

Jurassic versus GPT-3

AI21’s main NLP engine, “Jurassic”, competes directly with the well-funded GPT-3 system, unveiled in 2020 by OpenAI and backed by Tesla founder Elon Musk and Microsoft; the latter injected more than a billion dollars into the company.

Jurassic has a vocabulary five times larger than that of GPT-3, comprising over 250,000 “lexical items” (phrases, words, and phrases) as well as billions of statistical relationships between words. And unlike GPT-2, Jurassic’s hybrid system can send a question back to a third-party engine.

For example, GPT-3 can easily handle simple calculations like 1+2=3. “But if you ask him to add 1,000 and 1,001, he’ll spew complete nonsense,” Goshen says. “That’s because language models don’t teach arithmetic. So he doesn’t know what to answer.

AI21 will pass such a question to an external scientific calculator – simple and precise.

Another problem with GPT-3 is that it only knows the most recent information passed to it. Ask who the U.S. president is, and he might say “Donald Trump,” because most language patterns were formed before Joe Biden won the November 2020 election.

What would RBG say?

To demonstrate the power of the Jurassic platform, AI21 grabbed the opinions and writings of the late United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – some 600,000 words of RBG in total – then asked the artificial Ginsburg what he thought of recent court rulings on abortion. .

“Whether good or bad is settled and therefore not for me to think about,” the RBG bot replied without concluding.

But as Goshen notes, that was not the point. “We wanted to pay homage to a great thinker and leader with a fun digital experience. It’s important to remember that AI in general, and language models in particular, still have limitations. We’re not going to start over with [living Supreme Court justice] Clarence Thomas.

AI21’s RBG bot plays a role in the debate over whether AI has become sentient, i.e. capable of experiencing feelings and sensations, as claimed by the former Google engineer Blake Lemoine and Know Labs CEO Philip Bosua.

Goshen disagrees.

“I understand why these linguistic models are impressive,” he says. “They produce results so natural they can trick you into thinking it’s a living creature. But as someone who understands how it works behind the scenes, it’s definitely not even close.

Good news for those of us who fear a sci-fi future with robots eradicating humanity.

But will we hard-working writers also be fortunately spared?

For more information on AI21 Labs, click here

James G. Williams