Artificial Intelligence (AI) is beginning to affect almost every industry, and medical writing is no different. But how does this relate to our industry? How will AI affect medical writers? What’s already available and what is in the pipeline? Should medical writers be happy and embrace the technology, or should we resist as much as we can, assuming that we will all be replaced by machines? This article discusses the current state of the art of AI in medical writing and asks the question: AI for medical writers – friend or foe?
How Did We Get Here?
What a year it’s been for artificial intelligence (AI) already! The pace at which the conversation around AI has accelerated in just a few short months is unprecedented. However, AI is certainly not new. As a term, AI was coined back in the 1950s,1 and ever since then, the technology, models, and processing power have advanced. With ChatGPT leading the way, along with Google, Meta, and a host of other tech companies, the paradigm is shifting so rapidly that in the time between writing this article and publishing it, there could be something new to discuss in the world of AI.
But what led us to this point? What triggered this explosion? AI is not new nor are language models such as those employed by ChatGPT. As we enter the age of AI, and with ChatGPT competing with the behemoth of Google, the success is best explained by Google’s own history.
In the early days of the internet, conducting a “search” seemed like something of a dark art. Companies would invest their marketing budgets in promoting their URL because the idea of just being able to search for the company seemed to be a pipe dream. Even with the advent of the first search engines, if you did not know how to write queries using Boolean logic, getting any meaningful results felt like a lottery.
And then Google came along: no pop-up ads, no confusing page layout, just a simple search box. And it worked. Effortlessly. The beauty was in how they made something so complex incredibly simple and accessible. And the rest, as they say, is search history. Now history repeats itself: AI is not new, but a simple, well-designed interface such as ChatGPT makes it appear effortless and provides powerful results. This has captured the imagination of the world. It is certainly impressive and has prompted a flood of examples demonstrating its power. As Arthur C. Clarke famously said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”.2 What was once a niche domain for data scientists and AI technologists has suddenly become widely accessible. We now see everyone leveraging its power for everything from drafting emails to answering exam questions. This explosion has been so large and rapid that it has outpaced working practices and even legislation. This has led to the kind of concerns that triggered the open letter from tech leaders in which they urged a pause in the development of AI to allow some checks and regulations to be put in place.3