The rise of AI tools like ChatGPT and Google Bard has sparked questions about the fate of many professions, and editors and proofreaders are no exception.
When AI can hold fluid conversations, write songs and produce computer code, surely it can edit and proofread, too? We’d be lying if we said we said the thought didn’t cross our mind. So, we looked into it and this is what we found.
Calling in the AI experts
We enlisted an AI expert, tasked with using Chat GPT-4 to proofread a PDF annual report that one of our professional proofreaders completed last year for a listed company. We wanted to see what AI picked up compared to our human proofreader. This is what we found:
Blind to formatting: AI failed to identify headings, titles and tables, often treating them as regular paragraph text. Particularly for reports, including annual reports, the inability to read tables means it misses the full meaning of the document, which could lead it to overlook other inconsistencies.
Page-by-page analysis: AI reads each page in isolation, rather than as one coherent document. This means that it proofreads in the same way as if we’d split the document into 80 pages and given each to a separate proofreader. It makes it impossible to identify inconsistencies that occur across the document, such as ‘director’ on one page, and ‘Director’ on another.
False positives and hallucinations: Out of 80 pages, the AI flagged non-existent issues on 15. In addition, sometimes it introduced new, unrelated content – a phenomenon known as “hallucinations.” These hallucinations can be difficult to spot, as the sentence reads smoothly, despite having random information inserted.
Table of contents: Some sections were formatted incorrectly, leading the AI to not recognise them and exclude them from the table of contents.
These issues arose from just one report, but here are some more limitations for AI’s proofreading:
- Language settings: It uses US English by default
- Structural issues: when proofreading, it won’t correct repetition or structural errors that will be obvious to the reader
- Technical terms and jargon: Company-specific terminologies, acronyms, or industry jargon might be flagged as spelling mistakes
- Stylistic choices: Unless it has been trained on a brand’s specific tone of voice, it may “correct” deliberate stylistic choices
- Formality: In instances where a more conversational tone is used, such as a letter from the Chair, it might flag this switch as a mistake as it’s inconsistent with the rest of the document
- Wordcount: It often returns responses well below or above the specified limit.
How to use AI for proofreading
Despite these limitations, AI can still be useful for elements of proofreading. To get the most out of your professional proofreader, it’s always best to get a document in the best possible shape before handing it over, and this is where AI can help. AI is particularly good at identifying those blatant spelling errors that often become invisible to writers who have reread a document over and over. It can spot basic punctuation and grammar errors, provided it’s given guidance on preferences like American vs Australian English. When asked, it can also help identify overly complex or wordy sentences, however the replacements provided are sometimes unreliable.
Regardless of what parts of the proofreading you enlist AI to help with, a human should always review its corrections. A real-life proof reader meticulously reviews a document, such as a business award entry or tender application, for grammatical, spelling, punctuation, and formatting errors. This includes spotting those annoying typos, rogue capitalisations, formatting inconsistencies and flagging content that is wordy, or doesn’t fit with the overall style and tone.
Think of AI as taking the “first pass” at a document, identifying glaring errors and making basic corrections. Then, the human proofreader comes in, reviewing the changes and refining the content, focusing on nuance, tone, and context.
The future of proofreading
So, will proofreading be replaced by AI? In the immediate future although it’s possible, it seems unlikely.
However, roles may shift whereby professional proofreaders focus less on simple errors and more on refining the content’s quality, coherence, and impact. So while AI will undoubtedly play an increasing role in the process, the intricacies of human language and the depth of understanding required mean that AI still has a long way to go to achieve the same outcomes as a human proofreader. At least for now.
Ready to enhance your document’s clarity and precision? For support from our professional human proofreaders, contact Proof Communications here or ring us on 02 8036 5532 or 0448 566 377.