ME, MYSELF & AI
How the perfect AI reader cut my screen time by 25%
Image generated with Leonardo.ai
The Peech app was so fluent that I often forgot I was listening to a bot. And an AI voice in Wondercraft.ai fooled 67% of our readers into thinking it was human.
As a writer, I love audio. Even though pretty much my entire job is producing and refining text, I still often prefer listening to reading.
Don’t get me wrong, I read a LOT.
Every issue of The AI Writer takes me at least 30 hours to put together, and a big chunk of that is spent reading articles, blog posts, news reports and research papers.
But it’s not just me. Text is now the default mode of communication for most of us. Our entire working days are spent tapping on keyboards.
Yet I’ve got some of my biggest breakthroughs from listening to an audiobook or podcast while walking my dog or loading the dishwasher.
Listening often sparks new ideas much more readily than reading text on screen (especially if it’s the same screen I spend most of my working hours in front of).
That’s why I love it when I see a web page has an audio option.
That’s also why, for the last month, I’ve spent many (many) hours experimenting with AI-powered speech generators.
I had two aims. First, I wanted to find a screenreader that could convert any webpage or document into an audio version that sounded as if a human had read it.
And second, the holy grail: an AI voice so authentic that it could narrate an audio version of this very newsletter.
After a lot of experimentation, I found both.
My acid test was whether I forgot I was listening to a bot.
As with writing, a voice that draws too much attention to itself will always get in the way of communicating a message.
Apple, Microsoft and Google already bake screen readers into their products as part of their accessibility features for visually impaired users.
But even their latest voices still sounded stilted to me. They certainly weren't realistic enough to use for my own audio feed.
Next up, the slew of AI-voiceover apps aimed at YouTubers and other video makers. I tried too many to list them all, and many made bold claims about how natural they sounded.
One – Revoicer – even proclaimed that 97% of listeners couldn’t tell that its speech was an AI. I listened and decided I was definitely in the 3% who could. And none created the human voice illusion.
But there were two, newer AI screen readers that really stood out.
First, there was Speechify. At a whopping $139 a year, it’s far from cheap. But results were impressive. Its AI voices read The Economist to me almost perfectly.
The illusion was broken only when it got to certain acronyms. ChatGPT and OpenAI both caused it to stumble, for example.
Unfortunately, it was surprisingly buggy for a premium product. And helpdesk support was very slow (especially given the price tag).
Yes, it did also offer me the chance to get AI versions of Gwyneth Paltrow or Snoop Dogg to read my content. But I still wasn’t convinced.
Then I found an iPhone app that seemed more stable but was still life like.
That app, called Peech, was also cheaper, costing $99.99 a year.
It created audio versions of any web article I threw at it. This included several from my various news subscriptions, which are behind a paywall. (It even worked with their standalone apps.)
💡Could you cut your screentime by using Peech to create a personal voiceover of any web page, document or email?
Forgot it’s a bot
Unlike Speechify, you get no choice of voice – just one male speaker for introductions and headings, and a female speaker for body text.
But I genuinely forgot that I was listening to a bot after a minute or two.
As a result, I’ve since been able to listen to any web article in a natural-sounding voice rather than having to read everything. This has cut my average daily screen time by 25%, according to the stats from my phone.
Phone stats: the AI reader has cut my screen time by 25%
Peech also allows you to scan any text and turn it into an audiobook.
The app is only available for iPhone and iPad at the moment. That works for me, but it would be good to see an Android version too.
When I put this to the founder, Andrey Paznyak, he told me his company is working on that and will launch it in the Google Play store in early 2024. They’re also working on a corporate version with a wider choice of voices, and there’s a web version coming this year.
Audio for this newsletter
So what about my second objective: an AI voice for the audio version of this newsletter?
That was the platform I used for last week’s test. The results? It fooled more than two thirds of you who took part in the poll. (You can listen again here.)
Voice 2 was the AI voice in last week’s test, fooling two-thirds of readers who took part in our poll.
In fact, I’ve used Wondercraft to set up an AI version of my OWN voice for this story. (Click the button at the top to listen.)
The user-friendly app uses a voice model developed by Eleven Labs and is designed for podcasting: it’s not a screenreader.
I’m thinking of using it to create a podcast of The AI Writer, hosted by me and an AI.
What do you think? Should I do it?
Create a perfect project brief in ChatGPT
This prompt can save you hours. It might even save your project. Use the text below to get ChatGPT to interview you and produce a first draft of a tailored project brief, which you can then refine.
You have a major project coming up, but first you need to plan out a brief for all concerned. Maybe it’s for potential suppliers. Or it could just be that you need to bring your team together and get them all on the same page.
You know that if you start well, you’re more likely to finish well. The brief is one of the critical keys to a successful outcome.
And yet, many projects stall at this stage or come unstuck later because the brief was inadequate or even nonexistent. (The temptation to skip straight to the more exciting stage of execution is sometimes irresistible.)
If you’ve ever done that, we won’t judge you. But we can keep from falling into that trap again, as this is one of those boring but important tasks that AI can really help with.
What to do:
Simply open ChatGPT, start a new chat and paste in this prompt:
Act as a senior project manager who's been commissioning and running successful projects for more than 15 years. Your task is to create a project brief.
The project should have four sections:
1. Background and statement of the problem to be solved
2. Objectives and metrics for measuring success
3. Timeline, including key project milestones
4. Target audience
Begin by asking me clarifying questions. Answer one question at a time and wait for me to answer before you ask another question.
When I've answered all questions, draft the brief for me.
When you write the brief, prioritise plain language. Use complete paragraphs where possible, rather than relying on bullets. Vary sentence length but avoid sentences that are longer than 25 words. Use the active voice as much as possible.
Use explicit headings that summarise each section.
If you understand, please ask me the first question.
IMPORTANT: This will give you first draft, not the final version. You will need to edit and add to ChatGPT’s output. The objective is to save time and get you writing your final version much more quickly than you would normally.
Could it be curtains for ChatGPT?
AI-generated image, made with Midjourney
Is ChatGPT’s parent company really running out of cash, as some claim? OpenAI is certainly spending like there’s no tomorrow. But even if it does go bust, it’s not the only bot in town.
Most people have yet to try using ChatGPT at work. But I doubt many of them are holding off because they think the company behind it could soon go bust.
Running ChatGPT is estimated to cost OpenAI (the company who developed it) around $700,000 a DAY. If true, that adds up to $255 million a year.
Last December, the company projected it would earn $200 million this year. Some say that’s an underestimate, given how much AI has since taken off.
And CEO Sam Altman has reportedly said he expects that figure to rise to $1 billion in 2024. But, until that happens, he could be sailing very close to the wind.
OpenAI’s costs exceed the annual budgets of some small nations. So it’s not really a surprise that whispers of potential bankruptcy are circulating.
Microsoft – one of its biggest investors – has poured in a whopping $10 billion to keep it afloat. But the maker of Word and Powerpoint has also been doubling down on its own Copilot AI project recently.
Its AI apps are all powered by the same large language model as ChatGPT, as are thousands of others. They pay a licence fee for the privilege. But there would be nothing to pay for if OpenAI did run out of cash.
So does that mean you shouldn’t bother with AI at all?
That would be a risky bet to make. OpenAI’s tech doesn’t run all generative AI apps by any stretch. Besides other large language models, such as Claude, there are also those being developed by Google and Meta. (Google looks likely to be launching a brand new one, called Gemini, this autumn.)
As we reported last week, Apple could also launch its own AI engine within months.
And the way instructions – or prompts – work in other AI software mirrors ChatGPT, so skills honed in one should be transferable to another.
Even if the worst cashflow predictions do come true for OpenAI, the world of generative AI won’t come crashing down.
Why The AI Writer?
When I founded Emphasis, 25 years ago, it was just me, a cat and a kettle. It’s since grown to become the most trusted provider of business writing training in the world and helped more than 80,000 people, from 32 countries. We’ve worked with tech giants, top 10 law firms and major financial institutions, as well as at the highest levels of government. (We’ve even sent trainers to work with clients in the Himalayas.)
I would not claim that we’re experts in everything, as we’re certainly not. But, after working with the authors of around 100,000 documents, it’s safe to say that business writing is something we do know a thing or two about. And that includes witnessing all the various ways in which organisations get it wrong.
Now, we’re at the forefront of using AI to help them get it right.
Of course, I’ve seen nothing like the AI revolution that’s hitting us. Nobody has. But I do feel a responsibility to use our experience to help people navigate this brave new world of communication bots.
So here’s the deal. You get on with your job, while we immerse ourselves in the latest developments in workplace AI. We’ll worry about keeping up so you don’t have to. Then we’ll tell you exactly what you need to know to stay ahead of the curve.