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No, you’re not a prompt engineer

Posted by Alex Warren on 11th April 2023

Last week I went to Contagious Live where I heard the latest AI influencer wax lyrical about the new generation of jobs being created by GPT (read Generative AI). The most exciting of these roles was prompt engineers, a title that thousands of people have now added to their Fiverr, Upwork, and LinkedIn profiles.

At first glance it’s easy to see why the influencer was so excited. Prompt engineer sounds like some sort of cutting-edge, AI-driven position. It’s not. It’s bullshit.

You know what a better title for prompt engineer is? …. Copywriter. It’s a copywriter.

Let’s break it down. Prompt engineers are responsible for crafting the language that AI assistants, chatbots, and other conversational interfaces use to communicate with us humans.

Sounds complicated right? Well, yes and no. Prompt engineering isn’t rocket science. In fact, it’s not even engineering. It’s just good old-fashioned writing. Clear, concise copywriting, designed to convey meaning.

In its current state, AI’s crowning achievement is turning ‘prompts’ (what those of us in the industry used to call ‘briefs’) into meaningful, well-crafted content. The role of prompt engineers is now to write those prompts (briefs) in language that ensures machines understand them.

To some extent this is like writing for SEO, but in many ways it’s closer to good old-fashioned creative copywriting. The more intelligent you can be with your language, and the more carefully you craft your words, the more advanced the output of generative AI. In short, writing well to convey maximum meaning.

Again. Copywriting.

And I get it. Generative AI is at the peak of its hype cycle right now, so it makes sense that freelancers are looking to land more Fiverr gigs by creating a swanky new term and listing one more bullshit skill on their LinkedIn profile. But seriously. This is nonsense.

We don’t need a new term. What we need is for copywriters to recognise the opportunity in front of them. Own it. For all the so-called thought leadership about AI putting copywriters out of work, the opposite is true. The move to prompt-based content generation makes copywriters more valuable than ever.

So here’s the long and short of it. Let’s stop pretending that prompt engineering is some kind of revolutionary new field. It’s good old-fashioned copywriting with a tech twist.

If we want to attract more talented writers to the tech industry, we should be honest about what the job entails. Instead of trying to make it sound cooler than it is, we should be highlighting the importance of clear, concise writing in a world where communication is increasingly vague, unoriginal, and meaningless.

Prompt engineers may own a hot new job title, but they’re not doing anything that hasn’t been done before. Most importantly, there’s nothing wrong with that. Tech has more than enough buzzwords and nonsense titles already. So let’s give credit where credit’s due, and admit the vital role that copywriters — not prompt engineers — will play in the future of AI.

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Alex Warren

Alex Warren is an expert in AI and marketing technologies. He has published two books, Spin Machines, and Technoutopia and is regularly quoted in PR, marketing and technology media. In his role as a Senior Account Director at Wildfire he helps tech brands build creative strategies that deliver results and cut through the marketing BS.