Sergey Nivens - Fotolia
Startup AI21 Labs' release of Wordtune, an AI-powered writing companion capable of rewriting sentences, in a product release that provides a glimpse of how AI could help writers in the future.
The product, revealed Oct. 27, builds on a long history of AI-powered writing assistants.
AI-powered writing tools
Analyst Alan Pelz-Sharpe, founder of tech advisory firm Deep Analysis, said the move by AI21 could foreshadow similar technology to come from industry giants Google and Microsoft.
Indeed, in September, Microsoft said it had entered into an agreement with research and development firm OpenAI, a former nonprofit, to exclusively license the powerful language model GPT-3.
Microsoft is expected to use GPT-3, which is powerful enough to create convincing pieces of writing with minimal guidance, to enhance its own products, such as the spelling and grammar checking capabilities in Microsoft Editor.
Wordtune, currently offered as a Chrome extension only, is the first product from AI21 Labs.
The Israel-based startup, which likens itself to OpenAI, developed HAIM, an AI-based language model with 1.5 billion parameters. That's about the same number of parameters as OpenAI's GPT-2 model.
By contrast, GPT-3 boasts about 175 billion parameters.
Unlike other AI-powered writing assistants, such as Microsoft Editor and Google Docs' built-in tools, which are primarily focused on catching and correcting grammar and spelling mistakes, Wordtune can rewrite or rephrase entire sentences.
Grammarly, probably Wordtune's biggest competitor, can actively suggest basic sentence rewrites and restructuring, as well as synonyms. The tool can also detect a passive voice, tone, and potentially hard to read sentences.
"Wordtune suggests a wide range of optimal phrasings users can browse and explore until they find their optimal choice," AI21 Labs co-founder Ori Goshen said.
Users can control sentence rewrite outcomes by defining their tone -- casual or formal -- as well as the length of the sentence -- longer or shorter.
Wordtune appears to work well. The full version of the product costs $10 a month, although users can try it out for free first.
A quick tryout demonstrated that it was able to provide various grammatically acceptable alternatives to sentences. It successfully shortened or lengthened sentences based on the writer's choices, and noticeably changed the tone.
Take the sentence, "I walked my dog yesterday afternoon."
Wordtune offered a variety of variations on the simple sentence, including "Yesterday afternoon, I walked my dog," "The previous day, my dog and I went for a walk," and "I gave my dog some exercise yesterday afternoon."
Ori GoshenCo-founder, AI21 Labs
However, at one point, Wordtune also generated "I played catch with my son yesterday, showing the tool also can make mistakes."
Natural language generation tools not only could help writers improve their documents, but they could also play a larger role in human-to-machine communications and in software development, Pelz-Sharpe noted.
But they come with a price. These tools generally run in an unsupervised coding environment, making it difficult, if not impossible, to find out how or why it created something. In some applications, these systems could create ethical and legal problems, Pelz-Sharpe said.
"In the current political climate of rife disinformation, a tool like that may well be used to generate convincing but untrue or misleading information," Pelz-Sharpe said. "So, it's powerful, it is clever, it's cool, but it is not without drawbacks."