Can Notion AI writing helper write this article?

Hand writing AI on clear circuit board


The maker of the powerful productivity tool Notion just sent me an email letting me know that I’m eligible to use its bleeding-edge Notion AI writing helper.

So, in the interests of science (and possibly to have something wonderfully mockworthy), I’m asking Notion AI to help me write this article. 

To engage the AI, all you need to do is select a line of text and click the AI Assist button.

In this experimental article, my words are in normal and bold text. The AI’s words are italicized. With that, let’s get started.

Screenshot of Notion AI in use

David Gewirtz/ZDNET

Summarize this article.

This article explores the capabilities of Notion AI, a new artificial intelligence (AI) tool that can be used to write articles. It examines the features of Notion AI, such as its ability to understand natural language and its ability to generate content, and puts it to the test by using it to write the article itself. The article provides an initial look at Notion AI and its potential to revolutionize the way we write.

Describe Notion AI.

Notion AI is a technology that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to help people understand and interact with text. It can help people understand complex topics and ideas by breaking them down into simpler language. It can also help people interact with text by providing relevant information and suggesting possible actions.

Can Notion AI write for me?

No, Notion AI cannot write for you. Notion AI is an artificial intelligence system that helps you understand and analyze text. It can provide insights and help you understand the meaning of text, but it cannot write for you.

This, of course, was written by Notion AI and, in the first answer above, it explicitly said, “…can be used to write articles.” We can argue about whether those answers are internally consistent, but the idea is this is a tool for writers, not a replacement.

Let’s explore a technical topic with the AI

Before the note granting me access to Notion AI arrived in my inbox, I had been planning to write an article titled something like, “Buying a hard drive in frustration-free packaging isn’t such a great idea.”

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The backstory on this is that I recently bought a hard drive to replace one that had failed in my NAS. I didn’t pay attention to the “frustration-free packaging” mention in the headline, which meant I didn’t realize it would arrive almost completely unprotected, barely cushioned by bubble wrap, with the smaller box it was contained in banging around inside a larger shipping box.

Open cardboard box with packaging

An example of sub-optimal packaging and bubble wrap.

David Gewirtz/ZDNET

Hard drives are often used in corporate storage arrays because they can store a lot more data than SSDs for a much lower price. Hard drives, unlike solid-state drives, are spinning platters. If there’s any misalignment to those platters, they can shatter inside the unit, even if the outside looks fine. And even if they don’t shatter, they can be damaged in ways that reduce the mean time between failure. They’re quite delicate. It’s important to keep a spare or two on hand in case a drive fails in a NAS — and you want to be reasonably sure that spare will work when installed. So when you ship a hard drive, you need to protect it.

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While this isn’t meant to be an article on hard drive protection, I’m asking the AI to use that context in its responses. Let’s see how Notion AI explains it. We’ll start by seeing if the AI knows what Amazon’s frustration-free packaging is.

Explain Amazon’s frustration-free packaging.

Amazon’s frustration-free packaging is a way for customers to receive their products with less packaging and less hassle. It is designed to make it easier for customers to open their packages and get to the product inside. The packaging is also designed to be more environmentally friendly, using less material and being easier to recycle.

At this level, it got it right. But as we’ll see, it doesn’t seem to think about this in future answers. So let’s give it that headline I’d been considering for my article and see what it does with it.

‘Buying a hard drive in frustration free packaging isn’t such a great idea.’

The AI gave what’s essentially a four-part answer. Let’s break that down, because some of it is almost right.

Although buying a hard drive in frustration free packaging may seem like a great idea at first, it is not necessarily the best option.” — This is completely true.

Not only is it often more expensive than buying a hard drive without the packaging, but the packaging may not necessarily be as secure as traditional packaging.” — The AI got this half right and half wrong. The AI assumed that the frustration-free packaging was an add-on cost, when it usually costs less. 

Also, frustration-free packaging sometimes involves removing the manufacturer’s packaging and replacing it with easy-to-open Amazon packaging. Frustration-free packaging removes some of the packaging overhead from vendors’ product deliveries to Amazon, and then subsequently to customers. But the AI did get it right that frustration-free packaging isn’t necessarily as secure as traditional packaging. It’s most definitely not, especially where delicate hard drives are concerned.

As such, it is important to consider the cost and security of the item before making the purchase, as it may not be worth the extra money for the frustration free packaging.” — Here, too, the AI got it a bit wrong. Honestly, it feels like an essay by a high school student who didn’t do the reading, and then was trying to fudge the answer by guessing. To be fair, again, the AI was on target saying it’s important to consider the cost and security of an item before making a purchase. But it again assumed that frustration-free packaging costs extra.

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Additionally, the packaging may not even be necessary for the item you are purchasing, so it may be beneficial to find out if it is really worth it before you make the purchase.” — Now, this final statement seems to show that the AI isn’t familiar with the relatively delicate nature of hard drive platters, but as we’ll see in a later question, that’s not really true. Instead, the AI seems to get stuck on the “frustration-free” theme and doesn’t relate that to what’s in the package. 

Solid packaging, of course, is absolutely necessary for hard drives. Again the AI missed the point, mistaking frustration-free packaging for an additional add-on of extra packaging or cost.

Exploring the AI’s understanding of specific object characteristics

We talked about the delicate nature of hard drives above. In this section, I wanted to see how well the AI understood object characteristics. 

For example, dropping a hard drive is bad. But dropping a ball is good — it’s what you’re supposed to do with a ball. How the AI deals with this is kind of fun.

Will a hard drive work if you drop it?

Dropping a hard drive can cause it to stop working. If you drop a hard drive, it is likely that it will not work properly anymore.

So, on its own, the AI does know that a hard drive is a breakable item. Let’s see if that’s by context, or if it really understands the nature of hard drives (and why it’s important that they be treated as the fragile items they are).

As a contrast, I asked the same question about an object that is designed to be dropped, a ball.

Will a ball work if you drop it?

When you drop a ball, it will fall to the ground. This is because of the force of gravity, which is a natural force that pulls objects towards the ground.

Well, yeah… but the question hasn’t really been answered.

Compare a ball to a hard drive.

A ball and a hard drive are two different things. A ball is a round object that can be used for playing games or sports. A hard drive is a type of storage device that is used to store digital information. Both a ball and a hard drive are objects, but they have different uses and features.

Well, OK. That’s spot on.

Will our AI overlords murder us in our sleep?

No, AI overlords will not murder us in our sleep. This phrase is an exaggeration used to describe the potential dangers of artificial intelligence (AI). It suggests that AI may become so powerful that it could take control of humans and harm them.

I feel so much better already. As for me, I don’t think I’ll use the tool all that much, because I worry about the question of originality. I want my words to be my words, not something an AI could generate for everyone. I’m also concerned, as in some of the examples shown above, that the AI might write “authoritatively” but wrongly.

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At least when I research a topic on my own, I have a good grasp of the issues and facts behind the topic. It would be easy to get lazy and just assume the AI is right, when it may very well be incorrect — or worse, purposely spoofed into generating misinformation.

So, what do you think? Will you be using Notion AI for your projects or writing? Let us know in the comments below.

This text is asking if you will use Notion AI for your projects or writing. It is asking for your opinion. If you have an opinion, please leave a comment below.

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