Artificial Intelligence (AI) in PR & business – friend or foe?

[:en]By Maria Loupa, Account Director Ballou PR; MCIPR; # AIinPR panel 

With the fourth industrial revolution upon us, there is no doubt that AI will create significant business opportunities and will have a tremendous societal and economic impact on our lives. However, ethical dilemmas keep being raised by new advancements in the field – from IBM’s Watson AI to Google’s new Duplex system or its AI programme AlphaGo, it’s clear that we still have a long way to go.

Gaining traction 

In April 2018, the European Commission called for an increase of at least €20 billion for investments in AI research and innovation in the EU, highlighting the potential opportunities but also the measures that need to be considered ahead of widespread adoption. According to the European Commission, ‘Artificial intelligence (AI) refers to systems that show intelligent behaviour: by analysing their environment they can perform various tasks with some degree of autonomy to achieve specific goals.’

Essentially, we already use AI, even if we don’t fully realise it. The technology is being implemented across our mobile phones and e-commerce tools to customise the consumer’s experience via leveraging data insights from a range of platforms – be that chatbots, virtual personal assistants like Siri or Cortana, or smart home devices. 

AI applications 

AI’s outcomes are as diverse as the potential applications – it is already being used to prevent cyber-security attacks, across banking for fraud checks, retail for customer support, marketing and advertising for effective targeting; it’s being used to transform public transport and urban mobility, as well as healthcare.

As Theresa May highlighted this week, AI can revolutionise the NHS, by preventing over 20,000 cancer-related deaths each year by 2033. And this scenario is not that far out – according to ‘The Future of the Professions’ by Richard and Daniel Susskind, IBM’s separate project with the Baylor College of Medicine has developed a system that scans existing literature to generate new hypotheses for particular research problems. Interestingly, this scanning process would take a researcher up to 38 years to digest 70,000 medical articles.

In recent years we have also witnessed gradual AI implementation across the media spectrum. From Reuter’s News Tracer, using AI to determine whether trending topics are newsworthy and truthful to their launch of launch of Lynx Insight, a tool capable of writing sentences and pitching stories, to similar attempts from The Washington Post and the Press Association, among others.

Across the board, it seems that AI is primarily being used to optimise processes and facilitate workflows, while human input remains the most valuable asset in the news process.

AI in PR: CIPR leading the way

Similarly, in PR we have seen attempts towards AI implementation, but these have been sparse with no concrete outputs. A deeper analysis of AI’s impact on our profession has not been examined on a large scale; with this in mind, the CIPR’s Artificial Intelligence panel was formed. In fact, we have published today a new research revealing the impact of technology, and specifically AI, on the public relations practice. The pioneering research – led by Jean Valin Hon FCIPR – is the first comprehensive assessment of the impact of AI on public relations skills now and in five years.

The discussion paper uses a simplified version of the Global Alliance Global Body of Knowledge (GBOK) framework, which describes more than 50 capabilities in public relations, to visually represent the skills that AI is most likely to replace. Tools were benchmarked against the GBOK framework by an international group of practitioners.

The report found that 12% of a public relations practitioner’s total skills could be complemented or replaced by AI today, with a prediction that this could climb to 38% within five years. According to the findings, fundamental human traits such as empathy, trust, humour and relationship building can’t be automated. However, technology is impacting other areas of practice including the simplification of tasks; listening and monitoring; and automation.

Nature vs nurture

Although the level of sophistication is evolving quite rapidly, with a number of tasks being automated or assisted by AI across PR and other professions, humans are still needed. Soft skills like adaptivity, creativity, emotional intelligence and relationship-building will become increasingly desirable. By shifting our workforce towards a mentality of life-long learning and using technology to tackle mundane tasks, we will all be hopefully able to carry out more meaningful forms of work and achieve superior life quality.

Over time, this new focus may impact how we define professions within our societies as a whole, but in the meantime, we need to ensure we are preparing for socioeconomic changes by setting an appropriate ethical and legal framework.

While at this stage AI is focused primarily around driving efficiencies – quantitative not qualitative – and help us deal with the upscaling of online communications we have been experiencing over the past decade, it is bound to evolve further. We need to set aside our existential fears and survival instincts against upcoming changes, keeping in mind that technology itself isn’t inherently bad or good; its applications are merely a reflection of our morals. With proper regulation, gradual implementation and training, we can reach humanity’s full potential – these are the main aspects we need to be focusing on right now.

You can join the conversation about AI in PR via the #AIinPR hashtag on Twitter.

Image courtesy of maxpixel

*Blog first published on CIPR’s Influence magazine here.[:]