Over the past two decades the Public Relations sector has witnessed a vast number of changes, many of which have been driven by tech related advancements: from the printed media (e.g. Hollis) directories to searchable online media databases; print to digital media outlets; professional journalism to consumer journalism; Spin to fake news; web chat rooms to social media. More broadly, tech advances have impacted the workplace too: fax to email; ISDN to broadband; PC to mobile devices; Yahoo! to Google; workspace servers to cloud storage; landline telephone to Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP).
In every instance, to stay ahead we’ve had to accept, adapt and adopt.
It’s guaranteed that technology is going to have big implications over the decades ahead, but where it comes to Artificial Intelligence (AI) – the buzzword of the moment – what does it really mean for the PR sector?
Artificial Intelligence Vs Intelligence Augmentation
Whilst progress has been steady, AI is still in its infancy, and what some may refer to as AI, isn’t necessarily so. In fact, much of the technology that exists in the PR arena today is better described as Intelligence Augmentation (IA).
IA aims to enhance human intelligence rather than replace it. It usually consists sophisticated software with human-created algorithms that respond to pre-defined input or user behaviour at a fast pace. Applications of IA include: machine learning, deep learning and natural language processing.
AI on the other hand can self-learn without relying on predefined behavioural algorithms.
We’re a long way from singularity
Singularity is where powerful artificial super-intelligence would, qualitatively, far surpass all human intelligence. Singularity is the AI fear-factor, spurred by sci-fi imaginings. The concept of singularity is one that puts many on edge the minute A and I are uttered in succession.
The simple truth is that where it comes to AI, we’ve still got a very long way to go to even match the cognitive skills of humans.
So, with this in mind, we should stop focussing on the science-fiction of AI and place our focus on the positive impact of IA.
The golden era
IA will provide PRs a unique advantage, helping them streamline workflow, whilst creating cohesion in the workplace. Initially it will take on the automation of the more mundane and time consuming daily tasks. These tasks are likely to include analysis, targeting, dissemination, monitoring and reporting. Freeing time so that PRs may explore creative strategy aided by computer generated, deep analysis into the target audience to better understand habits, preference, etc. Hereafter it is likely to take on more sophisticated tasks such as liaison and content creation (whilst early models of this already exist, it’s still far from advanced enough to rival an adept PR). The golden era will see tech improve PR performance and work lifestyle.
Beyond the golden era…
After the heady golden era, it is possible a degree of complacency may set in; some may become entrenched and heavily reliant on IA, as certain skillsets become obsolete from the workplace. It is therefore perfectly feasible that IA may in fact become led by IA, and, if this were to occur, we might reach a creativity threshold and thereafter stagnation. For example, imagine if all content is IA generated, and all news streams are IA controlled, we could end up seeing a great deal of like-for-like content streaming over multiple channels.
The immediate hurdles
The widespread adoption of newfound technology has in every case been driven by accessibility and affordability, as well as the underlying desire to improve and make life easier. Back in the 1920s most UK households didn’t own a car. In the 1930s most UK households didn’t own a washing machine. In the 1940s most UK households didn’t own a television. In a similar fashion, augmented intelligence will be an expense that agency owners either consider a luxury or a necessary investment. For IA to truly take hold in PR, first it must be accessible and comprehendible. If the offering is beyond budgets or too complicated to use, it will become the reserve of tech-heads.
Another observation is that tech incorporating Augmented Intelligence, tends to be created with a mass market approach (e.g. IBM’s Watson), meaning that whilst the tech employed can carry out certain tasks efficiently, it may not do so in the manner you want it to.
Embracing the future
Presently, we’re on the cusp of the golden era of intelligence augmentation technology, which will leave the PR profession very little to be fearful of and plenty to gain. IA poses little threat to industries such as PR, where creative input, strategy and human judgement are integral. That said, for the PR industry to thrive, the profession must adopt an open-minded approach to new tech offerings. Advancements in IA will invariably create a faster-paced work environment, where continual learning and an adaptive approach will be key to stay ahead.
What are your thoughts?