Getting ahead in the age of distraction
I was in Boston earlier this month to attend the AI Now symposium at the MIT Media Lab. An extraordinary group of experts discussed the future of artificial intelligence in business, society and our lives.
AI is everywhere
We’re already starting to feel the effects of AI every day, as it changes everything from decisions in healthcare and justice to our personal daily routines.
I began thinking about how AI will affect the communications industry, from how we will work in the future to the question of whether there will be any work at all.
It’s tempting to look at the world through the rear-view mirror, and see our profession as it was in the past. Many of those traditional communications roles can now be filled by AI. Technology can identify and craft stories, find audiences and their preferred channels, then report on the impact of a campaign. It does these things, and more, very rapidly and at a much lower cost.
If machines can find stories hidden in mountains of data and publish them instantly, then who needs us anymore? Is the role of the communications professional dead?
That’s the wrong way to look at things. Like other technologies before it, AI creates both great change and tremendous opportunity. It not only enables us to do more, but also underscores that there are some things technology can’t replace.
The same machine intelligence that allows online merchants to understand their customers and offer appropriate products to each one, also allows us to identify and understand detailed audience profiles for our messages. We can use AI to build and reach mass audiences, or just “audiences of one,” with stories that matter to them, via channels they trust.
AI also enables us to create new kinds of stories, in new and exciting ways. IBM’s Watson Analytics can visualize extremely complex data in a way that’s easy for everyone to understand. We can use this powerful tool to find many different stories, and find the relevant audiences for them as well.
AI also lets us understand, in real time, how those stories are being received; we can determine if people are acting on the information we provide, and continue to refine our conversations.
The idea of conversation is, and will remain, central – technology still can’t replace the human nature of relationships. That’s why, instead of “artificial intelligence,” as in a replacement for the human mind, I prefer to think of this technology (as IBM has said for some time), as augmented intelligence.
We can use AI to augment our thinking with information and insights to help us build better, stronger relationships with our customers.
From Artificial Intelligence to Authentic Interaction
Our role is more important in this new model, because there is SO MUCH data out there. With new skills and AI tools, we can find new stories (including those based on the data that’s missing – something AI can’t do).
Applying our traditional PR skills, we will then be able to find new and compelling ways to be storytellers. Finally, we will be able to bring the right story to the right audience – using insights from AI to augment our human relationships.
There is also the most crucial and human role of all: To remain the guardians of fairness and values, of ethical principles and trust. We can – and must – do something that machines can’t: exercise judgment.
We no longer are practitioners of a “dark art.” It has been illuminated by analytics and visualization. I’m not afraid of AI. I’m embracing it. I’m not looking at the death of communications as a profession. I’m seeing it imbued with an entirely new lease of life. Because technology isn’t replacing us, either: it’s augmenting and enhancing what we can do.
The final question for each of us is whether we’re willing to change with it. Our challenge is to learn to use those tools, and augment our talents with these new skills. A fulfilling future of storytelling, connecting with people, and building meaningful human relationships awaits.