Why we’re still a way off tech-enabled Public Rel-AI-tions

This year marks 70 years since Alan Turing’s seminal Imitation Game paper, asking the question of whether machines could think. Back then – as today – the answer was no, but some experts predict that this new decade could see the development of the first machine that can pass itself off as human.

So it was a timely topic to discuss at the CIPR’s AIinPR – AI in the Professions Report Launch event this morning, where we were lucky enough to hear from experts in both the PR and AI fields about a range of issues, including developing data ethics, preventing online abuse, and – the main event – the impact that AI is set to have on professionals. 

CIPR AI Chair Kerry Sheehan said that “the public relations profession is significantly behind the curve and sleep walking into AI”. While many sectors have been impacted by automation and the imminent arrival of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, professional services have remained relatively immune to AI disruption. Yet that is all set to change as robotics and AI evolve – with applications for their use growing exponentially, and the problems they can solve becoming ever more complex.

So those in the PR, comms and marketing professions who are in an ivory tower, wrongly thinking the robots could never come for their jobs need to realise that change is coming – and it’ll have implications for new talent. As co-author of the report, Professor Anne Gregory, put it this morning “in a world where a lot of the grunt work in PR is automated (normally carried out by junior members of staff), how do we look after and nurture younger people entering the profession?”. 

Beyond that, it isn’t unimaginable that machine learning and deep neural networks could eventually learn to replicate the creative spark that our industry prides itself on, that helps our clients to stand out to their target audiences.

The near- and mid-term future will see machines take on more of the jobs that can be automated, and give us time to be even more creative and to focus on things that truly add value to businesses we work with. Where technology takes us after that isn’t clear (Blade Runner anyone?), but from this morning’s event one thing is clear – the industry really needs to put time and resource into upskilling and developing a fuller understanding of AI. Only then can its power be harnessed. Not just for us, but for our clients too.

Launched at the Alan Turing Institute this morning, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) #AIinPR Panel report – ‘The Effects of AI on the Professions: A Literature Repository’ – summarises nearly 200 global publications on AI and its impact on the professions including the changing nature of work, the ethical implications surrounding AI, future regulation and, notably, its impact on specific work groups.