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  • Writer's pictureSophie Wesley

‘Technological Revolution’ or ‘Science Fiction Dystopia’? How AI is changing the PR Landscape


Robots playing chess

The library contains all the books ever written, but also all the books that were never written, books that are wrong, books that are nonsense. Everything that matters is there but it cannot be found because of everything else”.

Jorges Luis Borges, 1939


When Jorges Luis Borges wrote his 1939 essay, ‘The Total Library’, it’s unlikely he expected his concept would be brought to (digital) life by a Columbia University graduate. Yet, in 2015, Jonathan Basile created ‘The Library of Babel,’ a website designed to house every book ever written, plus, every book that could be written. Borge’s concept seems to encapsulate the very concept of artificial intelligence as ‘the simulation of human intelligence by machines’.


THE IMITATION GAME

Alan Turing on a British £50 note
Alan Turing, Mathematician and logician

Although early understandings of cybernetics and information theory played a significant role in later conceptions of AI, the first ‘breakthrough proposal’ in the philosophy of AI was established by mathematician and logician, Alan Turing, who published the Turing test in 1950. The Turing test, or ‘the imitation game’, as Turing initially referred to it, sought to determine if machines could ‘think’. Interrogators would ask the computer a series of questions, and if they could not differentiate its answers from those of a human, the computer would be deemed an ‘intelligent’, thinking entity.


Fast forward to today, and AI is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. The development of the likes of Siri and Alexa in recent years have seen growing interest in the power of AI, but the introduction of ChatGPT marked a particular turning point. This large language model (LLM)-based chatbot launched on November 30th 2022, amassing 1 million users within a week, and 100 million by the end of January 2023. The rise of such platforms has led to a marked growth in the popularity of AI: 72% of UK adults in 2023 were able to at least partially explain AI, in comparison to 52% in July 2022.


… VERSUS THE REPLICANT

Unsurprisingly, the rise of AI has seen an ‘entrepreneurial explosion’, being introduced into an increasing number of industries. So, as AI continues to shape our daily lives and permeate various industries, the intriguing question for PR professionals is: what further transformations will it bring to the realm of public relations, and how will these changes unfold?


A key offering of AI-driven algorithms for the PR sphere is the ability to generate content, such as a press releases, social media update or blog posts. What if I told you that this entire article was written by ChatGPT? Would you even be surprised?


LINKEDIN OR LINKED OUT: THE HUMAN WILL SEE YOU NOW. OR WILL THEY?

No doubt, this will be an appealing prospect to PR professionals, acting as a valuable tool for enhanced efficiency, freeing up time for professionals to focus on strategic planning and fostering relationships with clients, members of the media, and other stakeholders. In 2023, LinkedIn rolled out a number of new AI features, including AI-powered profile building and post creation: simply input a minimum of 20 words into a LinkedIn status draft, and a full post can be drafted for you with relevant hashtags added. Time = saved.


AI: THE ‘WRITE’ HAND MAN

Indeed, this tool is not exclusive to PR professionals - the power of AI is being harnessed to curate content in a range of industries. Non Disclosure Agreements, a topic we explored earlier this year through working with WhistleblowersUK - are also being generated by AI. Recently, Lord Justice Birss, a specialist in intellectual property law, shared the fact he’d used ChatGPT to write part of a case ruling.


AI has proved to be equally useful in the news landscape, where publications such as CNET have admitted to using AI to write articles for them - at least 75 this year, in fact. In a similar fashion, Buzzfeed uses ChatGPT to enhance its online quizzes and articles. However, as highlighted in an article in The Economist this year, the concurrent rise of misinformation and the proliferation of AI is no coincidence; rapid developments in AI technology have exacerbated the dissemination of misleading (or simply false) information. We predict that AI will not replace face-to-face meetings, and that’s partly because it may be easy to lie behind emails or digital screens, but far harder to do whilst looking eye-to-eye! As such, there has been a rise in discussions surrounding safety in relation to AI. President Biden recently issued an Executive Order intended to manage the risks of AI.


THE JOB DISPLACEMENT DEBATE

Rishi Sunak sitting across from Elon Musk on stage, in conversation
Rishi Sunak + Elon Musk at Lancaster House

The proliferation of AI has, unsurprisingly, raised concerns regarding its impact on the job market. Roles requiring repetitive or routine tasks are at particularly high risk of becoming automated, potentially displacing a huge proportion of jobs. Actress, Keira Knightley, has expressed concerns, and posited the idea she may ‘copyright her face’ in reaction to the use of AI to replace actors. Similarly, Tom Hanks has remarked, “I could be hit by a bus tomorrow and that’s it, but my performances would go on and on and on.” AI’s impact on the world of work looms over the economy, threatening to further exacerbate economic disparity. Here, people will look to their governing authorities to introduce proactive measures to address prospective job displacement: something discussed by PM Rishi Sunak and Elon Musk earlier this month.


YOU CAN’T ‘COPY’ CREATIVITY

Nonetheless, the Curious team remains, on balance, positive about AI’s role. We celebrate the creativity of the human race: it’s part of our charm and our value. Humans have an innate ability to harness our emotions and experiences to inform and deepen our work, empowering and inspiring those around us. By nature, large language models are unoriginal; they create content based on data from users. Returning to public relations, again we underline that the value and trust-worthiness of the human connection ‘in real time’ is essential to navigating the nuance and intricacies involved in communications, allowing us to tap into the authentic voices of those we represent. After all, would you entrust international diplomacy to robots?


DATA CRUNCH POWER

When considering the ways in which AI will change the world of PR, one key element is its ability to sift through vast amounts of data, allowing PR professionals to make more informed, data-driven decisions. For instance, AI offers quick, uncomplicated access to sentiment analysis, allowing for efficient evaluation of PR campaigns and an insight into public opinion across various channels. Thus, those in the PR field may be more equipped to minimise any damage resulting from emerging crises, by spotting them before they snowball. Again, such a tool would save a significant portion of time, freeing up professionals to build authentic relationships.


That being said, the threat AI poses to data security cannot be ignored. Only yesterday, the British Medical Association raised fears about patient data confidentiality following the announcement that the NHS will use the health management system provided by US-based firm, Palantir. Earlier this month, the Artificial Intelligence Safety Summit took place at the world-famous WW2 code-breaking site, Bletchley Park, where leaders from 28 nations met to discuss the mitigation of risks posed by AI. With AI sifting through petabytes of data to analyse consumer behaviour, our casual interactions with virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa often occur without much consideration for the potential uses of our personal information. (Be honest: do you read the terms and conditions before clicking ‘accept’ and ‘download’?)


AI AS ‘SUPERHERO’ OR VILLAIN?

This unchecked usage of AI in data analysis raises ethical concerns, notably around the pervasive issue of bias. Consider that AI systems filter through vast datasets, and are trained on historical data: it becomes almost inevitable that they will too inherit the biases shown in the data. This issue becomes particularly prevalent when one considers the use of AI in hiring practices and criminal justice systems.


Closer to ‘home’, in 2020, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) published an ‘ethics guide’ to AI in PR. This highlighted the fact that algorithms are, ‘biassed almost by design, they have a propensity to discriminate in terms of diversity and inclusion, and how they are constructed is not transparent.’ In the medical sphere, it is well known that clinical trials are skewed by ethnicity and gender biases. However, AI can, conversely, also be used to target health inequality.


Consider the fact that life expectancy for men in Blackpool is 10.6 years lower than that of those living in Westminster (74.1 versus 84.7) as shown by the Centre for Ageing Better’s new study, ‘The State of Ageing 2023-24’. We’ve been learning how the software platform of client, Metadvice, uses AI to help primary care physicians target patients at greatest risk from common conditions including cardiovascular disease, hyperlipidaemia and type 2 diabetes (which often overlap, adding further complexity). How? By identifying the patients most at risk among a local population, and prioritising them. Currently, this is done in rather crude fashion, e.g. by date of birth, rather than using the patients’ records (e.g. blood pressure, blood sugars etc).


On a further positive note, this McKinsey article suggested that ‘AI can reduce humans’ subjective interpretation of data, because machine learning algorithms learn to consider only the variables that improve their predictive accuracy, based on the training data used.’ As we press forward into the ‘digital age’ it’s crucial that inherent biases are addressed to ensure fair outcomes.


WHO’S THE BOSS?

It is overwhelmingly clear that AI already has, and will continue to have, a transformational impact on how we live, work and play. Part of the challenge we face is keeping up with emerging and evolving technologies. WE must dictate the role of AI, not the other way round, or else we risk sleepwalking into a technological nightmare. Caveats aside though, with technological revolution comes opportunity. We look forward to seeing how AI changes organisations and their systems. Without doubt, along the way, the public will witness historical moments that reflect the identity and values of all types of entities - from consultant to SME, NGO, conglomerates, governments, and so on. With values being the bedrock of behaviour and thus its reputation, the way organisations communicate their deployment of AI could not be more important. Especially in today’s mistrusting, crisis-ridden zeitgeist.

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