We come into contact with artificial intelligence (AI) and AI-powered technologies on a daily basis. Virtual assistants like Alexa and Siri can schedule appointments and make telephone calls simply through voice prompts. AI has made cities smarter with real-time traffic updates, Google Translate has made translation for more than 100 languages available at the touch of a finger and humanoid robots are greeting people in airports and shopping malls. AI truly is disrupting every industry, from health and education to retail and banking, but what does AI mean for communication professionals and how will it impact our work?
AI is broad term that can mean a lot of things. What we often mean when we talk about AI is actually machine learning. Machine learning is a branch of computer science that focuses on teaching machines to recognize patterns, learn, solve problems and perform tasks in a way that we would normally associate with human behavior. It’s often associated with technologies like speech and image recognition and real-time language translation. AI enables machines to see and experience the world the way humans do.
From self-driving cars to predicting diseases like Alzheimer’s, the AI race is on. Countries around the world are quickly recognizing this, and many have adopted national AI strategies to help accelerate technologies, train workers and generate awareness and understanding about the implications of an AI-driven future. Canada has become the first country in the world to adopt a national AI strategy. The CIFAR Pan-Canadian AI Strategy aims to invest in machine learning research and training. Other countries are following suit: Germany, China, Mexico and the U.S. have all launched similar strategies, a strong indication that AI adoption has become globally significant.
According to this report produced by Edelman, six out of 10 respondents already believe AI is integrated into the work they do. And the World Economic Forum report predicts that as we move through the Fourth Industrial Revolution, robots will perform more of the tasks previously reserved for humans. While there is a lot of fear being perpetuated that the rise of the machines will result in the elimination of work for humans, many AI experts and scientists posit that AI will simply complement the work of humans by fostering better workflow efficiency and making more accurate predictions in their everyday lives. In turn, humans will play a significant role in training machines and ensuring the tasks that are carried out are responsible and effective.
While it is suspected that as many as 20% of all jobs could be replaced by AI, it is predicted that AI will actually boost economic growth and create even more positions in the workplace. Through AI technologies, companies will be able to improve their processes and quality, and reduce manufacturing and production costs, which could result in lower consumer costs.
Here are some of the ways that AI will specifically impact the role of communication.
Maintaining trust and transparency
In the era of “fake news,” many populations around the world are already feeling skeptical of the content they read. Trust in media, government and corporate entities is in global decline. With the capability to produce, alter and create content, including videos, images and audio, AI will continue to deepen this mistrust. Building and maintaining the trust of organizations as they adopt AI technologies will be critical for communicators. Communicators are uniquely skilled with emphasizing transparency and openness within an organization or company, and that skill will be important for maintaining the trust of audiences.
Keeping communication authentic and meaningful
Going hand in hand with trust and transparency is authenticity. As we see the introduction of more automation, chatbots and robots, there is a risk for more emotional disconnect between organizations/companies and the audiences they serve. Communicators will be needed to build a deeper and more meaningful connection with the products and services they provide.
Developing content across multiple media with an emotional connection will resonate with audiences as we move toward a more automated society. And likely, communicators will have more avenues to explore, such as holograms and virtual realities. Humanoid robots will build relationships with employees, customers/clients and patients to foster dialogue that is personable, honest and open.
Deliver smarter and more targeted campaigns
With AI-empowered tools, communicators will be able to deliver smarter and more insightful campaigns. Access to real-time reports with insights driven by large datasets will point to, and even predict/forecast, the latest trends and issues. The communication and marketing campaigns of the future (and even now) will increasingly look to AI to help build, predict and measure successful campaigns.
Today’s data provides opportunities to home in on the personalized needs of our audiences and build customized and tailored campaigns specific to multiple audiences. AI can help us better understand what matters the most to our audiences. With the emphasis on AI to deliver more services that are tailored and customized to our individual needs, our audiences will expect more.
The AI toolkit
Virtual assistants are constantly improving to help us better manage our schedules and activities, but AI technology has also expanded the communicator’s toolkit. Tools such as Otter.AI make it possible to instantly and seamlessly transcribe conversations and interviews within seconds. Companies like Microsoft and Google are exploring machine learning methods to prioritize emails and make recommendations for follow-up. Smart applications with the ability to quickly pull together engaging photos, videos and audio are already transforming how we collect and share content and this will continue.
Respond faster and more efficiently during a crisis
Communicators will also be better prepared to respond more efficiently in a crisis, and AI may even help prevent the emotional paralysis that sometimes inhibits quick action. Communicators will be able to advise their leaders on key crises and issues even before they arise, using data to assess potential damage and the best path forward.
Understand how the risks may affect your corporate reputation
Equity, diversity and inclusion have become the cornerstone values for many organizations around the world as they prioritize fairness and equal representation in the workplace, but as suggested in this article, AI could present risks to these values. Artificial intelligence relies on tons of excellent quality data. Where there are biases and exclusion in data, there could also be biases and exclusions in the insights produced by that data. Biased data could prevent individuals from being successful in bank loan applications due to their race or gender; individuals could also be excluded from hiring consideration based on biased or incomplete data. Communicators will be a valuable source in providing oversight and in helping organizations keep sight of their values.
AI will bridge communities and disciplines
Many companies will be able to leverage AI to remain competitive and scale up in various ways. New interdisciplinary research in AI means that computer scientists now intersect with medical doctors, stock market experts, educators and policymakers and social sciences experts, creating more opportunities to bring individuals together and foster more collaborations. Language, culture and geographical location will no longer present the same barriers that exist without AI. The same holds true for communications professionals; they will work closely with machines to provide the strategic oversight necessary to keep an organization moving in its desired direction.
Krista Davidson, CMP, will present the session “How to communicate about artificial intelligence and big data innovation” with Carolyn Fell at the IABC World Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, in June 2019. You can learn more about AI in Canada by subscribing to the AICan Bulletin.