Vladimir Putin recently expressed his fears with regards to artificial intelligence [AI] by asking Russia's largest technology firm how long it will be until smart robots “eat us.” Arkady Volozh, chief of the internet firm Yande replied, “I hope never.” Putin said he wasn’t so sure stating that he believes AI is “the future, not only for Russia, but for all humankind.” But, he added, alongside its "colossal opportunities" are "threats that are difficult to predict." He then concluded by saying, "Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world."
In expressing his concern about the future of AI, Putin joins Tesla founder Elon Musk, who is strongly in favour of regulating its development. Musk worries that robots could one day take up arms against humans. Standing with Musk is Bill Gates when he says, "I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence.” And both are backed by Stephen Hawking who says, "The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race."
But, if Alexa can tell us which restaurant we’d like to eat at and Uber can develop a self-driving car that will take us there, surely there must be some uses for this technology before we’re doomed by it. It’s always up to the innovators to tap into technological advances and entrepreneurs to monetize them. Edison’s light bulb used electricity. Ford’s parts moved on a conveyor belt. Jeffrey Skoll’s E-Bay and Jeff Bezos’s Amazon took full free market advantage of communications and computing (aka, the Internet).
So, if AI is the next advance. How could Public Relations best prepare itself to take advantage of this current revolution?
Is Digital PR ready for AI?
First, let’s define what we’re talking about. AI generally refers to computing systems that are capable of learning, reasoning, and improving their own performance over a period of time. It means systems that can perform tasks that usually require human intelligence. AI is aware of its environment. It’s flexible. It learns from experience. It solves problems. When people talk about AI, machine learning, automation, big data, cognitive computing, or deep learning, they’re talking about the ability of machines to learn to fulfill objectives based on data and reasoning.
There are plenty in the business world who feel sure that AI will be a crucial part of PR. The Weber Shandwick survey found 55% of CMOs believe AI will transform marketing and communications to a greater degree than social media has.
Chatbots can understand a question and reply based on information gathered from multiple sources. Marketing uses chatbots to monitor, analyze and manage campaigns from within apps like Slack or Messenger, without having to sign into other systems.
RevealBot is a Slack bot that provides an overview for campaigns, ad sets, or ads with reports and graphs. All a marketer has to do is text, “Show the Fall Sale ad sets from last week,” and the bot will deliver the right data, visually presented for easy understanding, along with in-message buttons that let the marketer take action in response to the data.
“We can better analyze and visualize what people are talking about and what they’re saying,” says Christopher S. Penn, VP, Marketing Technology, “AI allows us to extract patterns from the hundreds of thousands of news stories published every day by media companies. It helps us analyze how well our campaigns are performing.”
Besides providing data for analysis, AI-enhanced chatbots will also be used for quick and effective communication. For example, Facebook has chatbots in the Messenger app that allows users to perform all kinds of tasks from ordering and paying for Chinese food, to finding the right movie to watch with all that pork-fried rice. AI makes this happen, because it infuses bots with the capability of comprehending a question no matter how it is asked and be able to retrieve answers from multiple sources--in less than the snap of a finger. Big data and AI can present amazing, data-rich research to anyone posing a question.
Time To Shift
According to Jeff Hardison, VP at Lytics, a customer data platform and a major player in analytics, “Machine learning is already helping marketers make more efficient use of customer data, and complementing what they’ve had for centuries: intuition and experience.” Note that the keyword is “complements,” not replaces.
“Google and Amazon have put up AI clouds dedicated to machine learning,” said Saif Ajani, CEO of Keyhole, a hashtag analytics company that uses Google Tensor Flow to tap into the capabilities of machine learning. “Keyhole can now plug its huge data set for social into the AI cloud and get results for clients quickly and affordably. Our data is 80 to 90 percent accurate in predicting what is going to happen after 30 days. Within 3 days, we can predict how big the trend is going to be after 30 days. So, within 24 or 72 hours we can actually tell you how massive a crisis is going to be in the next 30 days.”
None of this is possible without machine learning and large data. “Machine learning works well with large data sets and helps us with problems such as classification, says Steve Rayson, director at BuzzSumo. “It also helps us to identify common elements of content that gains shares and links.”
“We have a database of over 6 billion content items and add over 100 million new content items each month,” says Rayson. “We use machine learning to help us classify content and to rank content. For example, we crawl hundreds of thousands of forums to identify questions being asked on any topic and we extract phrases to group these questions into sub-topics.”
As a leading platform for PR media measurement and attribution analytics, AirPR crawls, processes, and analyzes billions of data points per day and uses natural language processing (NLP) and deep learning techniques to “teach” its systems to understand text and classify articles, as well as determine relevance and influence for any brand. The platform provides deeper insight into the articles, authors, influencers, and messages that drive actual engagement with a customer’s brand.
Trendkite, an emerging leader in PR measurement and analytics, is able to provide insights and recommendations based on reviewing more data points than humans could possibly reason over.
Hootsuite uses machine learning for social marketing, social selling, and social support. Hootsuite Insight tracks mentions and brand sentiment. “We figure out trends around your brand, which allows us to identify spikes,” said Mik Lernout, Vice President of Product at Hootsuite.
What Does this Mean for the Best Digital PR Firms?
AI will help PR companies process their data at a rapid speed, improving how PR companies perform their services. With improved insight on what their consumers want, the messages being delivered are strong and direct.
“Data is the fuel and the algorithm is the engine,” says Columbia University’s Professor of Mechanical Engineering Hod Lipson. “We used to program computers. Now it is machine learning, we just feed it with data.”
PR professionals can now create fine-tuned messages for their audience, targeting individual consumers in real-time via such services as Facebook feeds and news recommendations. This is based upon the simple premise that you’re more likely to click on ads that correspond with your thoughts and opinions.
It seems clear that Public Relations will be impacted by data and AI in several ways:
- For companies without an effective data science practice, crisis communications will be an ongoing trial. Competitors will create crises simply by being better at making customers happy, constantly putting less data-savvy companies on the defensive.
- Data science, machine learning, and artificial intelligence should make public relations easier for most companies, from predicting when customer interest will be highest to identifying potential crises and mitigating them before they explode.
- Those PR professionals, in-house teams, and agencies which build data science capabilities quickly, will have a decided advantage over those who do not, but acquiring talent will be the greatest challenge.
Conclusion: Will we be eaten?
The tools with which PR measurements are made have turned into automated processes that collect data and parcel it into reports, which provide ways for an organization to understand its performance and perception. But, PR professionals are still needed to analyze the information. Without human analysis to review trends, sentiment, and patterns the data collected by these tools offers little value to organizations.
PR is predicated on making relationships. Not even the most advanced technology can connect with humans as effectively as another human. Humans will always be needed to provide analysis, as well as be the the force that resonates with people.
Ignoring the benefits of AI means that clients may seek help from firms that have competent AI systems and companies that neglected to build these abilities in-house will lose business to those that have.
“But, AI isn’t magic,” says Abbi Whitaker, founder of The Abbi Agency, “the truth is we have neither the data nor the understanding necessary to build machines that make routine decisions as well as human beings. Over the next five to 10 years, the biggest business gains will likely stem from getting the right information to the right people at the right time. Data will increasingly drive a real-time economy, where resources are marshaled more efficiently, and the production of goods and services becomes on-demand, with lower failure rates and much better predictability.”
“For public relations professionals who are bold thinkers and fearless experimenters,” says Penn, “the future is very bright. Artificial intelligence will make public relations more creative, more enjoyable, and more impactful than ever – but we have to overcome our fears of the machines and embrace them as our companions on the journey to the future.”
So, No. We won’t be eaten. Yet. But, we will have super smart partners who will be able to sort through a pile of data a million pages thick and get a specific message to a client within the second they are ready to buy, where it might take us a few weeks. But once connected, that client needs to connect with someone who can use empathy, intuition, humor, reminiscence and folk wisdom, if that client is to trust enough to sign on the line.
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Author: Mike Emerton, Founder, BridgeView Marketing