How I learned to stop worrying about robots

Recent advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI) have raised questions about whether robots could eventually do some of the jobs humans currently do. This question can apply to the creative industries and PR. Recently, MarketWatch published a list of 10 jobs it suggests robots can do better than humans. The list included journalism, with a caveat that creative media roles are safe as machines are poor at creativity. The same get out clause may apply to PR.

After years in the development stage, AI is now seeing the creation of complex algorithms designed to mimic, enact or replace human behaviour in the workplace and other areas of everyday life. Computing models exist to deal with a multitude of scenarios, enabling robots to make decisions independently. The reality is, the MarketWatch list is nothing new – we have seen the development of robotics over the years, in areas such as automation for car production and algorithms designed to predict behaviour online.  However, these technology advances are now being applied in an increasing number of different areas.

So what parts of PR can be automated? Well, social media interactions, search engine optimisation (SEO), information dissemination and tracking media coverage can all potentially be done by a machine with the relevant programming.  Online media tools such as Hootsuite can already schedule tweets and plan online activity well in advance. Media tracking tools can track coverage for clients, at the press of a few buttons, but they do come with a price tag. Incorporating an element of AI will take basic algorithms to an advanced level which includes predicting and analysing online behaviour.

With SEO, identifying key search terms and phrases which help boost a company’s online presence, can be carried out by an algorithm at the design stage. This can, in theory, be continuously tracked and updated by a machine, to improve SEO as business needs change. With media coverage, one can create a programme to track, analyse and collate client coverage without the need for a human interface, until presenting this analysis in the actual client meeting.

Where does this leave creativity and originality?

It is highly implausible that a robot can supercede the thought processes required to come up with an original campaign or idea. This idea is of course not new either. The same argument is used in other fields such as music, literature or art where expecting a robot to be creative is unrealistic and should remain in the realms of science fiction. The innate and intangible ability to think differently is something only humans possess and perform.

This also brings us to the other aspect of PR where AI may have a limited use – relationships. The client relationship and likewise the interactions between PR professionals and their various audiences, is the lifeblood of the industry. To understand the nuances, history and subtleties of the relationship, is something a machine can never replace.  Unsurprisingly, I’m hoping this doesn’t turn out to be one of those ‘there will only ever be five5 computers in the world or that TV is doomed to fail’ insights.

To think how a robot would handle a journalist relationship, consider this. Journalists write about stories for their readership and PRs help them with this endeavour by creating suitable content. What is newsworthy and valuable to a readership or online audience, can only be better understood by regularly talking to that audience.

For the PR professional to build trust with a journalist, it takes time to understand what the journalist is working on, their interests, and the publication’s style and tone. The one-to-one relationships determines how well the PR person understands these factors. A characterless pitch, lacking human interest and created by a series of algorithms won’t cut the mustard.

So, for this writer, other industries may succumb to the rise of the machines, but for PR, the computer says no.

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