Are you fascinated or frightened, or both, by artificial intelligence
and its likely impact on the practice of public relations?
If so, you're not alone. I am, too! How could we not be in light of recent unveilings of such well-known and cutting edge, AI-using ventures as Adobe Firefly, ChatGPT, Google Bard, and Microsoft Bing?
And, who's to say there aren't other, lesser-known or still-totally-secret AI-based products already loose on the Internet and social media platforms?
Concerned about this, and wondering how other professional communicators feel about the looming presence of AI, the well-known, international firm of WE Communications partnered with the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations to survey 400 communications leaders across the U.S. about their own use of AI and, more significantly, about the impact they expect AI to have on public relations and other communication industries. That survey was done in April 2023.
This word bubble illustrates the survey respondents' one-word feelings about AI's likely impact on their profession.
The mixture of fascination and fear that characterized the respondents' comments is mirrored in the report's title: "Fascinated and Frightened." The curiosity, excitement, and optimism respondents felt about the potential benefits of AI were counter-balanced by their serious concerns about the likely negative impacts of AI on personal and organizational security, privacy, and the spread of disinformation.
The opening summary of the report states: "In just the past few decades, we’ve witnessed several technological advancements that have meant total paradigm shifts for our work as communicators... This latest advance in artificial intelligence rises to that level... How do we make sure our industry is ready for this massive change to our work, our lives and our world?"
Right off the bat, 80 percent of respondents said "AI will be extremely or very important to the future of PR work," which on the surface sounds like a very positive conclusion. But, it shifts from a positive statement toward a more-negative one when follow-up responses indicate that most communication professionals are unprepared to deal with AI. "Only 23% say their organization is currently making changes to the way they work due to new AI tools." And an even smaller percentage of the respondents, "Only 16% say they are extremely knowledgeable about applications of AI" in their specific areas of expertise.
The report's second general conclusion also strikes me as less than reassuring. It states: "Most communications leaders see efficiency benefits in the short run... 88% say AI will have a positive impact on the speed and efficiency of certain work tasks, and 72% say it will help reduce workloads." Yes, that sounds good but, as I look at subsequent findings, I'm troubled by the "costs" we might have to pay to achieve those benefits. For instance, only 55% of the respondents felt that "creativity will be positively impacted by AI," while 25% said AI "will negatively impact our creativity."
The third general conclusion is that most communication professionals will need to develop new skills and shift their current mind-set to take full advantage of all that AI has to offer. They will need to do more strategic thinking and learn to better "understand the interactions between humans and computers ...to understand deeply how AI technology works so that we can lead the way in the fight against misinformation ... and dream big as AI developments unlock new use cases for our industry." -- Sorry if this sounds sarcastic, but can't you almost hear an inspirational soundtrack swelling in the background?
The final section of the report, subtitled "AI Readiness Playbook," offers "next steps" all communications professionals, including public relations practitioners, should take "to guide our organizations through the ethical, moral and societal considerations around AI adoption." I won't quote them here, but you really should download the report and carefully read all of it, including those recommended next steps.
This website was initially developed to support public relations courses I taught at Northern Kentucky University. Since I've retired, it's become a supplementary text at scores of universities and is widely used as a reference or refresher by public relations professionals, especially those preparing for accreditation or certification.
Michael Turney, Ph.D., ABC, Professor Emeritus
Northern Kentucky University
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