Talking Point

It is our responsibility not to ‘sleepwalk into the technological future’

Georgina Belcher, Account Manager at PPC, contemplates the role of Artificial Intelligence and how it might shape her role within the public relations sector.

Despite starting my new job just two months ago, last week I found myself contemplating whether or not my role would soon be obsolete. I was, at the time, listening to Professor Emeritus Anne Gregory talking to the PPC team about Artificial Intelligence (AI).

AI is a world I have, so far, tried my best to avoid. I had heard programmes on the radio about its rapid advancement and how eventually, we’d all be unable to keep up. I’d also heard about the opportunities it offers – the automation of repetitive tasks, potentially unbiased decisions and increased efficiency.  

The area I’d heard being spoken about the most – and the factor that had most terrified me – was the way in which AI was removing the need for human involvement in so many aspects of our daily lives. Professor Gregory presented us all with a slide which stated AI could affect 300 million jobs. A report undertaken in 2023 by Goldman Sachs laid bare the stark facts on the potential to replace humans in certain roles and tasks:

  • office and administrative support, 46%,
  • legal work, 44%
  • architecture and engineering, 37%
  • business and financial operations, 35%.

Professor Gregory said: “It seems shocking to see such large percentages next to professions we always assumed would need human involvement. But this is exactly why we, as members of the workforce, need to embrace the change and equip ourselves with the skills needed to use AI effectively. AI can make our lives easier, having some of the ‘drudge jobs’ handled by AI may leave us more time to be strategic, but it should not make our skills redundant.

“There is also a key role for us in the governance of these systems because organisations will be held to account for their use and we will be the ones answering the questions. I’d urge businesses and leaders to put time and training resources into place to get on the front foot now and set their business up for a successful future.”

Envisaging the future is one thing but just reflecting on the past and the speed at which the AI landscape has moved on, is another. It was only in the past year or so that, in many of our worlds, our experience of AI was through spam filters, personal assistants like Siri or Alexa, chatbots, automation of routine processes, product recommendations and purchase predictions, HR application sifting, workflow and automated web design.

Yet now, we’re registering for ChatGPT and asking it questions we hope might defeat it. But time and time again we’re all surprised at the calibre of response we get back. Yes, ChatGPT was able to provide me with a reasonable blog about the impact AI will have on the PR industry. And yes, it was able to tell me whether the Trek Emonda was a good bike to invest in (providing a nice intro, at least seven key features and a punchy conclusion). AI was even able to predict what Barbie might look like now, aged 64

Alongside these AI-generated images, there are award-winning photographs which aren’t taken by a single human; there’s a whole “metaverse” of people and environments; and systems that mimic your voice and play it back to you. It really does take doppelgängers to a whole other level.

So, in an effort to tackle the elephant in the room, I asked AI outright: “Should the PR industry worry about AI?” Here’s what ChatGPT said: “…Rather than being worried, the PR industry should embrace AI as a tool to augment and enhance their capabilities. By leveraging the power of AI, PR professionals can streamline processes, improve data analysis, and focus on strategic communication efforts, ultimately delivering more impactful and targeted campaigns.”

Professor Gregory taught me, during her talk, that ignoring AI is not an option. It is undeniable that AI will have a big impact on the PR sector (amongst many others), and it is important to keep on top of the tools available. She listed some tools to try as a team but warned us not to get seduced with the shiny new toys out there.

Whilst I will never use AI to write a comms strategy, or upload confidential or sensitive information, I might think about using it to become more efficient – perhaps limiting the time I spend on repetitive, administrative tasks, to allow for more time on other aspects of my role. And I will always tell our clients.

They say knowledge is power and perhaps that was Professor Gregory’s message to us all. Rather than ‘sleepwalk into the technological future,’ become more aware – discover what’s out there and how it might support you in your job.

Embracing the ever-changing landscape of technology can be scary but it is our future and we need to be in charge.

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