From the Archives: Will robots replace PRs and journalists?

From the Archives: Will robots replace PRs and journalists?

Firefly HQ

Firefly HQ

Almost exactly five years ago, we wrote a piece looking at how PRs could be replaced by robots in the future. With the recent news that Microsoft sacked twenty seven writing staff to replace them with AI algorithms, it seems appropriate to look at this prediction again:

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There’s a growing threat to journalism: robot writers.

A company called Automated Insights has developed a piece of software called WordSmith that generates news stories on topics such as finance and sports, which are published on the likes of Yahoo!, Associated Press and other outlets.

I know what you’re thinking. Surely a machine can’t write as well as a human?

NPR Planet Money (one of my current fave podcasts) recently did an experiment, where it pitched its fastest journalist, Scott Horsley, against WordSmith.

Scott knocked his piece out in an impressive seven minutes. WordSmith took a blistering two minutes.

You might argue that Scott’s piece was superior – it was certainly more colourful – but it raises the question of whether humans are always needed, especially in today’s data and information-hungry media landscape.

The other question is whether the PR industry needs to be worried about software like WordSmith.

Think how ‘PRSmith’ could work.

>PRSmith would scan the web for mentions of a particular brand according to sentiment (these things will get better in the future) and automatically reply.

>PRSmith would recommend responses to emerging threats, price changes, negative reviews and competitor activity and distribute these across digital media channels. The software would learn which responses performed best over time, based on sentiment analysis and impact on sales.

>PRSmith would distribute news to the right journalists (WordSmith or human), including the right information in the right format. PRSmith would never call a journalist up to ask if he/she/it had received the press release.

>PRSmith could respond to journalists’ requests in nano-seconds – without lying, making errors or trying to evade the question.

Of course this is all slightly tongue in cheek. PRSmith doesn’t yet exist and even WordSmith focuses on areas that are more easily automated, likes stats-heavy sports and financial news. But the rise of automation in the workplace will affect every industry – I don’t see why PR and journalism should be any different.

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At present, we don't believe that many more PR or journalism staff are in danger of losing out to robots immediately - there are many 'human-centric' jobs that AIs just can't do. Similarly, most of the 'AI PR' tools that we've seen have either been analytics support (and therefore embraced by thousands of relieved PRs!) or terrible, clunky things. But we'd never say never...

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