The recent strikes by the Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) sent shockwaves through the entertainment industry, but their impact extends far beyond Hollywood.

The strikes began on 14 July 2023 as the actors’ union and AMPTP (the representative body for film and television studios) could not settle on a new contract. This strike also coincided with the Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike, and so Hollywood was at a standstill until a deal was finalised on 9 November. The actors were fighting for multiple changes throughout the industry, with a key issue being consent over artificial intelligence and increased residuals. AI was also a key sticking point in the WGA strike negotiations, with the eventual deal stating that it cannot be used to rewrite scripts.

But the influence of the strikes extends far beyond bigger pay checks for actors. The strikes, driven by concerns over fair compensation and working conditions, have highlighted broader issues surrounding the relationship between technology (AI in particular) and labour.

Companies across various sectors have been exploring AI applications for efficiency, cost savings, and innovation. However there’s a growing awareness of how the use of AI might be influenced by the evolving dynamics between workers and employers. Fear of job displacement and concerns over worker welfare have created a complex narrative across all industries.

The strikes, and the subsequent deal between all parties, highlight a crucial perspective: the role of AI should be collaborative, working in tandem with human capabilities rather than replacing them. Companies may find it necessary to invest in programmes that equip employees with the skills to collaborate with AI systems, ensuring that technology enhances their productivity. Different industries should use this moment to foster cross-sector collaboration. Sharing insights and best practices on AI adoption, ethical considerations, and workforce integration can lead to a more harmonious and responsible approach to technological advancement.

The ethical use of AI is a growing concern for both the public and industry leaders. These strikes further stress the importance of aligning AI adoption with social responsibility. Companies may now be more inclined to evaluate the impact of AI on their employees and society at large, taking steps to mitigate negative consequences.

The SAG-AFTRA strikes, while rooted in the entertainment industry, reverberate across sectors and countries as a reminder of the complex relationship between technology, labour, and societal values.

How many times have we uttered these words in defeat during the festive season? After hours of trying to decrypt the magic combination of ‘yesses’ and ‘nos’ in a chatbot window while online shopping, desperately trying to reach the inbox of a human employee.

Well, if you believe the AI industry’s announcements, come the new year, that will soon be a struggle of the past.

Yes, chatbots are undergoing a rebrand. No longer are they the cryptic gatekeepers to the human behind the screen; companies are working on making virtual assistants more humanised. Take bank NatWest’s new AI-powered chatbot, ‘Cora’ for example. Human name aside, it has been developed with the goal of being more personable by being able to provide information to the user in a friendly conversational style.

The humanising of chatbots comes at a time when we are living a strange duality of both fearing AI’s scope and embracing it as one of us. At the same time world leaders met at Bletchley Park to discuss next steps around regulation for AI, we were asking Alexa for quick dinner recipes.

And while identified by some as “one of the biggest threats to humanity”, we are calling it the names of our friends and family. This isn’t a new phenomenon. One of the first chatbots was called ELIZA and was developed in 1966. In fact, you can still chat to ‘her’ today. But more confusingly in the past year, celebrities like Kendall Jenner sold their images to Meta to create chatbots who look and speak like them.  

The effectiveness of using a celebrity image in humanising chatbots is questionable. When speaking to Billie (Jenner’s AI counterpart), watchers of The Kardashians are transferring their parasocial relationship they have with Jenner from the show to Billie – adapting quickly to using and trusting the bot.

Further to the way chatbots are looking and speaking to us, we are unconsciously accepting the personalisation of the software. Using language for human actions is increasing anthropomorphism of AI in our everyday conversations. Terms like ‘hallucinating’ – for describing when a chatbot AI programme produces false information – has become Cambridge Dictionary’s word of the year, cementing it in the 2023 zeitgeist.

Many of us, especially the older generation, are resistant to the chatbot, preferring to pick up the phone and have a real person handle our queries about returning gifts or logging into our banking apps. But a study at the Technical University of Berlin found that working alongside robots causes us to slack off in the same way we would with human colleagues. Is this a crack in the wall between humans and machines?

Perhaps as 2024 continues, and AI’s rebrand becomes more streamlined, the lines will blur between how we treat other humans and how we speak to chatbots.

Which begs the question – how long will it be before we are asking “Can I just speak to a chatbot, please?”.

As we know, AI has been all the buzz and communicators have been scrambling to figure out which tools are best to use to integrate into their workflows as well as the rules of engagement. There is a flood of information on the various tools at our disposal and rapid advancements have placed governments in a race to regulate AI.

The debate also rages on about whether AI will indeed contribute towards productivity, replace jobs and so forth. But have we stopped to think about the impact AI could have on our curiosity – a key characteristic of any communicator worth their salt.

A narrow view of AI

A few months back, I attended a PRCA conference and one keynote address by Paul Spiers, Founder of The New P&L – Principles & Leadership in Business®’ Podcast Series & The New P&L® Institute,  really put this into perspective for me. In his talk, titled ‘Are we outsourcing our curiosity to an algorithm’, Paul outlined a powerful paradox – we have access to more information than ever before, but because of our search history, the algorithms feed us a narrow view of the world, compromising our curiosity. The concern? Entertainment over inspiration, information over knowledge.

As communicators, we have to dig deeper into a story to unpack the key essence of our client’s brand or offering in order to capture imaginations, make it relevant for our client’s audiences and in the process shape our client’s reputation. By relying on an algorithm to deliver our inspiration we run the risk of narrowing our scope of inspiration, turning us inwards and not outwards. We need to ensure that we use AI and any other technology to drive our natural sense of curiosity instead of diminishing it.

Curiosity, Creativity, Innovation

Did you know that three of the top five skills needed in business are based on curiosity? Analytical thinking, creative thinking, curiosity and lifelong learning.

Curiosity is ultimately the basis of our expansion of knowledge and empathy of others; it drives creativity which in turn drives innovation. As Paul notes, seismic challenges in society offer tremendous opportunities to rethink the way we live and do business and all of this relies on curiosity. “The ability to determine the future of business relies on the levels of curiosity needed to imagine it,” says Paul Spiers.

Creative Courage

An interesting insight from research by The P&L Institute is that many people in the creative and comms industries feel that they’re losing their creative courage. Clearly, we need more diversity to open it up, to grow and to do this we need to become more intentional about our curiosity.

These are just some of the ways businesses can commit to more conscious curiosity:

  1. Commit to the moment, in the moment
  2. Create a process for capture and curation – tap into intergenerational opportunities to share knowledge
  3. Look at old ideas with fresh eyes
  4. Start with each other
  5. Listen, ask, listen, repeat
  6. Build cultures of curiosity

Some may argue that ‘Curiosity killed the cat” but as bold communicators and reputation shapers we’re tossing that old proverb out the window. We need to continue to think more consciously about how and why we engage with technology and pick out the best bits to support our skills and imagination.

So, let’s draw a line in the sand today and commit to our curiosity first!

Generative AI, and more specifically ChatGPT, has dominated headlines since late last year. For months, the world and his wife has weighed in with views, concerns and predictions around the technology. But what about the tech companies whose bread and butter isn’t generative AI?

It can be tough when your point of view doesn’t slot into the current news cycle. Periods of less coverage and less contact with the press can feel like a step back. But, instead of feeling frustrated or panicked, this period of time should be seen as one filled with opportunity.

Here’s a couple things non-generative-AI tech companies, and their PR partners should consider at times like this…

You don’t need to join every conversation

This is something that most companies and PRs already innately know. If something isn’t relevant to your offering or market share, don’t weigh in. But when something like ChatGPT comes along and sweeps every journalist, publication and broadcast house off their feet for months on end, confidence in remaining quiet can wane. A ‘let the storm pass’ mentally can quickly shift to a ‘what can we say about this?’ panic.

But it’s important to remember that not every conversation is relevant to your company or brand. A company needs to focus on its own product, service and value offering, and not get distracted by hype that isn’t relevant to where they are positioned in the market. 

Don’t rush a POV

Joining conversations is a key part of PR. But it needs to be done effectively, with thought and strategy to back statements. The last thing a company needs is to rush messaging without properly interrogating how they match up with what they do and who they are – their offering, ethos and purpose.

Clumsy messaging runs the risk of getting sniffed out. If you’re lucky, coverage will be small and under the radar – or even non-existent. If you’re unlucky, the pickup could be huge only to bring with it questions and scrutiny. Backpedalling from statements is a headache which can be so easily avoided.

Quiet time can be valuable, use it

So, rushing to have your voice heard isn’t always the right approach at times like this. Equally, doing nothing with the time is a missed opportunity. Instead, use this period of quiet from press relations as a chance to turn your attention elsewhere. This could be towards improving internal comms, boosting employee relationships and thereby your own reputation as a business. It could be through building up the website, through new content like blogs or a bit of a makeover. It could be a chance to strengthen customer relationships, leading to case studies that could in turn find their way onto the site or even as hooks for press interviews later down the line. It could be revamping social media presence, company messaging, media training for spokespeople and so much more. Rather use this time to focus on your wider PR and reputation strategy.  

In short, don’t be afraid to sit some conversations out. Just use your time on the bench wisely, leaning on your PR partners for guidance and support.

When we think of sport we think of athletes. Athletes that are at the top of their physical game, with abilities that simply defy the laws of gravity. Basketball fans have long admired Michael Jordan’s hang time, and the game of football has never been able to understand Cristiano Ronaldo’s headers which seem to stop time entirely. As we witness various industries digitally transform, the world of sport has not been left behind.

There has been a huge shift in technological advancement which has made it easier for athletes to optimise their performance and improve the experience for spectators at sporting events. Looking 10 years ahead, we can only imagine where the world of technology will take us in sport, but for now, we can marvel at the newest innovations of today which continue to change the pace of the game.

Team Jumbo Visma tearing up Tour de France – 2022

This year, Team Jumbo-Visma led the way, charging ahead of their components for the majority of the races. Jonas Vingegaard won the men’s race, and Marianne Vos claimed the green jersey for most points. Both riders were among the favourites for their respective titles, but one stark difference was the men’s team adopted the use of simulation to fully capitalise on the talent of Vingegaard, and winning the La Grande Boucle.

How does simulation play into this you ask? Fighting air resistance represents up to 90% of the energy spent by the athletes. Team Jumbo-Visma works with some of the best athletic aerodynamics experts in the world, using digital simulation to optimise performance through better aerodynamics. It consisted of solving vast, complex systems of equations with millions of unknowns to improve their performance. Simulation proved to be a pivotal cog in the winning machine!

Data driving football analysis and spectator engagement

Major Spanish football league, LaLiga has looked to its data architecture to better understand its players performance and importantly create a better more personalised experience for its fans. This is all being done through a lakehouse data architecture.

By combining the best attributes of a data lake and a data warehouse, the lakehouse is able to deliver better data management and performance through low-cost, flexible object stores. LaLiga has created a world where data informs almost every aspect of how sports are played and experienced. The data team at LaLiga uses data and AI for match statistics and in-play analysis, based on data from cameras in each club’s stadium. It allows data scientists at the clubs to perform pre- and post-match analysis and predict player injuries before they occur.

The future of technology in sport

There are many more advancements in tech which are changing the world of sport, but the best is likely yet to come. We’re on the cusp of a sports technology revolution with the global sports technology market being currently valued at US $17.9 billion and expectations to reach US $40.2 billion by 2026. However, some avid football fans would agree that VAR technology needs some work – depending on which side of a team you’re on!

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:

..

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.

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…

The alleged threat of robots taking away human jobs is a topic that has been covered many, many times, by countless PR people, media outlets and academics. Nobody is safe from being replaced, according to the critics of artificial intelligence (AI) that are concerned it will lead to job losses. But what about artists? Surely, the creative genius of the next Banksy, Dali or Hockney must be safe?

Not anymore, apparently. An algorithm, dubbed PaintBot, that learns to mimic the unique styles and brushstrokes of any artist, has now been developed. To make matters worse, it takes only 6 hours for it to learn the artist’s style and five minutes to create a piece of artwork. And that’s just the start – eventually the AI will exceed the capability of a human.

Time will tell if AI is accepted as an artist. We’ll likely see initial, first-to-market artwork created by AI selling at a high price, but then plateau when the marketplace becomes saturated. I suspect we’ll also see certain forward-thinking artists embrace PaintBot technology, fusing their own style with AI to create something never seen before.

Whether you’re excited by AI or fear it, its impact on the artworld will be fascinating to observe. Frankly, that’ll be the case for every sector.

Capturing a moment is done in so many ways these days – through an Insta story, a quick snap on an SLR, even by using a retro polaroid camera. But have you done it through an instant doodle camera?

Noticing we were missing having instant doodles in our lives, a clever man named Dan Macnish decided to build an AI-powered camera that creates a cartoon-like drawing, rather than a photograph. Dan used Google’s Quick, Draw! Project from 2016 to create a dataset of doodles, then the camera, which is powered by Raspberry Pi and uses object recognition software, produces the picture.

So, it does mean that you only get a doodle from the Google library of 345 drawings, but you could also get a curious interpretation of what you’re looking at. Dan writes in his blog, “The result is always a surprise. A food selfie of a healthy salad might turn into an enormous hotdog, or a photo with friends might be photobombed by a goat.”

This is just Dan’s DIY project for now, so who knows if he’ll make cameras to sell. I would definitely want one out of sheer curiosity!

“Robots are taking all our jobs!” “Robots are going to take over the world!” These are the kinds of daily declarations that have become the norm, with the likes of Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk even predicting that robots will be responsible for the downfall of the human race. (A more terrifying possibility, given a pair of robots recently joking about it.)

Though we hope it will never quite come to that, if you haven’t already, it is certainly high time to sit up and take notice. AI is totally disrupting our society and the PR and marketing industry is certainly not exempt from its effects.

Robots are already making huge inroads into the industry and it is clear why. If it all came down to a question of speed, robots would certainly have us humans beat, as many journalists have personally experienced when putting themselves to the test against their machine counterparts. AI offers the potential to have all news in real-time and with the likes of Wordsmith from Automated Insights, robots have been producing data-generated news, such as quarterly earnings reports and sports scores, for a few years now. And their capabilities are only getting better. AI can do far more than just collate the facts into good copy but can also analyse and even contextualise them. A future where press releases and basic news are automatically created is looking pretty certain.

Beyond data and analysis

Beyond creating content from data, AI’s ability to monitor and track your brand and its presence across social and online media far outweighs any human efforts – however big your team or PR agency may be. Moreover, AI can continuously analyse this data, looking for correlations and trends to offer critical marketing insights and better measurement of your metrics. All of which is helping marketing teams to make better, data-driven marketing decisions reflecting what buyers really want.

But, if reading this makes you think you should quickly start making plans to replace your agency and team with an army of robots, perhaps don’t be quite so hasty.

AI will, and already is, taking over routine (and rather tedious) tasks – which is really no bad thing –but there are still areas where robots fall a little short. The use of AI is simply opening up the possibilities for us to concentrate on our “human” strengths. Robots offer us useful insights, noticing tiny changes and details that are on a scale and level beyond our scope, but it is humans who can actually transform this information into something meaningful.

Old-fashioned human thinking

Robots can identify the type of content and channels preferred by your audience, but there is also a vital difference between the right content for potential customers and for those customers who have already purchased your product. We know that “Do you need this piece of software?” is markedly different to “How to install it”, but robots are still unable to make this distinction. To effectively produce and properly utilise varied pieces of content, it is essential to have a real understanding of the purpose they serve.

And this is an understanding that robots still lack.

In a similar vein, robots may be able to generate a standard press release but this is not the same as producing an in-depth advisory or opinion piece discussing the future of your business and industry. Almost ironically, to position your business and brand as a forward-looking thought leader, you need old-fashioned human input.

Robot and human relationships

Robots are not just limited in terms of content production, so are their creative muscles. When searching for a new PR agency, you are looking for the one that bowls you over with their team’s creative ideas for a brilliant campaign – the one that you know is going to propel your brand towards success. If robots are failing to try and create some motivational posters, I think there is little doubt that they will not be able to live up to this.

Most importantly, PR and marketing still revolve around people and relationship management. As humans, we are far better placed to read human behaviour than a robot. Robots can rationalise decisions and analyse consumers but the problem is that often we are not rational. Humans are irrational beings. How many times have you done or bought something because, well, just because?  We shouldn’t forget that we are marketing to humans, not machines. Robots can track patterns to an extent – helping us better understand why consumers tend to drop out of a sales funnel for example – but on an emotional level, humans most definitely still have the upper hand. There is a reason why charities share the personal stories of those they help, showing us harrowing images to encourage donations – they are playing to our emotions. Machines aren’t capable of tugging on our heart strings in quite the same way.

Robots may not be running businesses’ PR and marketing efforts any time soon but that doesn’t mean overlooking the opportunities they offer, rather we should embrace them, working together with AI. We do not need to go quite so far as becoming some sort of human cyborg as Elon Musk may suggest, but we should apply machine learning to our own intelligence.  The robots aren’t coming, they are most definitely here – and they are staying. They won’t be taking over (just yet), but only if we use them to improve and better our own skills and capabilities.

Is it time to shape your reputation?

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