Something wasn’t quite right with this news story. It was a rote finance piece about the day’s market action on a publicly traded company – thousands of these stories are published every day – but there was a robotic awkwardness about it.
The effect was barely noticeable, even forgettable – perhaps a grammatical agreement error, or an awkward participle. The revelation, however, was clear: something, not someone, had assembled this article from piece parts.
That something is now widely known as a bot, or automation, or artificial intelligence. For years, many professions including travel agents, stock brokers, lawyers and even doctors argued algorithms could never replace the art form that is their trade. Yet a snapshot from Wimbledon tells a different story.
Game. Set. Robot.
There, IBM pulled off a remarkable feat: it tasked Watson, its AI technology, with monitoring emotional gestures of players and the oohs and aahs of crowds to sense key moments occurring at simultaneous matches across the stadium’s six courts. It then assembled highlight reels featuring key moments distilled from hundreds of hours of tennis action. Does it foretell a mass layoff of sports journalists?
Does it mean sports journalists ought to get comfortable working with AI?
All of this is possible because of data. An AI-generated story about a public company’s stock, or an election result, is easy because those are data-intensive fields. Crowd noise, surgical procedures, and legal documents don’t strike us as particularly data-rich or AI-ready material. But technology is finding a way to turn absolutely everything into data.
I know AI is coming for public relations. I don’t subscribe to the idea that bots can’t do a lot of what we do. We’re approaching an era where every interaction with content produces a data point that can be monitored and analyzed. This doesn’t mean that bots will replace us – it means they will help us make our work more impactful, more relevant, more targeted, more rapid, and far more valuable. It also means we as public relations professionals need to begin more intentionally exploring the tools and data sets that are emerging in our field, and ready ourselves to put them to work.
RH Strategic is a Seattle and D.C.-based communications firm providing strategic public relations for innovators in the technology, public sector and healthcare markets.