PR lags professions in tackling impact of AI on practice and workforce

A literature review published by the CIPR finds that PR lags other professions including HR and management consultancy in getting to grips with AI. It highlights key issues that need to be urgently tackled.

What is the future of a profession when a body of knowledge can be assimilated into a data set and interrogated by a machine?

That was the question posed by Prof Anne Gregory this week at the launch of a literature review published by the CIPR #AIinPR panel called The Effects of AI on the Professions at the Alan Turing Institute at the British Library.

Prof Gregory was speaking to a multi-disciplinary group including representatives from the Alan Turing Institute, CBI, CIPR, CIM and the UK Government’s Office for AI.

The paper is based on an analysis of more than 170 sources that have been compiled in a literary repository by the CIPR. The #AIinPR panel examined academic papers, national reports, think tank studies, research group reports, and a variety of other sources.

Speaking at the launch of the paper Dr David Leslie, an ethicist at the Alan Turing Institute, cautioned against focusing on the negative implications of AI.

“We are not facing a moment of singularity where a super robot will take over. The discussion needs a sense of sobriety otherwise the very real benefits of AI will be overlooked,” said Dr David Leslie, Alan Turing Institute.

It’s this philosophy that led to the CIPR to setting up the #AIinPR panel to explore the impact of AI on PR in 2018.

“The effects of AI paper shows that many other professions have a more robust approach to exploring the impact of AI. PR doesn’t seem to be doing so. It’s sleepwalking,” said Kerry Sheehan, chair, CIPR #AIinPR panel.

The CIPR paper suggests that AI will have a significant impact on professions, and PR specifically. It notes that PR is not as progressive as professions such as HR and management consultancy in its thinking and planning around AI. It addresses four further conclusions.

1. Automation of tasks

AI will render a set of professional skills redundant. Computers can assimilate knowledge faster than humans and perform repetitive tasks reliably and quickly. Media monitoring, distribution and content creation are all areas of practice that are being automated.

Humans Still Needed published by the CIPR in 2018 suggests that 12% of a PR practitioner’s total skills could be complemented or replaced by AI with a prediction that this could climb to 38% by 2023.

2. Changing nature of professional workforce

The application of AI in practice and society will lead to a major impacts on the professional workforce. This is a topic is being widely discussed by a number of professions. PR lags in its consideration of the issue. The IPR’s Future of Work report is the only study in the repository that examines the effect of AI on the PR workforce.

3. Diversity and other impacts

AI  will impact specific work groups: women, ethnic minorities, those who have lesser qualifications and undertake routine work, and entrants to the PR profession. This is a serious concern for a relatively young profession that is already struggling to get to grips with diversity.

4. Ethics and transparency

There are significant ethical issues around the nature of the power and knowledge balance for organisations applying AI. Issues concerning the algorithms used and the lack of transparency within the black box and their inherent biases.

Recommendations for the PR profession

The #AIinPR project raises more questions than it answers. But that’s the point. The paper highlights the need for further work.

The paper calls for a systematic review of the current and future use of AI and its impact on the PR profession focusing on the follow areas:

  • impact study of AI and the PR profession

  • examination of workforce issues

  • review of education and training courses that will equip current and future professionals

  • study of the ethical implications of AI in the profession

  • consideration of the organisational and societal role that PR professionals will have in the future

The CIPR paper is the conclusion of an 18-month project led by Prof Gregory working with Dr Swati Virmani. Participants in the project include Hana Benesova, Maria Loupa, Kerry Sheehan, Martin Waxman and Chris Dolan.

Photo by Maxime VALCARCE on Unsplash

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