AI is ticking time bomb for PR’s reputation

PR’s reputation is ticking if it cannot get a handle on AI ethics and advise on AI builds and deployments.

By Kerry Sheehan Chart.PR; FCIPR; AIinPR Chair.

PR is in a dangerous place if it doesn’t take AI ethics seriously, advising on AI builds and deployments.

Recently we have seen the UK exams algorithm court controversy, closely followed by 20 UK local authorities moving to withdraw algorithms making high consequence welfare decisions and US police agencies stop using facial recognition.

We are seeing too many organisations and businesses rushing to have AI systems built without having the skills to brief or manage the project adequately.

Added to this, many are without PRs with the highest level of AI knowledge, providing effective scrutiny on the systems as they are built and deployed, ensuring they remain ‘safe’ and reputations and trust intact; and, as a result, the potential to cause harm to the end receiver is limited.

Technology is likely to continue to outpace any regulation on artificial intelligence. Therefore, public relations practitioners must be in the driving seat to advise organisations, businesses and brands on ethical AI builds, holding them to account with the highest level of scrutiny on AI in PR ethics before any deployments of AI are sanctioned.

This is the role of the PR practitioners. It includes ensuring data used for artificial intelligence is the right data and ethically sourced, it’s unbiased as possible and, importantly, assumption systems are not built in.

It also means PRs ensuring all AI build teams are fully diverse in all ways and I advocate going one step further and ensuring collaboration by representation of stakeholders on all AI builds.

PRs role as reputation guardians is in keeping organisations ‘safe’. In its ethical role in artificial intelligence systems this means causing no deliberate harm and discrimination to the employees, stakeholders and publics who will served by the AI-enabled services, tools, products and platforms being deployed and trust is built and maintained.

Ethics itself is ordinarily a challenge. Add in data and technology for artificial intelligence, and the challenges that brings, and we have bigger issues on our hands. This should sound as an alarm call on PR stepping up and being at the forefront of AI ethics.

In addition, there are already AI systems out there masquerading as AI systems, which are in reality simple expert systems and decision trees and have no AI, but which are poorly crafted. Sometimes they are rushed and have had limited scrutiny applied to their decision matrices and have caused discrimination and harm, sometimes high profile.

What’s worse is they can be sold, often at extreme prices, to an organisations and businesses which do not have the technical or ethics knowledge to see elements of ‘snake oil’ being peddled using eye-catching terms like AI, machine learning and algorithms.

This puts PR in an imperative position to understand artificial intelligence and practitioners must upskill into data and AI, having a full understanding of the ethical challenges they bring.

The take up of AI4Good at organisations, businesses and brands and the public relies solely on the shoulders of effective and ethical PR guidance and advice.

But, importantly, we must take up the mantle on the ethical scrutiny role we must now play on all AI builds and deployments otherwise we could find ourselves in a dangerous place. Our reputations, as well as those of the organisations, businesses and brands we advise, may be impacted and, at worse, not survive.

It’s a fascinating and exciting time to work in public relations as we approach the brink of mass adoption of artificial intelligence.

AI offers huge potential, but whose impacts need to be properly explained with effective PR and fully accounted with effective ethical scrutiny from PRs.

We have the opportunity to be at the forefront of trustworthy and ethical innovation. But to do that, we need clear ethical standards and practices to ensure artificial intelligence is used correctly.

The AIinPR Ethics Guide, a world first in collaboration with the Canada PR Society, endorsed by global PR organisations, academia and business, is an important but vital step in supporting PR practitioners put ethics at the forefront of the developments and deployments of human-centered AI, encouraging fairness, transparency and accountability in all AI systems.

The AIinPR Ethics Guide is available at: www.cipr.co.uk/ai.

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