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What can comms professionals learn from AI?

Even writing that headline elicits a slight cringe as I think back to the start of 2023 when everyone and their dog was opining about the benefits and challenges of AI. Now that the initial buzz has settled, we can take a step back and see what it means for brands.

Five professionals sat around a white table in an office looking at a screen with charts on it.

The first thing to say is that, despite the renewed focus, AI in itself isn’t new. Data aggregation has existed for decades, Google itself is a form of AI and if you think back to Apple’s early integrations with Wolfram Alpha and Siri, the AI hype at the start of the year doesn’t quite match reality.

What we do have is a series of very smart technology businesses, the likes of Chat GPT and Google Bard, making strides in technology and producing – on the face of it – some extremely impressive tools.

As I’m sure many in the communications industry did, the first thing I typed into chat GPT was ‘what are the benefits and risks to the communications industry from AI?’ To refine the text it had written, I asked the programme to soften the language and to make the piece ‘free flowing text’ (it had produced a bulleted list) and within a few refinement commands, it had produced a half decent piece of copy.

What came back was a coherent, if slightly clunky, appraisal of some of the factors that had already been well-worn. And that’s the thing about the current incarnation of AI: it doesn’t ‘think’ as many would have you believe – it pulls together data from other sources.

This opens up a range of issues, if you are reliant on the veracity of others’ work to produce your content. It even opens the possibility of corporate espionage. It’s not a huge stretch to image two competitors sabotaging each other's content by attempting to feed in bad data.

I’m sure we’ll get to a place where AI does produce truly original content, but at present, if two comms professionals on opposite sides of the world entered the same command, they’re likely to receive very similar results.

That’s one reason why AI isn’t the threat to good communications that some have imagined. Another reason exists on a more human level. Good communications is about human interaction. In the same way that a song connects the performer and audience in a deep and mean full way, good written communications connections the author and its audience.

Now we can’t all be John Lennon, but isn’t that the point: neither can AI. If we do ever get to a place where AI is able to be authentic, accurate and emotionally intelligent, it should be seen as a useful tool, rather than an end-point.

There’s also a moral question. I’d encourage most brands to look at their audience and ask, would you rather customers hear a person's views, or those of an algorithm? Your people are highly impressive experts in their field and technology will never replace the power of human connection.

As I write this, rather worryingly, I’m receiving targeted ads saying, ‘AI is a liar’. The ad comes from someone who claims to have built the first ‘fact-checked’ AI programme, so it seems that even the industry agrees with my take. Brands should embrace AI. It has its uses, but it certainly isn’t the be-all and end-all.

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