The comms challenge – and opportunity – of robots, robotics and AI

At our recent annual Tech Trends panel debate, one contributor made the valid point that artificial intelligence (AI) as a term has become detrimental to its progress – too widely and randomly applied allowing almost any company to jump on the AI bandwagon. The panellist also said it was partly a communications issue and that we need to move away from AI as a catch-up term to better define the specific technology in place.

I couldn’t agree more. Having worked with many AI companies and, more recently, with organisations involved in robotics – i.e. building actual robots – there is a significant communications challenge involved in all three. Leaving aside the definition of AI, machine learning, deep learning, algorithms and even standard computer functions (there are plenty of experts out there you can turn to instead), the crux here is how to convey the exciting developments of an organisation or company in a way that doesn’t lead to hype or miscommunication. But equally not to underplaying the achievements or future potential.

The tortoise and the hare

The challenge – and opportunity – of AI, robotics and robots, lies in the hype that they generate and the expectations that they set. But the comms plays out at vastly different speeds in the two markets.

Robotics and robots are physical and tangible, meaning what you see is what is real. (Personally I get very excited by the hardware, whether the robotic arm embedding the chip into credit cards in a major factory, the one handling radioactive waste to be decommissioned and packaged up to bury somewhere, or admiring (ro)bots whizzing around huge warehouses packaging up groceries and other items to be delivered to your fridge.)

However, robotic development can often take years, or even decades. And even once ‘launched’, there’s no guarantee they’ll go into action immediately, not least due to regulations. Autonomous vehicles are but one example of this.

With AI, however, being less tangible and more virtual (and with many organisations jumping on the bandwagon or using it as a catch-all phrase), developments can happen fast and be rolled out swiftly, bypassing regulations and policy updates.

But, as it can be harder to accurately pin down what is possible, the market starts to be fuelled by hype over actual results. Companies without a recognised AI heritage can struggle to cut through in this new market – no matter how sophisticated the technology is today – with the constant stream of new start-ups jostling for attention.

Winning the race – no matter at what pace

This is where the role of communications, timing and transparency come into play. For robotics companies especially, ensuring your spokespeople can talk to the wider vision and comment on your peers’ developments means you aren’t forgotten as your technology continues to evolve without having huge updates to show for it.

And, for software companies with an AI proposition, be sure to have a strong narrative and proof points before claiming to be an AI leader – customer examples, specific use cases and demos can all help to combat the AI hype that pervades already. In Brands2Life’s recent report Bringing AI to Life, for example, IPsoft CMO Nick Panayi talked about the importance of having customers tell your story – whether it’s a short one minute video, an article or on stage at an event, it helps when prospective customers can hear the tangible results and understand how the technology relates to their sector.

To cite Bill Gates, “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.” Sometimes slow and steady can have a bigger impact than running before you can walk.

Written by Fiona Goldsworthy, Deputy Managing Director, Business & Technology

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Emily Reid