Top Comms Challenges the AI Industry Will Face In 2021

While few – if any – companies have emerged unscathed from this year, there have unquestionably been some industries that have fared better than others. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation have not only been at the heart of many companies’ digital evolutions spurring market growth, but we’ve witnessed monumental technological developments, from DeepMind accelerating the time to determine protein shapes to the immense advancements in Automated Narrative Text Generation with GPT-3.

For many in the sector, that means that 2021 can be approached with optimism. But it won’t come without its challenges. The socio-economic climate will undoubtedly put the spotlight on a number of AI’s public perception issues. And it won’t just be individual companies’ brands at stake – it is also “brand AI”.

So, what will the comms challenges facing the AI industry be? Let us take a closer look.

Rising unemployment will heighten concerns around displaced workforces

Concerns around the impact of automation and AI on employment are long documented, with ONS previously reporting that it could replace 1.5 million jobs by 2030. While in the industry there is cautious optimism that it will create more jobs than it eliminates in the long-term, in an immediate climate of high and rising unemployment as a result of the pandemic, it will be little comfort to many.

It won’t be enough to pay lip service to reskilling. While this might have sufficed in an economic boom, the more precarious employment climate will lead to greater demands on the AI industry to show that they are truly working to support those at risk of job displacement. For some, that will mean making demonstratable investments in reskilling programmes. Others will put technology at the heart of the solution; companies like Faethm (cl), are now applying AI to identify the career pathways facing job displacement and pre-empting new skills requirements.

Companies that ultimately do automate FTEs will also need to remember that it’s not just their brand on the line and proactively arm their customers with the internal and external communications tools to avoid any potential backlash from its implementation.

AI won’t blow people away

There’s a lot of hype around AI – and not unjustifiably. However, as more people begin to interact with AI systems, many will be underwhelmed when the current uses don’t match popular culture references. This is normal: with most AI technologies currently deployed in the enterprise largely focused on creating frictionless, augmented experiences, anyone expecting a personal assistant like C3PO, or Samantha from the movie, Her, might be disappointed.

So, as AI becomes more pervasive in our workplaces, will we finally demystify the technology and will the hype bubble burst? If so, the age of playing buzzword bingo with “AI” may finally be behind us.

AI in the public sector needs some serious PR

While the “mutant algorithm” of the A Levels fiasco was undoubtedly the most widely publicised, it is not the only accusation the government has faced for using purportedly biased AI algorithms. This has undoubtedly affected public trust in the use of AI in public services, with Councils across the company scrapping its usage.

However, the potential benefits to society of using AI to improve public services is massive. So, we need to find a way to shift the public perception on its use when shown to be done in a responsible and ethical way.

Communications lies at the heart of this –greater transparency and accountability is critical to a perception shift. As Lord Clement Jones said in Brands2Life’s recent AI webinar, “the only way that the government, business and big tech can persuade us that [AI] is a good idea is in the way that they behave with our data. (You can catch-up on the whole discussion on-demand here).

How do you pitch an AI?

Okay, so it may not be in 2021 that the PR industry starts pitching robot journalists, but there’s no question that the growing use of AI in journalism will continue to affect the industry.

In 2020, we saw a number of journalists at Microsoft replaced by its Robot Editor, as it took on the role of editing and curating the news homepages on Microsoft’s MSN website. Of course, it hasn’t always been a success: the AI software illustrated a story about racism with an image of the wrong mixed-race member of Little Mix.

What will this mean in 2021? Well, how widely it will be rolled-out in the industry is yet to be seen. But any changes will undoubtedly be driven by the immense pressure many publications are under, as well as the significant advancements in language generators, like GPT-3. Indeed, with the editor of the Guardian article written by GPT-3 remarking that “Overall, it took less time to edit than many human op-eds, it may prove hard for some publishers to ignore.

Creating an environment that embraces AI innovation

There are many great opportunities for the AI industry in the coming year, but to take full advantage of them the industry needs to collectively create a climate in which responsible deployments are embraced rather than feared.

Communications will play a critical part in this. If we go into 2021 with these challenges in the mind, as well as creative and sensitive ways to overcome them, we can positively shift “brand AI” forward in 2021.

Written by Kate Baldwin, Senior Account Director, Business & Technology

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Emily Reid