1 Dec 2015

Cyber PR – Are the robots coming for your job?

Daniel Brown – Junior Account Executive at Spreckley

Recently I’ve been fascinated by the increasingly frequent proclamations that the machines are coming to “take our jobs” and we will, within my lifetime, enter the “post singularity economy”.

It sounds like science fiction: the idea that one day machines will be so good at everything that people will be obsolete. But sadly that day is starting to look much closer than we’d like, and it seems as though no profession is immune, not even PR.

It’s already happening to our colleagues in journalism. Believe it or not, sophisticated computer algorithms are already writing thousands of news stories a year. They may not be nominated for any Pulitzers just yet, but when it comes to getting across a basic story these systems are a lot more cost effective than a living, breathing employee. Associated Press only adopted automation last July, but it already quietly pumps out nearly 5,000 automated stories a quarter.

While you may be shaking your head incredulously at that as you read, keep in mind that it’s incredibly naïve to think that many standard PR activities could not be automated in some way.

The first significant instance of artificial intelligence nipping the edges of PR came introduced a function called ‘Clutter’ within Outlook. Clutter uses machine learning to understand how you interact with different email contacts. Over the period of a few weeks it learns your behaviour, like which mail you tend to delete before reading and which you open immediately, and then sorts them into a Clutter folder.

This has real consequences for how PR practitioners interact with journalists. Despite the fact that the press release has been pronounced ‘dead’ a dozen times in the last year, it is still the cornerstone of many PR campaigns, and with this new adaptive filter providing the perfect tool to sift out any companies that send releases every time their client’s CEO stubs his toe, it is likely to make things difficult for the those committed to the traditional way of doing things.

And this is just the start. What happens when the algorithm responsible for writing news stories is adapted to write press releases? And then when another system is built to handle social media? We are gradually moving towards a scenario where the best press release-writing robots pitch to the best story-writing robots with human overseers only at the ends of the pipeline.

Of course there will always need to be human having the ideas at one end and presumably one managing quality control on the other. But in a world where all admin and writing can be streamlined and automated, what will the PR industry even look like? Something to prepare for, for all you futurists out there.