Insights, Q&APOSTED May 29, 2019

5 Questions with Martin Waxman on #AIinPR

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Website:  Twitter: @martinwaxman

We recently chatted with Martin Waxman, LinkedIn Learning author, artificial intelligence researcher, McMaster MCM grad and Seneca Media prof about trends in AI impacting communications.

Martin was also recently honoured with the CPRS Toronto Lois Marsh Award for his contributions to the communications profession (congrats Martin!) and recently co-presented with APEX / ruckus Digital managing partner Linda Andross for a presentation titled “Communicating for the future: An introduction to Artificial Intelligence (AI) for professional communicators.”

1. What is the biggest surprise/change you’ve seen with AI in the past year?

“I think my biggest AI surprise of the past year was the demo of Google Duplex voice AI, and the way it was able to make calls to restaurants and hair salons to book appointments. Unlike so many digital voice assistants, it sounded so real, complete with the umms and ahhs we associate with people. And while it’s had some challenges since its public launch, and reportedly 25 per cent of the calls it places are handled by people and not the bot, it was a glimpse into the very near future, when AI will sound a lot more like us and it will be difficult to tell AI from humans. That’s why transparency is so important, and a commitment to ethical communications. I believe helping develop and maintain policies and guidelines around that could be a role for PR.”

2. Who or what is a true disruptor or game changer in the AI space in your opinion? Why?

“There are so many AI disruptors, it’s hard to know where to start. Can I give you two? The first is natural language generation, where AI essentially writes a story or copy. The GPT-2 model developed by OpenAI demonstrates how sophisticated it’s getting. The risk, of course, is we could be creating an app that automates false news and disinformation. But it’s also a watch out that for some communicators and journalists, the writing we do could be outsourced to a machine. The second is how sophisticated and real deepfake videos and photos seem to be. I saw a demo of a model developed by Samsung that can create pretty believable videos from several photos or a painting. Again, that speaks to the importance of transparency and ethics.”

3. Top 3 things as comms people we need to keep in mind re: AI?

“I think the three things communicators need to keep in mind regarding AI are:

  1. Narrow AI is single purpose, so it’s designed to accomplish one thing and that’s different from artificial general intelligence, which is often how AI is portrayed in movies and on TV (i.e. Her and Westworld).
  2. Since AI is all about predictions based on statistical models, communicators need to get over our fear of math and try to understand the underlying principles of stats.
  3. AI brings with it many benefits and risks, and we need to pay attention to the risks and how the many issues and crises that may arise from privacy and data breaches, algorithmic decision making, and the loss of jobs could affect an organization’s reputation.”

4. How can we benefit from embracing AI into our work lives?

“AI isn’t around the corner, it’s here, and we use it every day. A simple example is search, we all know the customized results we see are powered by AI. but how does that affect the way we communicate for our organizations or clients? And as AI gets more pervasive in our work and our lives, and is implemented by businesses in a more integrated manner, we’ll benefit if we’re at the table, participating in the conversation, asking difficult questions, and helping shape communications and policies around the big issues, in an ethical way that builds trust. We need to educate ourselves on what AI is and does, in order to strategically evaluate what changes it may bring, and the value we may provide. Jean Valin conducted research for CIPR on the role public relations may play in an AI world, and he offers some good insights into the role we might play.”

5. What can we look forward to seeing with AI in the next 12-24 months?

“It’s hard to predict what we’ll see next week, let alone in the next 12 months. I believe we’ll see more developments on the natural language generation front, that is machines getting more sophisticated at writing and communicating. Unfortunately, as AI improves, it means the bad actors who create fake news will have more tools at their disposal, and that reinforces the importance of media literacy and trust, reputation management, and planning for crises that we can’t yet imagine.

Here are three resources for communicators I’d recommend to get started (feel free to contact me if you’re interested in more): 

  1. Subscribe to The Algorithm, an MIT newsletter written by AI reporter Karen Hao, that covers news and trends, often from an ethical perspective
  2. Read Christopher S. Penn’s book, AI for Marketers: An Introduction and Primer (2nd Edition), to get an understanding of how we can embrace predictive analytics and machine learning right now. 
  3. Check out the Twitter list I created that includes AI thought leaders and companies I follow.”

These five questions were contributed by author, researcher and prof Martin Waxman.

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