artificial intelligence public relationsAutomation has eliminated millions of blue-collar jobs by replacing factory workers with robots. Similarly, artificial intelligence (AI) may replace or transform millions of knowledge-based office positions. Jobs in insurance, financial services, customer service in addition to communications are all vulnerable.

“Public relations like other professions is sleep walking into the issue of artificial intelligence,” blogs Stephen Waddington, partner and chief engagement officer at Ketchum. “No one has properly characterized its potential impact on our business. This needs to change in 2017.”

Artificial Intelligence can Help

Many experts agree that AI will help more than hurt white-collar workers by freeing them from more mundane tasks and allowing them to concentrate on innovation and creativity.

Many jobs include tasks that can and probably will be automated, write experts for the Harvard Business Review. Conversely, most white-collar jobs include task that machines will not be able to do for the foreseeable future. “Employers, we insist, should implement cognitive computing solutions not so that they can make do with fewer people, but to enable their people to take on bigger challenges and have greater impact than they did before,” they write.

Japanese insurance company Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance recently announced it will replace 34 human insurance claim workers with “IBM Watson Explorer.” The AI will scan hospital records and other documents to determine insurance payouts, by taking into account injuries, patient medical histories, and procedures administered, explains Quartz. Automated research and data gathering tasks will help the remaining human workers process the final payout faster.

Many companies will be making similar announcements in the near future. Well-planned and executed PR, both internal and external, will be critical as companies shed jobs and revamp their organizations, says Shel Holtz, principal of Holtz Communication + Technology, in his HC+T Briefing. “Business leaders should start engaging in a society-wide conversation about the future of work and what people will do when their skills are no longer required,” Holtz urges.

Help with Routine PR Chores

PR itself will not be immune from the effects of artificial intelligence. AI now writes PR content such as press releases. The Associated Press already has machines writing full earnings reports. PR and marketing materials like earning releases and product descriptions are ideal for AI, asserts Adam Long, director of product management of Automated Insights’ Wordsmith, the AI program the generates the AP press releases.

However, AI cannot write about any topic – at least not yet. AI is best for quickly and accurately transforming structured data, such as columns and rows in a spreadsheet, into written materials. The AP, for instance, has access to a continuous stream of earnings data in a structured format. Once it uses an AI tool to create an automated template for that data, it can apply the template to new data as it’s generated, provided it’s in the same format, explains Mike Kaput, senior consultant at PR 20/20.

Automation already helps PR complete more routine tasks, such as completing research, gathering media lists, and distributing press releases. PR pros could concentrate more on creative thinking and messaging. While the profession traditionally is not as data centric as other professions, AI can be especially helpful in gathering data and PR measurement. Tools like Hootsuite help automate social media and services like automate media monitoring and measurement.

Doing Routine PR Functions

In the past, the PR profession focused on completing tasks such as developing and distributing news releases. AI will take over many of those functions. Intelligent chatbots may even assume a major role in media relations. Going forward, PR must focus more on developing and implementing creative strategies and programs to create awareness, protect and improve reputation, and produce revenues. Doing what machines can’t will elevate the profession.

Business consultant Katie King urges PR pros to assume an optimistic outlook.

“Casting a shadow on the gloomy effects artificial intelligence could have on our working lives, instead perceiving it as a handy assistant to make it better and easier, the future looks promising, especially for those in jobs where creative input, craftsmanship and human judgement will remain superior to what a machine can do,” King writes on LinkedIn. “Cautiousness, preparation and optimism should be the driving force for embracing the changes artificial intelligence will bring.”

Bottom Line: Artificial Intelligence will transform knowledge-based, white collar occupations once thought to be safe from automation, including public relations. It’s essential for PR to be ready to communicate how AI will change their organizations. Don’t fear that a sophisticated machine will replace you, experts advise. Instead, strive to improve your skills that rely on creativity and innovations – skills that machines cannot replace.