Artificial intelligence (AI) poses one of the greatest ethical challenges of our times. And, among others, public relations professionals stand as the interlocutors, decoders and interpreters between AI technicians and the public.
PR pros have the task of explaining the impacts of AI, including both unwelcome side-effects and new opportunities. They’ll also need to advise their organizations about ethical issues and reputational risks in addition to communications strategies.
AI underpins social media algorithms, chatbots, and data analytics used to target audiences with personalized messages. Experts see tremendous potential for abuse and unintentional misuse.
Ethical Guide on Artificial Intelligence for PR
In response to ethical challenges, the UK Chartered Institute of Public Relations and the Canadian Public Relations Society have prepared an Ethics Guide to Artificial Intelligence in PR, billed as the first of its kind.
PR professionals are trusted advisors on communication and also on the purpose and values of their organizations; assert Jean Valin and Anne Gregory, the authors of the ethics guide, in an article for the Institute for Public Relations. Valin is founder of Valin Strategic Communications. Gregory is a professor of communications at the University of Huddersfield in the United Kingdom.
“Ethical and reputational guardianship needs to be at the heart of how organizations approach and implement AI, and that is our business,” they state. “Communication professionals need to be involved in all stages of development and to do so we must learn about AI and its ethical dilemmas.”
Issues that AI Raises
Valin and Gregory say AI raises these ethical issues.
Organizations and individuals who can capitalize on AI benefits will consolidate power; those who don’t will become disenfranchised.
Organizations that can collect large amounts of data on people will be able to influence and manipulate them, subtly and covertly, by targeting groups with personalized information.
AI will automate tasks and eliminate low-skilled jobs, but all professions will be impacted to some degree.
Algorithms used to organize data can be biased against diversity and inclusion and discriminate against certain groups. PR pros should be a part of AI teams building algorithms from the start to pose ethical questions that tech specialists may not consider, the guide urges.
AI raises privacy and transparency issues, including questions on how data is stored, aggregated, shared and commercialized.
Among others, PR professionals must challenge the high priests of artificial intelligence on ethical and other issues that may adversely impact the public and their organizations’ reputations.
A Principles-Base Approach
The guide recommends a principles-based approach rather than a rules-based approach in developing AI algorithms and programs. It recommends asking:
Will it break any law or regulation?
Will it break the CIPR or other professional code of conduct?
Could it damage the organization’s reputation?
Can you talk openly to colleagues or managers?
Have managers accepted the proposal?
An additional question and a big one: Does it adversely affect any group of individuals?
A New Job for PR
PR experts agree that addressing AI ethically and communicating its impact will be a top task for PR.
“At every turn in this evolution, it will be PR’s job to educate, persuade and inform on the full range of issues where new technologies continue to change the way humans interact with each other,” writes Tim O’Brien, owner of O’Brien Communications, in PRsay.
How AI changes the workforce will probably be a main issue.
“The role of the PR practitioner will be to assess at every step the impact of AI on the workforce and help explain not only how that impact is taking shape, but also where the new opportunities may be as work itself continues to evolve,” O’Brien says.
Bottom Line: Artificial intelligence (AI) raises ethical issues that PR pros must address. Besides explaining the widespread changes that AI brings, PR pros will need to serve as ethical advisers as their organizations develop and implement AI.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.