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Will 2024 really be the ‘year of AI’?

Posted by Ben Smith on 17th January 2024

It’s January, which means we’re in the thick of prediction season. And despite what others may say, there really is only one show in town. 

Like it or not, 2024 is officially the year of AI. It’s going to streamline our workflows and free us up to do more creative work. It’s going to interrogate data better and find that golden nugget of insight. Hell, it might even do some of the creative for us if we ask it nicely.

But is it? I realise that might sound like a facetious question. And to a certain extent, it is.

The solution to all our problems?

Certainly, the numerous champions of AI are keen to paint a picture that ‘all is rosy’ and that ‘AI only has upsides for the PR industry’. There is also much talk of ‘embracing AI’ in order to ‘reap the benefits’. In other words, AI is here to stay so don’t be a Luddite.

But, there’s one small problem. The use of AI in PR might be a little bit more complicated than that.

Plenty of people rightly point out that, when it comes to AI, there are as many threats as there are opportunities. Look no further than my colleague Alex Warren’s excellent book, Spin Machines, to see why. 

Moreover, according to a report published by the UK Government in November, PR is one of the top 10 occupations ‘most exposed’ to the threat of AI and, specifically, Large Language Models (LLMs) and generative AI.

Or to put it another way again, the robots really might take our jobs. But will they?

The end of the world as we know it?

And here we come to the crux of the issue.

Despite appearances, I am not arguing in favour of being ‘anti-AI’. There is huge potential for AI to fundamentally change how we do our jobs.

The question that we actually face right now is whether AI is ready to do what we want it to.

As a few voices have started to highlight, LLMs “exist in a grey area in terms of data privacy and plagiarism [and that] users might be using the tools in ways that won’t be legal in a year or two, or more worryingly, they might be breaking rules even now”.

The PR industry is not alone in facing this ethical quandary. But it is these kinds of technical questions that we need to have good answers for. 

What does the use of an LLM mean for NDAs? What does it mean for our data protection duties? Are we opening ourselves or our clients up to copyright infringement prosecutions?

Optimism isn’t a strategy

These issues mean that we simply can’t afford to be Pollyannas about AI. Because, if we don’t take care, then 2024 will indeed be the ‘year of AI’ —  just maybe not for the reasons most people assume. 

Instead, AI is as likely to be in the headlines because someone, somewhere got burned as it is because it did something beneficial.

So yes, by all means, experiment with AI this year. Test its limits (safely). Be as informed as you can be. But we have to be pragmatic.

AI doesn’t spell the end of PR. But it also isn’t a panacea either.

Ben Smith

Ben’s deep knowledge of sectors as diverse as electronics and IT, cleantech and medtech means he has a wide range of experience to draw on for his clients – ensuring that no two campaigns are the same. Ben’s expertise lies in helping his clients to raise their profiles beyond trade media and he has a proven track record in running campaigns that deliver coverage in national, business and consumer publications.