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The robots are coming… in fact, they’re already here

Wayne Aspland

A long list of emerging technologies is beginning to have a profound impact on our lives, societies and organisations. In the lead-up to IABC Victoria’s 25 October event – ‘The robots are coming’ – this article looks at some of the many ways in which new technologies are already changing the communications game.

You’d have to be living under a rock to have missed all the recent discussion about artificial intelligence (AI). It’s on everyone’s lips (or chips if you happen to be a chatbot) and there are articles and TV documentaries – such as the ABC’s recent special, ‘The AI Race’ – popping up everywhere.

Personally, there are two things that don’t sit quite right with all this recent coverage.

The first is that all the change we’re experiencing isn’t simply the result of AI. There is, in fact, a veritable ‘robot army’ converging on us in what the Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, Professor Klaus Schwab, has called the Fourth Industrial Revolution:

“The Fourth Industrial Revolution] is characterized by a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies and industries, and even challenging ideas about what it means to be human.”[1]

These technologies include, among many others, AI, virtual and augmented reality, robotics, the Internet of Things, machine learning, cognitive analytics and natural language generation.

The second issue is that these technologies aren’t just looming in our futures… they’re already here.

Think about the communications profession, for example. There are already many widely-used apps that automate different communications activities, including:

  • Social media (Buffer[2] and Hootsuite[3])
  • Email marketing (MailChimp[4] and Campaign Monitor[5])
  • Event invitations (Eventbrite[6] and TryBooking[7])
  • Web publishing (WordPress[8] and Wix[9])
  • Design (Canva[10]).

Even Google and Facebook are basically exercises in automation… and they have been from the first day they were invented.

Now we are seeing a growing number of companies using a combination of deep databases, machine learning and natural language generation (NLG) to produce marketing and corporate content.

The Associated Press[11] is using NLG to write earnings reports for 3,500 US companies each quarter. Their partner, Automated Insights[12], claims it is now generating more than 1.5bn pieces of content a year using NLG. Right now, the technology is limited to more data-heavy, templated forms of writing, but this will evolve in time as technology’s cognitive capabilities grow.

Quantified Communications[13] is using AI to simulate target audiences and help companies predict the right messaging and the right way to deliver it, including tone of voice, speech rate, facial cues and body language.

Textio[14] uses a massive database of global job ads to drive an ‘augmented writing platform’ for job ad writers. You simply type your ad and Textio will automatically suggest ways to improve it as you type. Textio also provides the rationale behind its suggestions.

Persado[15] is using similar techniques (extensive database combined with AI) to provide a Textio-type service for marketing and communications content.

We’re also seeing the emergence of artificial intelligence in the creative arts. Taryn Southern used the open-source AI platform, Amper Music, to compose parts of her latest album[16]. And, in 2016, Oscar Sharp and Ross Goodwin produced ‘Sunspring’, a short film based on an AI-generated script[17].

Meanwhile, communicators are increasingly relying on bots to improve and automate publishing and social media.

For example, The New York Times and BuzzFeed are using Slack bots to predict and measure the performance of articles[18].

And, according to the recent European Communications Monitor, about 6% of European organisations are using social bots to automate social media tasks, and this is expected to rise to just under 15% by 2018[19]. These bots are being used to:

  • Respond, reply or comment on posts or tweets (51.5% of users)
  • Identify and follow users on social networks (28.3%)
  • Like forward or retweet posts/tweets (45.8%)
  • Create content and post/tweet it on social networks (39%).

The bottom line here is simple. The impacts of automation and the ‘robot army’ shouldn’t be seen as something looming in our future and consigned to the ‘later’ basket.

They’re already here… and the rush to take advantage of them is happening right now.

If you’d like to know more about how technology will change the communications profession – and what we can be doing about it now, why not attend the next IABC Victoria event – ‘The robots are coming’ on Wednesday 25th October, 6pm – 7.30pm.

Tickets available here https://www.registernow.com.au/secure/Register.aspx?E=27505


[1] Klaus Schwab, ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution, by Klaus Schwab, https://www.weforum.org/about/the-fourth-industrial-revolution-by-klaus-schwab

[2] https://buffer.com/

[3] https://hootsuite.com/

[4] https://mailchimp.com/

[5] https://www.campaignmonitor.com/

[6] https://www.eventbrite.com.au/

[7] https://www.trybooking.com/

[8] https://wordpress.org/

[9] https://www.wix.com/

[10] https://www.canva.com/

[11] Associated Press, ‘AP expands Minor League Baseball coverage’, 30 June 2016, https://www.ap.org/press-releases/2016/ap-expands-minor-league-baseball-coverage

[12] https://automatedinsights.com/

[13] http://www.quantifiedcommunications.com/

[14] http://textio.com

[15] https://persado.com/

[16] Lizzie Plaugic, The Verge, ‘Musician Taryn Southern on composing her new album entirely with AI’, 27 August 2017, https://www.theverge.com/2017/8/27/16197196/taryn-southern-album-artificial-intelligence-interview

[17] ‘Sunspring | A Sci-Fi Short Film Starring Thomas Middleditch’, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LY7x2Ihqjmc

[18] Lucinda Southern, Digiday, ‘How publishers are using Slack bots internally and externally’, 10 November 2016, https://digiday.com/uk/article-performance-serving-ads-publishers-using-slack-bots/

[19] European Communications Monitor, 2017, http://www.communicationmonitor.eu/

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