Age of Intellectual Synergy

Throughout human history, our innate resistance to change has often resulted in scepticism and opposition toward groundbreaking innovations. For instance, the Luddites famously resisted the textile industry’s mechanization during the early 19th century, fearing that these new machines would render their skills obsolete. Similarly, the invention of the printing press in the 15th century faced resistance from religious scholars who worried that the mass production of texts would lead to a decline in the quality of written works and a loss of control over religious doctrine. In education, the introduction of calculators in the 1970s sparked heated debates among educators, with many fearing that these devices would hinder students’ ability to learn and perform basic arithmetic.

Likewise, the advent of the automobile was met with apprehension and hostility by those who believed it would disrupt the established order of transportation and their livelihoods. Today, the exponential rise of artificial intelligence (AI) has also ignited a similar debate, as experts and professionals across various industries ponder not only the potential impact of AI on their careers, especially in areas that rely on creativity and human intuition, but some also see it as a potential risk to society. The rapid development of technology in recent years can be both fascinating and intimidating. During my bachelor’s degree in computer science in the early 2000s, I recall studying Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technologies in a 101 course, which were considered groundbreaking innovations at the time.

Fast forward to today, these technologies have become household items, and newer generations may be unaware of their once-novel status. Similarly, artificial intelligence was merely a specialization course during my studies. I recall our teacher presenting 10 to 13 different definitions from various scholars during the first class, highlighting how experts worked tirelessly back then to create a synergy between humans and machines. At the time, the concept of AI seemed like a distant dream or a fantastical idea for us students.

Little did we know that it would evolve into the powerful, tangible reality we experience today. The recent democratization of generative AI has expanded the horizon of what can be achieved in the PR field, emphasizing the potential of AI as a powerful tool that enhances the skills and capabilities of PR professionals. The recent Sandpipers study report on “AI in Communications Industry Opportunities and Risks (2023)” underscores the increasing influence of AI on the PR landscape, as most professionals have already adopted AI-powered tools and technologies. Furthermore, by utilizing AI in essential areas such as data analysis, media monitoring, content distribution, and social media management, PR professionals have streamlined and improved workflows within the industry.

Back in 2018, the research report of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), “Humans Still Needed”, found that, at that time, 12% of a public relations practitioner’s total skills (out of 52 skills) could be complemented or replaced by AI, with a prediction that this could climb to 38% in the times to come. Imagine how far we have come from that point in the last five years. In the “AI and Big Data Readiness Report: Assessing the Public Relations Profession’s Preparedness for an AI Future,” published by the CIPR in 2021, an overview of the then-current AI understanding and preparedness within public relations was provided. At that time, a significant number of practitioners had limited knowledge of AI and lacked confidence in using it (43.2%), compared with only a small number who felt “very comfortable” (13.9%). The report found that 41.5% of respondents claimed to understand what AI as a technology meant but did not consider themselves technical. Only around one in five practitioners were familiar with the relevance of AI in the public relations profession.

Although there are concerns about AI’s potential impact on job security and some experts also view it as a risk to society, global leaders like Elon Musk and other AI experts and industry executives wrote an open letter in March 2023 calling for a six-month pause in developing more powerful AI systems, citing potential risks to society. Like anything, there are also two parallel perspectives of AI, one is optimistic, and the other is pessimistic. By now, there is no disagreement that the way AI is being democratized recently, and as we read this, it will continue to do so much faster than we expect. It will definitely replace a lot of jobs, but optimistic analogies also write that it will lead to the creation of other jobs. Statistics are that in the near future, technology as a whole will replace some 75 million jobs around the world. However, it also mentioned that it would lead to the creation of 130 million new jobs. Any job which stands on the course of following prerequisite SOPs will definitely be going to be replaced by technology. Whereas jobs that require human intellect to take the judgment call will continue to be essential but will be heavily influenced by AI.

The rapid evolution and adoption of AI-based tools are driving significant changes in various aspects of life, including the PR industry. While Generative AI may not be perfect today, its rapid evolution and increasing prompt handling capabilities suggest that it will continue to improve and become more widely adopted. However, successfully integrating AI-based tools in the workforce requires a combination of advanced technology and human expertise. For instance, by utilizing its potential, the creator economy is going to expand exponentially because AI is going to do the heavy lifting in terms of actually creating the content. SupplyGem’s report on The Creator Economy Statistics (2023) stated that the market size of the creator economy was valued at over $104.2 billion in 2021. It is growing exponentially and is projected to grow to over $200 billion by 2026. The industry is driven by the rise of social media platforms and the democratization of content creation tools, allowing creators to monetize their content and build their businesses.

AI is bringing back the age of the intellectual because original creative thinking will be needed. AI engines can do many jobs, which will force people to read more, research more, learn more, and have their own original thinking. While this presents a risk, there is an equal amount of opportunity. We need to go back to things we used to do, which many of us have stopped doing because we have become good at our job and think we already know everything.

The recent CIPR report, “AI tools and the impact on public (PR) relations practice (2023),”
highlights that while AI tools can significantly enhance the efficiency of PR professionals, they also come with challenges. For example, there is an ongoing debate around the ethical implications of using AI-generated content (e.g., deep fakes), which could potentially erode
public trust in media and communications. The report also emphasizes that AI tools are best utilized when they complement human expertise. PR professionals should focus on refining their skills in areas where AI tools may fall short, such as understanding context, cultural nuances, and emotional intelligence. This can ensure that PR professionals remain indispensable and that the human touch is not lost in the age of AI. To remain competitive in the PR industry, professionals must possess a higher level of critical thinking, creativity, and strategic planning to leverage AI effectively.

In addition, AI-based tools can help streamline tasks such as media monitoring, sentiment analysis, and content creation in the PR industry. However, these tools cannot replace the human element of PR, such as building relationships with clients, identifying trends, and developing tailored strategies. In addition, it still requires human input and decision-making to function effectively, which means that professionals must possess a higher level of critical thinking and strategic planning to leverage AI-based tools effectively.

Professionals must continually develop their skills and knowledge to use technology to enhance their capabilities rather than replace them. A proactive approach to education and training is necessary to stay ahead of the curve in an industry that is rapidly evolving with the integration of new technologies. The Age of Intellectual Synergy brought forth by AI is a powerful catalyst for the transformation and growth of all the industries it impacts. As professionals, we must embrace this change and adapt our skills, knowledge, and mindset to harness AI’s full potential. By fostering a culture of continuous learning, creativity, and strategic thinking, we can effectively leverage AI-based tools to enhance our capabilities, streamline workflows, and ultimately deliver better client results.

The future of PR lies in the harmonious integration of human intellect and AI, creating a synergistic partnership that elevates our professions to new heights. As we conclude, let us remember that the human instinct of curiosity and our constant pursuit of asking the right questions have led to the evolution and impact of innovation throughout history. It is humans who drive technology, not the other way around. Just as our intellectual capabilities have shaped the course of technological advancements, we must harness the power of AI to elevate our understanding and skills, ultimately forging an era of intellectual synergy in the PR industry and beyond.

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Syed M. Ayaz is the Executive Director of Syntax Communications and a seasoned public relations professional with over 15 years of experience in the field. Holding a bachelor's degree in computer science and a master's in mass communications, he has witnessed the rapid evolution of technology and its impact on various industries. Ayaz is an Accredited PR Practitioner and a Member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (MCIPR). Throughout his career, he has worked closely with tech giants, Fortune companies, and new-age startups, fueling his fond interest in technology and innovation.