Communicators must lead AI adoption to create positive change

Ruder Finn CEO Kathy Bloomgarden reflects on AI hype at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos and explains why comms is key in converting the technology’s potential into reality.

Pictured: Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO, Ruder Finn. (Photo used with permission)

Generative AI was definitely the hot topic at this year’s World Economic Forum meeting.

News coverage around “the fourth Industrial Revolution” juxtaposes worries about job losses and AI destroying humanity with strong optimism around AI and what it could augur for advancing medical breakthroughs, enhancing technological innovation in computing and improving day-to-day life.

There is plenty of uncertainty on how to curb the risks of AI, but it can’t stop or slow down the revolution. Most CEOs are already integrating the technology into their operations.

recent survey by EY showed 99% of CEOs will invest in GenAI, but 70% acknowledge it is a disruptor for their own business model and believe using the tools will be key to maintaining a competitive advantage. KPMG’s CEO Outlook survey found 70% of senior executives rank GenAI as their top investment priority and expect ROI in three to five years.

Applications for AI in communications through data and analytics, trend mapping and sentiment tracking moves PR beyond impressions and engagements into larger social conversations involving targeting, insight mining and predictive analytics.

AI uncovers what individuals and population subsegments want, shapes behaviors and engagement and tailors messages to fit the interests and needs of audiences. One-size-fits-all has disappeared and unlocking AI’s potential guarantees communicators a seat at the C-suite table to contribute directly to business growth and stakeholder value.

Davos highlighted three imperatives for communicators to embrace in building AI’s momentum:

1. Optimism and belief about what’s possible

Many people don’t believe the future will be better, especially among younger generations. But technology can change that. More than half of respondents (53%) to the WEF Global Risks Report 2024 selected AI-generated misinformation and disinformation as most likely to present a material global crisis, behind only extreme weather (66%) as a threat. This pessimism means it’s more important than ever to not lose sight of optimism for the future. Facing these issues in an open forum helps increase awareness and make AI less frightening. Transformative GenAI solutions stimulate optimism to inspire action that brings us closer to advanced global equity and human progress.

2. Startups and fast-paced breakthroughs

To execute an optimistic outlook for the future you must have a vision of that future. The comms function is essential in helping businesses form partnerships, interact with innovation hubs and work with startups on breakthroughs. The pace of change will continue to accelerate with the advancement of GenAI and innovative startups can sustain this pace. The conversations on GenAI at Davos highlighted its potential for innovation in healthcare, fintech, retail and many more industries. For example, when a robocall imitating President Joe Biden emerged recently, cloud technology startup Pindrop quickly identified that the ElevenLabs TTS engine had been used to create it. Startups move quickly and flexibly to problem solve and bring a new lens to the challenges AI will bring. PR is a critical partner in communicating about new tools and facilitating interchange and dialogue with the startup community.

3. A culture that embraces reskilling

There is a need for increased internal engagement within companies to build an open-to-learn and reskilling mentality at all levels. This is particularly true for companies whose employees span different generations and regions, as different cohorts possess unique perspectives on the GenAI revolution. A skills-based AI work future is already causing a shift away from traditional four-year college degrees. The continuously changing AI landscape makes it less likely that one degree will suffice for an individual’s entire career, making reskilling even more important. The World Economic Forum projects more than 100 million people globally will directly benefit from organizations “switching to a skills-first mindset.” This revolution opens the door for new roles in digital, green and energy industries. Creating opportunities for reskilling, learning and tech adoption can ease fears of job obsoletion, tackle pessimism and increase trust. 

Technology and its impact on ensuring more rewarding work and improved lifestyles makes me optimistic for the future. Change is both inevitable and necessary to propel us toward a more progressive and innovative world.

The AI revolution already brought incredible breakthroughs in life sciences, R&D and tracking climate impact. Now is the time for communicators to seize the opportunity to learn and advance our field by adopting new tools and encouraging transformation and reskilling across industries, including our own, for a better world.

Kathy Bloomgarden is CEO of Ruder Finn.

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