Following on from his recent paper ‘The robots are coming: AI, automation and the future of corporate communications’, Australia’s Wayne Aspland explores a critical role that communicators must assume as AI explodes in 2018. We're delighted to publish Wayne's blog post on this very important topic.
Some of you may be familiar with a web site called thinkgeek.com. It’s an online paradise for nerds that’s full to the brim with products like Legend of Zelda holiday sweaters and Game of Thrones dragonclaw goblets.
This is a site with a fascinating history. If you track back 18 years, thinkgeek was once a technology company called VA Linux Systems… one of the darlings of the dot.com boom. VA Linux IPO’d in December 1999 and its share price grew from $30 to $300 on its first trading day. Yes, you read that right.
Over the following year, however, VA Linux got caught up in the dot.com bust and, by early 2001, its share price was plumbing the depths of $7. This company, which was once valued at $10bn, then went through years of business model revisions, re-brands and acquisitions to end up, today, as an online shop for geeks.
I mention this as a cautionary tale… a reminder of the damage we can do when we get carried away. Yes, we built the foundations of today’s amazing digital world during the dot.com boom. But the free-for-all way we did it seriously damaged the lives and livelihoods of an enormous number of people.
"The Fourth Industrial Revolution"
This cautionary tale is important today, because we’re opening the door to a new era of revolutionary innovation. One driven not by the birth of the Internet, but by the rise of the robots, in the form of AI, machine learning, the Internet of Things, AR, VR and a long list of other emerging technologies.
This Fourth Industrial Revolution, as it’s been coined by WEF’s Professor Klaus Schwab, will transform our organisations, societies and lives… and it will do so at a frightening pace.
Now, there’s two important things we need to remember about this coming revolution.
First, the stakes are far higher this time around. If we don’t get the coming few years right, the damage we could do will make the dot.com bust feel like a mosquito bite. And I’m not just talking about a stock market bust here. I’m talking about potentially damaging the platforms that underpin our lives. Things like our jobs and the way our societies operate.
Second, we keep hearing that ‘the robots are coming’. Even I used that term in the title of my recent paper. But the truth is the robots aren’t charging over the hill like some modern-day Dothraki horde. They’re being created by us and they will do whatever we ask them to do… at least in the short-term.
In other words, how the world evolves over the next few years… whether it’s good or bad… is entirely up to us.
Communicators have a vital role to play
This reality has enormous consequences for all of us, including our Governments and corporations.
And communicators, in particular, have a vital role to play. One we need to start playing today.
As companies like Accenture have been saying for some time now, it’s critical that the world takes a people-first approach to this new wave of technology.
And communicators need to be front-and-centre in this, because of our responsibility as guides to, and the voice of, people.
We need to become a key part of the discussions in our organisations about the rollout of artificial intelligence. We need to advocate for our colleagues, customers and society more than we have before. And we need to become more persuasive influencers of our leaders.
What does this mean in 2018?
To do this, there’s some steps we need to take.
First, we need to become far more conversant with these emerging technologies. We need to understand how they will impact both our organisations and our profession.
We need to start raising some of the big moral and ethical dilemmas that will confront us as our organisations move into a period of ever-accelerating change. Dilemmas like:
How do we take a people-first approach to the algorithms and change programs that will increasingly drive our organisations?
How will we manage the careers of our younger colleagues given that the work they do is likely to be first in line for automation?
And, finally, we need to insert ourselves in the key strategic and change conversations. We need to find a way to build our influence and use it to ensure that the Fourth Industrial Revolution ultimately helps, rather than harms, everyone around us.
The challenges are rising and 2018 is the year that we, as a profession, must rise to meet them.
Wayne Aspland is an Australian writer and corporate communicator. Wayne is particularly fascinated by technology and the future. He researches extensively and creates strategic narratives, communications strategies and content that's designed to help organisations think about, talk about and realise their future. Wayne’s paper, ‘The robots are coming: AI, automation and the future of corporate communications’, is available as both a full paper and an extended summary Powerpoint.