Professor voices concerns over robots and AI taking over PR

April 20, 2018, University of Huddersfield
Eminent professor of PR voices concerns over robots and AI taking over PR. Credit: Artificial Intelligence

Robots are on the rise in the field of communication and news gathering. Does this threaten not only jobs but the ethical basis of society?

A University of Huddersfield professor with a global reputation for her expertise in is sounding warning notes and carrying out research into the technology that is available and how it is being used. The Cambridge Analytica controversy—with allegations that data from millions of Facebook users was automatically extrapolated and used for political purposes—has added to the relevance of her research.

"For the last 18 months, I have been interested in the impact of artificial intelligence and the robotisation of the PR and communication professions," said Anne Gregory, who is Professor of Corporate Communication at the University of Huddersfield.

"I'm particularly interested in the ethical issues around this. Just because you can do something, does it mean you should, as the Cambridge Analytica case shows. We are seeing profound changes in the nature of the communications industry, which is becoming more and more data driven and automated."

For example, a leading press agency is now using AI to write and illustrate reports on business results, using raw data sent by companies and these reports are generated many times faster and more accurately than journalists. Voice-enabled digital assistants like Google's Alexa are commentating on sports matches in the US, providing, for example, the background stats on athlete and team performance.

"One of the things that robots don't have at the moment is judgement and a key question is, how do you build judgement and ethics into AI mechanisms?" argues Professor Gregory, who teaches and mentors on the Government Communication Services's Inspire programme.

The Huddersfield professor has researched the in-roads that robots are making in many jobs and professions, including PR and journalism. She recently delivered a detailed presentation, titled PR and AI—the robots are here!, at KDU Penang University College in Malaysia, which she was visiting as part of her outreach role as a visiting professor at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.

Professor Anne Gregory. Credit: University of Huddersfield

She has also co-authored a forthcoming article about the ethics of using personal data for PR campaigns and she is a member of a new Artificial Intelligence Panel set up by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations.

Her research has identified a whole range of robotised tools—from automatic writing to organising workflow—that can be used to automate PR campaigns. Professor Gregory has a range of ethical concerns and denies that this makes her a technophobe.

"I am not a Luddite for saying 'hang on a minute, let's think through the consequences of this'. We've already seen the dangers of fake news. What happens when you get machine talking to machine? What sort of news are they going to generate? How do we know if it's true? How can we stop it if it's not? What are the forces operating behind automated content?

"These are the questions we need to ask. What's at stake is maintaining a fully functioning society with values of honesty, truth and codes of conduct that actually mean something. What do they mean when the robots take over? Do we have a code of conduct for robots? How do we teach them ethical behaviour?"

Professor Gregory is a member of the Artificial Intelligence panel of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and it has welcomed a new report from the House of Lords Select Committee on AI.

The reports suggests that AI is a huge opportunity for the UK economy both in terms of growth and productivity and it calls on the Government to claim a global leadership position and put forward its own practical ideas for the development and application of AI.

The report also warns that AI should never be given the "autonomous power to hurt, destroy or deceive" people and emphasises the UK's potential to lead research and development of AI globally. It spotlights a series of ethical challenges that AI presents to society and calls for these issues to be put at the heart of research and development.

Explore further: Robots can help us better understand how infants learn

Related Stories

Robots can help us better understand how infants learn

November 14, 2017

Robots are a hot item and Radboud University is right on trend by using them to replicate babies' brain and behaviour. Johan Kwisthout, coordinator of the Master's programme in Artificial Intelligence, explains how this works ...

Robots that can learn like humans

April 9, 2018

Researchers say that artificial intelligence (AI) is now superior to human intelligence in supervised learning using vast amounts of labeled data to perform specific tasks. However, it is considered difficult to realize human-like ...

Can we teach robots right from wrong?

October 14, 2014

From performing surgery and flying planes to babysitting kids and driving cars, today's robots can do it all. With chatbots such as Eugene Goostman recently being hailed as "passing" the Turing test, it appears robots are ...

Can robots write meaningful news?

March 28, 2017

Robots and computers are replacing people everywhere; doctors, pilots, even journalists. Is this leading to a dystopian society, or could it be something positive?

Recommended for you

Meteorite source in asteroid belt not a single debris field

February 17, 2019

A new study published online in Meteoritics and Planetary Science finds that our most common meteorites, those known as L chondrites, come from at least two different debris fields in the asteroid belt. The belt contains ...

Diagnosing 'art acne' in Georgia O'Keeffe's paintings

February 17, 2019

Even Georgia O'Keeffe noticed the pin-sized blisters bubbling on the surface of her paintings. For decades, conservationists and scholars assumed these tiny protrusions were grains of sand, kicked up from the New Mexico desert ...

Archaeologists discover Incan tomb in Peru

February 16, 2019

Peruvian archaeologists discovered an Incan tomb in the north of the country where an elite member of the pre-Columbian empire was buried, one of the investigators announced Friday.

Where is the universe hiding its missing mass?

February 15, 2019

Astronomers have spent decades looking for something that sounds like it would be hard to miss: about a third of the "normal" matter in the Universe. New results from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory may have helped them ...

What rising seas mean for local economies

February 15, 2019

Impacts from climate change are not always easy to see. But for many local businesses in coastal communities across the United States, the evidence is right outside their doors—or in their parking lots.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.