Views: Planning for the challenges of AI in 2024

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MANY organisations have still not got to grips with the importance of having a cyber attack and data loss crisis communication plan, writes Amanda Coleman. It remains one of the top risks for everyone from the small business through to the multinational. On top of that the next risk to consider planning for could be the impact of artificial intelligence on the business and the staff. If that is the case, what should we consider doing now and what does it mean for communication planning?

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The starting point for all of us working in communication and PR is to understand what artificial intelligence means and how it is developing. There are some great resources being made available and there are some experts to follow on social channels. It is not just about understanding what it means for communication and how we approach it in the future. If we are going to be prepared for what may happen, we need to be researching, listening and understanding what the threats will be to the business we are working in or with. 

A range of recently published reports make a number of conflicting claims about artificial intelligence and the impact it will have on employment and the workplace. They are all based on a range of assumptions because, as with many things, the future could develop in a number of different ways. According to the report by the UK Government’s Department for Education, those in the south and in professional roles with more advanced qualifications are likely to be more impacted by the developments in AI. It is supported by research from the University of Pennsylvania with Open AI that highlights those earning over $100,000 as more at risk. At the same time Harvard Business School says those employees using AI complete more tasks and are more productive than those who don’t. 

The key is that if the impact is a future risk, we need to develop crisis plans and particularly the crisis communication plans. It starts with building an understanding of the impact of AI into internal communication. Depending on the business, the location and many other factors the details of what you will say and how you will say it will vary. But if we don’t start talking to staff about the developments in AI, we risk them becoming anxious, fearful and we may allow rumour and speculation to circulate unchallenged. 

The next step is to look at where the business may be affected, what staff will be impacted, what systems may be replaced, how the work may change. This detail allows consideration of where the communication needs to be targeted and what needs to be said. As with all communication, honesty is essential. Don’t tell staff everything is going to be ok if you are not certain that it will be. Explain that the technology is developing quickly, and you will keep them updated as soon as you can about any issues. AI is developing at speed, and it is difficult to have any certainty about how it will impact but trends in sectors and businesses are becoming clear. 

Investing in training and development in AI for staff needs to become a standard position so that they can realise the benefits of using it and move into roles that will be more secure over time. It is hard to excuse organisations that will watch jobs come under threat and take no action to retrain or give other skills to those who will be impacted.

Communicators can start to develop crisis communication plans. What will you do if employees are affected? If they may lose their jobs to technology? How will you deal with challenges by customers or service users unhappy with the use of it? What will you say about the ethical approach to the operation of AI within the business? There is a lot to consider but we need to start to consider it now while we have a brief window of time to discuss, prepare and put plans in place. In the same way that we need a plan so we can respond quickly to a cyber attack or data loss, businesses need to have a plan to step in when a crisis emerges that is linked to AI. 

If businesses are not discussing the impact that AI may have on the work they do and the employees then, as communication professionals, we need to raise the issue. Identifying and being ready to deal with risks and threats is the responsibility of everyone in organisations and communicators have an important role. They see far and wide, which may allow them to spot those challenges on the horizon before they start to impact operationally. Now is not the time to leave it to others but to grab the issue and to start to take steps to be able to manage whatever happens in the future. 

Amanda Coleman is a crisis communication specialist and the director and founder of crisis communication consultancy Amanda Coleman Communication Ltd. Based in the UK, she has more than 20 years’ experience in crisis and emergency communication.

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