This is the final post in a three-part series about the impact of generative AI on the communications profession. We’d love to hear your voice in the comments.

If you’re a procrastinator like me, you may have at some point wondered why, in this age of marvelous technology, we still communicate with our devices using clunky keyboards (which are somehow worse in their digital form), sticky mice and frequently-misplaced television remotes. Soon, however, we will wonder no more; generative AI will usher in a new era of computer-human interface, relegating these archaic tools to museum exhibits alongside selectric typewriters and rotary phones. I can’t wait to try and explain a Qwerty keyboard to my grandkids.

Though computers have always augmented human capabilities, a considerable amount of work that is now tediously manual will soon be conversational. Ask your AI for a summary of your emails rather than clicking through your inbox, and dictate the responses they need -- not word for word but as if speaking to an assistant. “Tell Brian we need to schedule a meeting to discuss his idea and propose a few times that work for my calendar before the 19th,” you’ll say. “And send him the sales data from last quarter.” 

In an entertaining twist, Brian’s AI is reading and replying on his behalf, too, which raises fun questions. Are we not far off from computers sending and reading all our emails (what’s even the point of email then?)? We already have AI assistants that record, transcribe and summarize meetings. At what point do we just have them attend in our stead, or does the idea of  “meeting” in the first place become a process of systems talking to one another? No doubt humans will still meet and discuss things. But much of our meeting time today is focused on matters an AI could handle just as easily. 

AI will be great at scaling some very time-consuming work. Agencies that bill by the hour will have to rethink those models as the time spent on things like research, content creation and even arranging and attending meetings dwindles. But it’s not merely the mundane with which computers will help. Even now, with new apps and plugins deployed every hour, one might ask their AI, “Put together a five-slide presentation on our branded deck that presents the first-year sales data for our products by region, compared with those of our three closest competitors. Overlay that with an analysis of the keywords used by people who arrive via search at one of our product pages, and with any earned product mentions in top-tier media. Create a graphic that shows how the sales, media and keyword data correlate, along with the top five insights that would inform a new PR campaign.” A request that could take researchers, analysts and designers days to produce can be generated almost instantly, by someone without skills like data analysis or graphic design.

Our craft is about understanding two inherently complex and changing things: the universe of people who affect our organization’s actions or are affected by them, and the complicated and interrelated set of circumstances – context, trends, culture, societal shifts, world events – that bear on our success. The job has always been difficult because, with limited data at hand, experience and intuition were our best guides. Soon, that data intelligence will become a commodity, meaning the power will belong not to those who have access to the best information and the resources to cull it, but to those whose data and information systems are integrated with AI, who ask the right questions to arrive at the best decisions using a combination of AI-delivered information and human understanding, morality, judgment and experience. Organizations will have to adjust to this new world quickly, and CCOs, with their innate abilities to understand people and context and ask the right (and often difficult) questions, will be essential leaders in this realm. 

Though experts are sounding alarms on the potentially existential threats posed by unbridled AI expansion, that progress is inexorable. Just this week, Apple unveiled its AR/VR headset, a product designed to kill the keyboard, mouse and touchscreen altogether. It’s easy to imagine how products like these, infused with AI, will completely transform the way we live and work, and, consequently, the environments in which we do those things. CCOs must find a balance, a way to move from pecking at keyboards and clicking on mice to a workforce whose full intellectual and creative potential can be harnessed responsibly.