Are Humans Destined To Be The New Horses? Thoughts On AI In PR

May 26, 2021

As artificial intelligence (AI) continues its inexorable march towards consuming more and more jobs previously done by humans, it may be a question of when, rather than if, humans become the new horses.

Think, for a minute, about how absolutely essential horses were to the economy 200 years ago. With much of the economy still industrializing and dependent on agriculture, horses were vital to the farm work that produced the world’s food. With no automobiles, horses also played a critical role in transportation, delivering goods to market and enabling humans to travel in coaches or by horseback.

Horses were so important that the U.S. equine population grew six-fold between 1840 and 1900 to more than 21 million horses and mules, according to a report in Foreign Affairs. Then came the internal combustion engine, replacing horses with cars in cities and tractors on farms. The U.S. equine population plummeted to 3 million by 1960, a drop of 88% in just 60 years.

For decades if not centuries, a related debate has loomed, ranging from “The Grapes of Wrath” to “2001: A Space Odyssey” and many others: Will technology replace and make human labor irrelevant? (Given that McKinsey reported five years ago that “currently demonstrated technologies could automate 45% of the activities people are paid to perform,” this is a subject that should be a concern for all workers – and that was five years ago!)

Now, with the rise of AI in marketing and public relations, the “Are humans the new horses?” question has begun to hit a little closer to home for PR professionals. Today, we may use AI software for routine, manual, time-consuming tasks such as transcribing interviews. Tomorrow – as AI gets better and smarter, which it most certainly will – we may use AI to write press releases, product descriptions, website copy and the like.

Once AI gets good enough to do that, it will likely begin to take human jobs. Sure, companies will still need some humans to feed information into the AI software to help the software write a press release, but assistance from AI will mean that companies need far fewer humans to produce the same amount of output.

Already, we’re seeing some examples of PR and marketing AI software – just not the kind that is sophisticated enough to take human jobs in a significant way. promises an “end to writer’s block” by helping users “generate marketing copy in seconds.” (I signed up for a seven-day trial and played around the software a little bit to write a product description; it seemed pretty good.) Similarly, Contilt pledges to “put the power of AI at your fingertips” by using software to generate article drafts and do research. No doubt there are plenty of similar startups today, and there will plenty more in the future.

These companies like to sell their AI as tools that will help humans do their jobs, better, which is true enough in the beginning. Then the AI gets smarter, and it begins to approach, but not meet, humans’ ability to edit content or draft a byline, for example. At this point, we’ve started on the slippery slope to where AI’s “good enough” work product becomes so much cheaper for companies to produce than a human-written article, that “good enough” becomes the industry standard for all articles and human writers start to lose their jobs. What a time to be alive!

So what’s a concerned PR professional to do? Data scientist Michael McBride offers three points of advice:

  • Don’t get cocky: In one notable survey, 90% of responders thought that up to half of jobs would be lost to automation within five years, but 91% didn’t think there was any risk to their job. Don’t fall into the “It can’t happen to me” trap. It can.
  • Make a process map of your job (extreme kudos to anyone who actually does this!): Create a process map that “visualizes the set of decisions and actions that make up your day-to-day life.”
  • Double down on soft skills: Professions that require a tremendous amount of empathy and human interaction are among those least likely to be automated.

The good news is that, as it stands in 2021, there are still PR jobs available. Humans haven’t become horses – yet. Nonetheless, prepare for the coming onslaught of AI as if your career depends on it, because it probably does.

Brandon Glenn

Brandon Glenn is a veteran journalist and marketing and communications professional, with experience in content marketing, social media, media relations and news writing. He gained a deep knowledge of the health IT industry while working as a reporter and editor for MedCity News, which covers the business of innovation in healthcare, and as a senior editor with Medical Economics, a publication that focuses on issues of importance to primary care physicians. In these positions, he also wrote extensively about the hospitals, pharmaceuticals and medical devices industries. Brandon began his journalism career as a reporter with Crain's Cleveland Business and, later, Crain's Chicago Business. Earlier, he was an analyst with consulting firm Accenture. Brandon earned a master's in journalism from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and holds a bachelor's degree in economics from Purdue University.