Dealing with AI positioning 

David Willans, Director, Sustainability at Bladonmore reflects on the post-Davos AI excitement. 

AI was all the rage at Davos this year with celebrities and CEOs alike singing its revolutionary praises. For those not in the know, Davos is a Swiss venue where the great and good of the global elite converge at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting to rub shoulders and discuss key global issues.  

The potential for AI is certainly clear. When a machine can ingest and process data at a power and scale far beyond human capabilities 24-7 it makes for some hard workers. But is the rhetoric creating risk? And how should corporate communicators respond? 

Managing the relationship between reality and rhetoric is a key part of corporate communications. If you’re better than you look and sound, customers, potential hires, investors and partners might pass you by. But if you tell too good a story about what you’re doing, you lose trust and run very real and potentially expensive risks.  

Furthermore, even if the market tolerates a gap between reality and rhetoric temporarily, this will always close over time. Often with crushing reputational consequences, as COVID and climate deniers, and in the corporate world ‘the internet is a fad’ pedlars, have found out.  

Don’t believe the hype 

The Davos crowd heard the rhetoric of how AI will create new materials to advance battery technology, identify disease faster and cheaper than ever, accelerate international trade transparency and break down inequality barriers. Yet, when Will.i.am took to the stage to demonstrate a real application to the world’s business elite, the reality was the casting of an AI chat bot as the co-host of his new radio show… not exactly a world-changing real-life application. No-wonder more than one commentator has likened the AI hype to that of blockchain or crypto, which haven’t exactly changed the world for the better in recent years either.   

At the sensible end of discussions, experts like Andrew Ng and Yann LeCun discussed safety and the need for common frameworks and regulation for responsible use. But while recognition of the need for a considered approach is welcome, AI discussions at gatherings like Davos can only take us so far. Once you scratch the surface of the rhetoric, the complexity and nuance of the subject doesn’t make sense to an audience who isn’t well-versed in it. It’s going to take more time before the experts reach a consensus that can then be translated into lay-person’s language.

Communications challenge 

The big challenge now for any communicator crafting narratives and business positions on AI is how to tap into the energy and excitement of its potential, while reflecting a realistic position and considered strategic approach to its application. That means answering questions like: 

  • Where in the value chain, and with the firm’s USP, does it make sense to apply it, and where are the responsibilities and risks too great, at this point in time?  
  • Who will benefit from this application – and how? What are the trade-offs and how do we manage them to make sure AI is inclusive? 
  • How is the business managing the real risks of the uncertainty of the technology’s regulatory and legal status? 
  • Where is the opportunity for individual action clear, and where should firms collaborate to create responsible sectoral approaches? 

Humans have a tendency to get carried away with the rhetoric. The answers to these questions force a considered understanding of the real issues and technological progress. As such, they form the foundation of a strong position on AI. One whose core will remain steady, so the messaging can be managed clearly even with the pace at which both rhetoric and reality are moving.  

If you’d like to know more about our work on AI narratives, please get in touch.

 

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David Willans

Director, Sustainability

David is a sustainability specialist and advises our clients and the wider team on ESG positioning, responsible investment issues and any other sustainability topic.

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