An Emerging Relationship: Generative AI and Communicators

By  Alan Shoebridge, Associate VP  of National Communication, Providence 

If you follow discussions about artificial intelligence at all, you’ve probably heard about “AI Doomers” and “AI Boomers”. Doomers think the worst, most destructive outcomes are probable from the advancement of AI. On the other hand, Boomers think only the best, most beneficial outcomes are probable.

I know it sounds kind of silly, but so many of our modern conversations are framed by the most extreme sides of an issue. I don’t know where you stand, but I find myself in a neutral – or at least undefined – position for now. AI offers clear value, but it also provokes worries. Cautiously optimistic is probably the best way to describe my outlook.

Artificial general intelligence, which would mean AI exceeding human intelligence and potentially operating independently, is undeniably unsettling. The potential for significant societal transformation is immense. However, this article’s focus is not on that aspect. I’m focused on generative AI and its implications for the current and future work of communicators.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, “generative AI” refers to models that generate text, images, and other content based on the data they were trained on. These models encode a simplified representation of their training data and draw from it to create a new work that’s similar, but not identical, to the original data. Generative AI is not smarter than human beings, but it can assist us in many ways.

Generative AI is what many communicators are experimenting with today. ChatGPT is the most common example, but there are many other tools and new entrants seemingly unveiling “AI-powered” tools and technology every day. Oral-B even has an AI-enabled toothbrush!

In the fall of 2022, ChatGPT exploded into the public consciousness. The subsequent user growth was amazing. News reports estimate that ChatGPT hit 100 million monthly active users by January 2023. This made it the fastest-growing application in history until Threads took that distinction in July.

AI has been the focus of podcasts, articles and talks ever since that huge burst of awareness. For those who attended the fall HCNW conference last year, we had a great discussion on that topic.

Integrating AI into daily work

I’ve experimented with several AI tools to augment and assist my work producing various types of content. While not quite an AI Boomer, I’ve been using it for:

  • Revising copy. AI is perfect for taking longer-form content – like this blog – and cutting it down into key messages, bullet points and social media posts.
  • Creating thought starters. I remain committed to NEVER using AI to write content coming out under my name, but creating a list of ideas is fair game.
  • Evaluating reading levels and potential audience interest.

None of that is groundbreaking, but AI tools have freed up at least an hour of my day. It adds up.

In addition, I know many of us are seeing examples of AI use in health systems and hospitals. For the last several years, Providence has invested in its digital capabilities and infrastructure, allowing the organization to implement generative AI solutions safely, responsibly and at scale to extend the Mission to care for all.

Providence has identified four domains where generative AI can enhance healthcare:

  • Assisting and augmenting clinical caregivers.
  • Improving consumer and patient self-service and engagement.
  • Supporting administrative tasks for the workforce.
  • Streamlining back-office functions.

Overall, the goal is to leverage AI to improve performance in areas where it can supplement processes and workflows, allowing healthcare professionals to focus on tasks that truly require human expertise.

To get the most out of AI opportunities, Providence’s communication team created a workgroup that regularly assesses tools and shares best practices.

One tool used throughout the organization is Providence’s own version of ChatGPT, called ProvidenceChat. The platform was developed to address concerns about data privacy and allow the use of generative AI without sharing information externally.

ChatGPT and other similar AI tools appear to be an ideal fit for communicators’ tasks. Tasks such as crafting headlines, generating ideas for articles, and editing copy can be done quickly within minutes instead of spending hours on them. However, concerns arise regarding accuracy, bias, copyright infringement, and other issues. Content creation necessitates careful supervision and judgement.

Setting yourself up for success

“AI’s not going to take your job. Somebody who knows AI is going to take your job.” That’s a quote from Scott Galloway, a business professor, podcaster, and tech media gadfly.

Even that statement from Galloway might be a little too strong, but now is certainly the time to learn how AI can – and can’t – raise your professional work to the next level.

If you haven’t taken the leap, I advise:

  • Keeping connected with new developments in AI.
  • Using some of the available AI tools so that you can at least understand them.
  • Not getting swayed too much by the biggest negative or positive voices on AI. The Boomers and Doomers.
  • Thinking critically about what’s happening with AI in our profession and developing a personal perspective on it.

I know some of you are concerned about the potential impact on jobs. We can’t pretend that AI won’t affect our careers. At the same time, I think it’s clear that AI will be a tool that we use (among many) that can allow us to focus on more strategic work over time.

Assessing the potential impact of AI on your work becomes challenging without firsthand knowledge and the unique perspective that offers. The only way to truly understand it is through experience.

A final thought

We need to remember the value communicators bring to our organizations that generative AI will never replicate. Judgement based on experience and building relationships are critical to delivering effective and impactful communication and PR support. That’s not going to change any time soon, and it’s a perspective we must keep in mind as we continue this journey.

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July 2024