Automation in PR, with computers dealing with reporters instead of PR people, was one of the topics at Communications Week, New York, which ends today.

Panelists Oct. 19 worried whether “artificial intelligence,” as exemplified by IBM’s Watson, “a technology that understands all functions of data and reasons and learns at scale,” might cost some PR people their jobs.

Wikipedia describes Watson as “a question answering system capable of answering questions in natural language.”

Communications Week panelistsLeft to Right: Merrill Brown, Director, School of Communication and Media, Montclair State University; Carol Chung, SVP media technology, Digitas; Jennifer Wise, senior analyst serving B2C marketing professionals, Forrester; Michelle Castillo, advertising & media reporter, CNBC Digital; moderated by Andy Morris, CEO Code Morris. Photo by Jane Landers

Comms Week founder Tiffany Guarnaccia of Kite Hill PR, in a report on the panel, said there is little worry about job loss at the moment but “we are starting to see examples of artificial intelligence in our space with bots [web robots] writing AP stories and branded content.”

“It’s not inconceivable that, a few years down the line, an artificial intelligence bot like Watson could deliver content that at least rivals the work of a skilled professional,” said Guarnaccia.

Callers to service companies are sometimes confronted with up to ten recorded options of topics they might be interested in. Reporters calling with questions might get hit with the same drill.

Merrill Brown. Director, Montclair State University’s School of Communications and Media, said there are areas of PR where bots could easily be deployed today. “To the extent that bots could take over straightforward PR duties such as corporate earnings releases, this technology is a plus. There are a lot of categories within the service industries where this tech can free up the resources to focus on more creative work.”

AP Is Using AI Correctly

She said the Associated Press is the “perfect model for getting artificial intelligence right—they want to cover every sporting event in the world going forward and bots is how they are doing it.”

Carol Chung, SVP, media technology, Digitas, said there is an opportunity for advertisers to create memories of previous consumer touchpoints, with machine-learning that will enable advertisers to modify future interactions accordingly.”

Jennifer Wise, senior analyst serving B2C marketing professionals, said “Intelligent agents can create a far more robust profile of preferences and past behavior.”

Michelle Castillo, advertising and media reporter, CNBC Digital, said that while “bots might be able to create and manufacture an ideal conversation, they won’t be able to come up with the original ideas on their own.”

Moderator Andy Morris of Code Morris said bots could become “the new face of outsourcing.” But he said AI is “very much a work in progress.”

Summarizing the panel, Chung said, “Bots by themselves are only going to be as good as the human programmers that built them. They can be both a positive and negative experience…helpful or creepy…but behind every bot is still a human.”