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The Robots Are Coming. But Can They Earn Media?

Wired cover_2101

The cover of Wired’s January 2013 issue

I just finished the January edition of Wired (which is a cracker by the way – you should buy it) and felt compelled to pen some musings on the cover story “The Robots Take Over!

The article reports on the array of robots that are currently making our lives easier and more effective – both at home and at work. The subhead starts with “Imagine that 7 out of 10 working Americans got fired tomorrow. What would they all do?”, and it sells the inspirational notion that we will all dream up new things on which to spend our time when the quoted “epic” robot takeover kicks in. Creative things that critical thinking humans are custom-made to do that robots cannot do (yet).

This prompted me to recall a story about Tamworth, a country town in Australia, which was the first town in the whole country to be lit up by electric street lights. The tale goes that when the council first set out to educate residents about “electricity”, the majority proclaimed, “Why would we need this thing called electricity? We’re just fine as we are“.

It was impossible for Tamworth residents to imagine in 1888 that appliances like washing machines, microwaves or televisions could exist, let alone be the essential household items we see in nearly every home in the western world today. Technology begets innovation, even if you can’t humanly grasp the beginning of that path yet.

Every day we employ Google and Bing bots to search the world wide web for us and we use ATMs to access our cash, but can you see yourself taking orders barked at you from a “Gymbot”? Would you get your script filled by a pharmacist bot that demands a thumbprint ID for verification, or pay to go and see a “Data”, a TED-featured comedienne bot that adjusts its humor topics by measuring audience response to its gags?

The article states that over time musicians, athletes, yoga masters and even reporters will be replaced by robots. In fact, a piece of software by Narrative Science can write sports-focused newspaper stories directly from game stats, or “generate a synopsis of a company’s stock performance each day” from information available online.

A quote from our fearless leader, Sam DiGennaro in an Ad Exchanger article titled “Marketers Explain – What Is An Agency?” got me thinking about how a robot might replace the work we do as PR professionals. She states “…all the technological savvy in the world is for naught when an agency focuses too much on automation and algorithms at the expense of the human touch.

I agree 100%. There’s no tried-and-true PR formula that works every time. We engage many forms of technology every day to help us do our jobs but could the creative thinking needed to draw out newsworthy information on a corporation and package it perfectly for the press really be replaced by 0s and 1s?


The shocking opening image to Joshua Davis’ feature article in Wired on John McAfee

The quality of the journalism in Wired makes it one of a small handful of hard copy magazine subscriptions that I keep renewing. I simply have to mention the mind-blowing feature “John McAfee’s Last Stand” on the former virus software giant. It opens with a double-page spread of McAfee holding a pistol to the side of his head and the article doesn’t drop pace from thereon in.

I can’t begin to imagine what detailing the chronicle was like for the writer, Joshua Davis. He cites several middle-of-the-night paranoia-laden calls from McAfee weeks and months after their first interview, loaded weapons flippantly waved around as he sat on McAfee’s heavily guarded property in Belize, killer guard dogs, raids and suspected drug labs (claims are so far unproven)… and all the while he maintains a mature and honest, yet level-headed objectivity through the finished piece, making for compelling reading.

While I sincerely can’t wait to see the things a generation of coding, iPad kids will create, I’d like to see a robot try and write a story like that.

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