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Despite significant advancements in nearly every area of technology, communication between employees at an organization, as well as between a business and its customers, remains a reality of doing business. Although new channels for communication have emerged in an effort to forge convenience and efficiency for both employees and customers, the standard conversations and interactions remain unchanged.
Does this mean we’ve come as far as we can in terms of interpersonal communication? Most likely, no. This is because of the consistency of human interaction, which presents us with an opportunity to expand our communications arsenal.
Artificial intelligence, or AI, is one such tool with the ability to draw on our consistency to not only mimic and recreate the ways we communicate, but also hold the potential to enhance and reimagine the ways in which we interact.
The art of traditional business communication
When people talk about the art of communication, they’re generally referring to more creative outlets, like fiction stories or movies. The true art of communication, however, isn’t so much in the ability to conjure up an imaginative scenario, but in the ability to effectively communicate information in the most efficient way possible. This is backed up by science, too, with the general consensus among psychologists being the right hemisphere of the brain controls thinking, emotion, spatial orientation and imagination, while the left side generally controls logic and comprehension.
Those considered right-brained are thought of as artistic, while those who are left-brained are typically considered to be logical. As such, because communication is generated in the right brain, all types of communication — even business communication — can be considered a true art form.
Science aside, the ability to communicate well is one of the most critical factors in both personal and business success. Empathizing with an audience and communicating with people on their level can be very persuasive, which not only has the potential to translate into more fulfilling relationships, but also into increased sales and higher profits. We can see this in action with CEOs like David Nelms, who led Discover Financial from struggle to success over a 20 year period and credits the success of the organization to his ability to communicate. Nelms’ sustained success illustrates how soft skills are just as important as technical skills.
Outsourcing to agencies and consultants
Many businesses will outsource to agencies and consultants when they feel they don’t have the expertise or other resources to communicate as effectively as possible. These third parties specialize solely in communication, and as such have the expertise to reframe and communicate ideas and information more effectively to both internal and external stakeholders. While agencies and consultants do have their advantages, many organizations find that there’s a limit to the return they get from their investment. This is because, although specialists have the ability to improve on communications, there are only so many methods by which this can be done. This means the same communication patterns are being recycled and used over and over.
Thankfully, AI has the ability to redefine the limits of communication, there are just a few things it needs to learn first.
Codifying context, nuance and empathy
While AI has certainly found its feet in data analysis applications, when it comes to communication the landscape is still very new. This is because communication is incredibly complex and wildly unpredictable because of heavy reliance on human concepts like context, nuance, empathy and persuasion. As such, to create an effective AI technology for communications, the ability to understand and utilize context and emotion must be codified.
For developers, this means the goal is to harness enough data around human communication and typical conversational patterns so the AI can learn how to utilize them for itself. While it’s nearly impossible to turn creativity and artistic talent into an algorithm, advancements in AI already have the capability to emulate conversation, so now it’s about providing it with data around context, nuance, empathy and persuasion so it can learn the most effective ways to speak to an audience or potential customer.
Potential for failure?
Technology is considered cold and unfeeling, and the reason for this is clear: it runs on data. While data around emotions can be created, we can’t engineer any AI to “feel” as we do. Additionally, algorithms don’t have ethics or the human capacity to understand or identify immoral behavior. As such, a heavy reliance on data scientists and coders exists because they’re the ones who input the data that teaches the AI. If they get it wrong, we not only risk cold, emotionless communication, but also that some human biases may slip through the cracks.
While AI cannot form its own biases, they can be inherited through the input of data that aligns with the data scientists’ or coders’ biases. When input data isn’t vetted or verified, we run the risk of creating an AI that’s accidentally racist, sexist or otherwise prejudiced or exclusionary towards a group of people. If unchecked, businesses run the risk of tarnishing their reputation or even litigation.
The final threat comes from unethical manipulation. This is due to AI’s inherent inability to understand ethics. If a bad actor is to manipulate communication output within the AI, it can result in the creation of unwanted or unethical communications with the potential to disengage customers. As such, it’s vital that businesses test their AI to ensure output is ethical, unbiased, and contains all pertinent information to communicate ideas.
AI has evolved significantly since its first iterations and while it has many industrial use cases, the technology is yet to find a secure footing as an overarching, comprehensive tool for business communication. Despite this, we have witnessed the emergence of the first tools with the ability to create communication efficiencies — mainly in the generation of presentations. Previously, these presentations would take hours for executives to finalize, but with AI technology it can be done in minutes.
As time goes on, we’re sure to see this technology expand to encompass all business communications. Ideally, this will result in a redefined, data-backed and optimized method of communication, complete with an understanding of human notions like context and nuance.
Rajat Mishra, President, PREZENTIUM