Media is getting smarter. So should you.
Tech and media have always evolved together. From Gutenberg to Radio to Television, changes in technology wrought changes in media, always accompanied by massive shifts in behaviors and social conventions.
At the birth of the World Wide Web, that cycle of change went into overdrive, launching a Moore’s Law velocity that sees cycles of change growing shorter and shorter, and the impact ever more radical. Thirty years since the Web said Hello, World, we’re living through the most disruptive shift in tech and media yet.
Machine learning and artificial intelligence — still in their infancy — have become foundational capabilities within new media platforms, extending the scaffolding that supports our digital media ecosystem. Technology is no longer just a tool for communications directed by human intelligence. It has its own intelligence — one that at times augments human understanding, and at others confounds it. The implications — for businesses, for society, for communicators — couldn’t be greater.
Our own journey at Weber Shandwick has directly followed this technology trajectory — from building static websites, to creating social media profiles and business processes, to riding the brand publishing and social commerce wave. But this time is different. The stakes are higher — and so is the learning curve.
Consider the impact of how intelligence changes the game. Through the lens of fake news dissemination, it calls into question what we hear, read and watch. Through the lens of platforms, it creates opportunities to disrupt entire industries. Through the lens of automation, it changes the shape and viability of employment sectors.
Machine intelligence changes the dynamics of business practices that came before it, introducing a completely new set of communications issues we have to react to in the moment. If you don’t have a sense for how the systems work, it’s hard to get a sense of what we can be done about them, or with them.
Technology is no longer just a tool for communications directed by human intelligence. It has its own intelligence.
Consider a very small sampling of headlines over the past few days alone — do grounded airplanes have “too much computer?” Or can companies be prosecuted for sharing data? Or if there is a way to stop the spread of horrific images social media sites.
Understanding these technologies are now table stakes for communicators. That’s why we pulled together a research team to help our global employees become more fluent in these building blocks — including AI and machine learning, platforms, synthetic content, media forensics and immersive experiences.
The output of our research is Media Genius: a study guide on tech forces behind media change. It has a summary of trends, real-world examples and hundreds of hours of free classes and tutorials curated from Stanford University and National Taiwan University, Amazon, Google, and lots more.
Media Genius breaks down the current intersection of technology and communications into five key categories:
Implications of Artificial Intelligence
AI — specifically the subsets known as Machine Learning and Deep Learning — form the basis for change we see unfolding. Media and communications pros must be fluent in the terminology. From natural language processing to advanced automation and personalization, machine intelligence is changing how media works. What’s more, as AI takes on new tasks, it’s having a range of impacts across business and society. Some of these help us explore the meaning of being human, while others are automating our worst tendencies at scale.
Platforms and Power Dynamics
Platforms are far from new. But the speed, agility and use is highly variable (Did you know the favorite new social network among teens is, of all things, Google Docs?). Understanding platforms provides visibility into ebbs and flows of media gatekeeping (from publishers to platforms to influencers). They enable new paths to billion-dollar franchises (seen through the “Uberization of name category” and DTC players upending retail). And most perhaps most troubling, change political discourse and authoritarian practice.
Challenges (and Potential) of Synthetic Content
The tech and media communities are still coming to grips with the creation and spread of fake news, the emergence of deep fakes and our means to determine what’s real or not. But thanks to open source explorations from incubators like Betaworks, a deeper look into the world of synthetic content has creative potential as well. Framed as a fusion of CG and AI, intelligent avatars may transform how we present ourselves, how influence gets generated and how news content gets artificially generated.
Media Forensics and Issues Detection
Did you know that social listening has evolved into a much more sophisticated forensic ability? One that is capable of processing massive amounts of data reflecting human and bot-generated interaction — through visible and dark web — to determine what is spreading, its velocity and predictions for potential impact. This forensic listening capability, along with advances in fake content detection, may provide a technical counter measures to the proliferation of fake content and brand safety concerns.
Immersive and Micro Content Experiences
New technology creates almost unlimited potential to shape stories and experiences. From 1:1 experiences to AR platforms, the means to engage through media has never been more rich. This limitless potential is generating a true creative revolution through a huge array of intelligent platforms and content management systems. Even as creative opportunities are exploding, others have opined that emphasizing creation over personal connection is a trap. Regardless of your perspective, the content innovation genie is out of the bottle.
The categories above should make clear that as intelligence infiltrates all aspects of media, the changes we’re facing are rapid and widespread. By breaking down underlying forces at play and supporting them with relevant examples and classes, we felt the need to share resources for communicators to begin to understand these changes.
By no means do we look at what we’ve provided as comprehensive or the end of the discussion. Building new instincts, based on open collaboration, is the only way we see staying smart as intelligence accelerates into all avenues of our world. If you’ve come across great examples, papers, books or big misses in how we’re thinking, we’re all ears.
Special thanks to Julia Dixon and Mike Connery for their contributions to the project and leading collaborations with our teams and research fellows.
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