Fear of technological innovation is real. People across a range of industries are asking themselves: Will machine learning eliminate the need for some of my skills? Or worse, will new data highlight that what I do actually isn't moving the needle in the way I've promised?

For public relations and communications professionals, the answer is "no"--technological advancements will not eliminate the need for you. Rather, it will allow PR professionals to focus on things only human beings can do, such as emotive storytelling, relationship building, and thoughtful strategy. This does, however, mean that their focus must shift and certain skill sets will need to be added to the PR repertoire. Namely, understanding how to analyze and report on aggregated, clean data.

"As long as there are humans on the planet, you will need people who know how to communicate and manage relationships," said longtime PR veteran Sabrina Horn nearly four years ago when we were discussing the shifting PR landscape. At the time, we were in the beginning stages of building a technology solution to eliminate much of the manual "grunt work" around PR reporting, also offering an evolved solution for PR measurement and analytics--our hand in the evolution of work.

Technology, for all of its clear added value, has fundamentally changed the skills required for certain jobs. In addition to overseas outsourcing, it's been a key factor in worker displacement. An example: When I moved to the Bay Area five years ago, I would drive across the Golden Gate Bridge and wave at the tollbooth operator on my way to work. Today, she's not there, but my FasTrak device, which charges me automatically every time I cross the bridge, sure has helped to reduce traffic and create a faster ride for the more than 100,000 drivers that cross the bridge every day.

Russ Roberts, a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and well-known economics podcast host, gives context to the issue from two vantage points: "In the short term, we have more of a social problem. We've got a lot of people who do not have the tools and skills required for shifts happening in the next few years. Currently, they drive the Google bus, or the Amazon Prime truck. But soon those jobs may not be there."

In other words, they fall into the same category as my former tollbooth operator; technology is completely eliminating their jobs rather than helping them work more efficiently. "The long-term negative effects of technology, however," argues Roberts, "turn out to be rather unimportant. Empathy, a uniquely human quality, is going to be valued more and more as machines don't possess this ability. Furthermore, we are going to find ways to merge humans with machines that we haven't even thought of yet."

Eyal Grayevsky has spent the last several years aggregating data from his recruiting company FirstJob to better understand where technology could be applied in order to eliminate pain points in human resources. The result was an A.I. technology (affectionately named "Mya") that reduces the amount of time wasted by recruiters, while also "unearthing" applicants who may not have made it through a typical screening process.

"For both recruiters and job seekers, Mya solves the 'spray and pray' problem through a streamlined process, ultimately increasing the probability of making candidate-job match," says Grayevsky.

What he and his team developed is an intelligently applied technology because it solves a clear pain point for both recruiters and job seekers, but it does not assume human interaction as obsolete to the process. Rather, it applies technology to key inefficiency points so recruiters have a higher probability of seeing the most eligible candidates. Likewise, job seekers have a higher probability of getting through to companies that align with their skills, goals, values, and salary requirements.

To Roberts' point about the long-term, with Mya, the human and the machine work together for a better outcome. Much like the computer allows writers to edit on the fly and increase their efficiency rather than re-type an entire page on a typewriter when they make a mistake. So how do we operate in a way that embraces advancements in the short term, while also remaining realistic and thoughtful about long-term ramifications? What threats are real versus hyped-up media headlines meant to get you to read company-endorsed propaganda?And how do we, as innovators, business owners, and workers adjust for these changes in a workforce driven by new tech?

If you're an entrepreneur, I would argue it's your duty to consider these questions before embarking on a journey in which your technology doesn't function in collaboration with human needs. And for those attempting to understand how to remain relevant in a work environment that seems to command flexibility and increased technological knowledge, the good news is that being a critical thinker will always trump the machine at the end of the day.

However, it also means that we--from PR professionals to HR managers and professionals in general--have to be willing to evolve so we can keep up with the incremental technological advancements that affect our professional lives.

Published on: Aug 8, 2016