Pivot to tomorrow

“Will all this have a massive impact in 2018? Maybe not. But I’m reminded of the Bill Gates line that we always overestimate the change that will come in the next two years and underestimate the change that will come in 10.”

The big challenges facing the news industry were all-consuming in 2017, and rightly so. On top of a relentless news cycle, newsrooms were focused on partisan attacks, information disorders, changing revenue models, the move to mobile, and the ever-changing dynamics with the platforms. In other words, today’s reality.

In 2018, publishers will begin to make room for tomorrow’s reality, in which new AI-driven technologies upend the way consumers seek, discover, consume, and share news and information. Over the next few years, advances in natural language processing, voice recognition, augmented reality, and automation will change consumer behavior to the point that some people predict the end of smartphones as we know them today.

Let’s group AI’s impact on news into three big buckets:

  • Voice: More than 25 percent of Alexa owners use voice to learn about news, despite the fact that “skills” from news organizations are still pretty rudimentary. Imagine the possibilities once we figure out more native ways to engage people using interactive voice commands, and when voice-enabled digital assistants — either standalone speakers or embedded in other devices — become ubiquitous. Adoption is expected to grow to 75 million active U.S. users by 2019. As many as 870 million voice assisted devices could be in circulation in the U.S. by 2022. Will we be ready?
  • Vision: Augmented reality is moving from toyto utility. With ARKit and ARCore now preinstalled in new Apple and Android phones, AR will enter the mainstream. The AR phone experience may not be a mainstream game-changer immediately, but it’s a gateway to what’s coming next. Facebook predicts that “full, always-on, go-everywhere audio-visual AR glasses” will be here in 5 years, ushering in seismic change as profound as we saw with the adoption of smartphones, if not more so. What does this mean for news? Will we be ready?
  • Automation: Content automation will change the nature of reporting and publishing. Already, 58 percent of marketing and advertising executives expect to use automated content next year. Automated news is no replacement for serious original journalism, but it will undoubtedly have both positive and negative ramifications to the new ecosystem. Automation will make lower-level tasks more efficient, but low-quality and false news from bad actors will more easily scale. Will we be ready?

Will all this have a massive impact in 2018? Maybe not. But I’m reminded of the Bill Gates line that we always overestimate the change that will come in the next two years and underestimate the change that will come in 10. Are news organizations thinking about what AI will mean for business models? For access to quality information? For content discovery? For news gathering? For fake news? For employee skills, staffing, and work flow? Are journalism schools preparing the next generation of news leaders? I think the answer so far, is mostly — no. But in 2018, the awakening will begin.

Vivian Schiller is executive editor in residence at Weber Shandwick.

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