Thought Leadership Series: AI-Washing and PR, Part 1 of a Series

It’s not every day that the leaders of two highly regarded public companies enter into a public spat about a future technology, but perhaps AI is no ordinary technology. Elon Musk’s portrayal of AI as an existential threat to humanity is a sharp contrast from Mark Zuckerberg’s view of AI as an augmentative, non-destructive force in our world.  Who is closer to the truth?  Perhaps we should listen to both sides of the argument.

The two of them aren’t the only ones thinking about AI and its impact on their world. AI is one of the most popular future technologies talked about in the media. If everything said about AI is true, it will transform every industry and market alike; no wonder why every client is obsessed with hitching their technology vision to the AI juggernaut.

It reminds me of 2008 when every company was on board the environmental trend. Every green initiative, no matter how small, was portrayed as a significant step toward saving the planet. As more and more companies put sustainability at the front and center of their marketing, it wasn’t long before many got accused of “green washing.” This phenomenon can best be described as “the deliberate act of promoting green initiatives in a bit to appear to be an environmentally friendly company without putting sustainability at the core of its business operations.”

Given the number of companies who are claiming AI as a core part of their product roadmap, or even company future, it feels like we are entering a period of “AI Washing.” Of course, there are a number of companies which are 100 percent focused on solving real problems through AI. You only need to take a look at data from VentureScanner to see that there are 1,924 AI companies, in 70 countries, of which 1,008 have raised over $21.9mb in funding. However, there are lots of others that are talking up AI because they know it’s what investors and the media want to hear about. The challenge is spotting the “AI Washing.”

SHIFT is lucky to work with a number of pure play companies in the AI space as well as for established companies that recognize the potential impact that AI is going to have on their market. We are helping clients to understand the AI conversations, and advising them to know when, if, and how they should tell their AI stories.

As communications experts, it’s important that we go beyond the technology and the hype to understand broader potential business and social issues. We must recognize when we need to take a leadership role to help people understand the implications for the future as well as the reality of today.

I don’t think any of us know whether Elon Musk’s pessimism or Mark Zuckerberg’s optimism are closer to the mark but, regardless, we need to understand the consequences.

David Hargreaves
Managing Director


Keep in Touch

Want fresh perspective on communications trends & strategy? Sign up for the SHIFT/ahead newsletter.

Ready to shift ahead?

Let's talk