Why AI won’t be replacing PA just yet…

In early October the pound saw a sudden and dramatic drop, in what the media dubbed a ‘flash crash’.  As the financial industry tried to explain exactly why this had happened they provided one truly shocking reason. The flash crash was a result of a “rogue algorithm” which traded based on news headlines. The sudden drop was sparked by negative headlines that emanated from a Francois Hollande speech where he upped the tough rhetoric on Brexit.

The prospect of trading purely on news headlines or the content of public speeches is relatively terrifying prospect for a number of reasons. Headlines by their very nature are attention grabbing and often not a fair reflection of real-life events. They leave no room for the complexity of issues, counter argument or analysis. Meanwhile how is an algorithm meant to understand the subtleties or hidden motivation of political rhetoric?

Over the coming months political rhetoric in speeches between Ministers and Head of States is going to reach a new level not seen for a generation. It will take on several new dimensions, becoming increasingly difficult to take at face value. For instance the hardening of language from both Theresa May or her European counterparts is not entirely surprising. They both need to talk tough to show both domestically and internationally that they mean business. Domestically Theresa May needs to talk tough to stop her party from fracturing. Across the Channel, Hollande and Angela Merkel have been upping the ante due to their respective General Elections fast approaching on the horizon. Meanwhile, certain aspects of international diplomacy will also be played out in the media. However this fighting talk will not be reflecting the true negotiations taking place behind the scenes. Even in the height of the Cold War there was always a hotline between the Kremlin and the White House.

It is in neither the EU’s nor UK’s interest to have a complete breakdown in communication. There will have to be civilised and constructive negotiations as the fragile state of the UK, EU and world economy will temper urges to cut off a nation’s nose to spite its face. The inner workings, areas of mutual agreement or private red lines are going to be kept secret. It will be a diplomatic game of poker and therefore it would not be wise to lay one’s cards out in the press. How an algorithm will be able to interpret all of this or gain the inside track on these negotiations remains to be seen. It certainly won’t get it from the press.

That doesn’t mean that news articles will be devoid of signals or some insider information. It will be vital to read between the lines. In fact the press will be used as a tool to keep your opposite negotiator guessing. Column inches are going to be informed by drip fed government briefings or very well informed speculation. They are not going to be filled with the detailed minutes of the negotiations. But that will require some expertise in interpretation and analysis of these signals. This is what political consultants do on daily basis. Experience and taking the time to interpret the news should not be underestimated. Until there is an algorithm that can perfectly calculate the sometimes Janus-faced nature of public political discourse than there will continue to be role for political acumen.

Douglas McIlroy

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search