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Embracing AI to give ‘power back to the people’

Hailey Irminger Wilson ’08

Last updated October 31, 2023

By Jerry Salley ’90

Until about a year ago, Hailey Irminger Wilson ’08 didn’t give much thought to artificial intelligence – not as a Furman student, nor in her early career as a journalist or her eventual transition to corporate communications.

Now, AI occupies her mind constantly. You should probably be thinking about it, too, she said.

“In the next two years, for every professional who uses a computer for their jobs, their jobs are going to change,” said Wilson. “That’s the reality. I come across people who say, ‘I’m not interested in AI,’ and I internally cringe a little. It’s akin to someone in 1989 saying, ‘I’m not interested in the internet.’”

Helping entrepreneurs and businesses understand and use generative AI – technology that can produce images, text and other media based on a little user input – has become a calling for Wilson, who left her corporate career in 2022 to launch her own company, Hailey Wilson Communications.

This year, she will host AImpact, a three-day virtual seminar featuring more than 30 experts on neuroscience, practical applications, ethics and legal guidelines, insights and strategies for marketing with generative AI.

“With all the things that are possible with generative AI, the people that are going to get the most use now are going to be people who do marketing,” Wilson said. “It brings more meaningful time back in your day for your family, your client relationships and building out your business.”

For example, instead of writing 50 personalized emails, a user could upload a spreadsheet with contact information and a few personal notes to CloudAI or ChatGPT to generate messages that are “90% of the way there,” she said. “I’m not going to just copy and paste, but it gets the structure and the tedious stuff I don’t want to do, and it does a task that would take me a few hours in 15 minutes.”

AImpact will begin Nov. 7, 2023, which happens to be exactly one year after Wilson pivoted to entrepreneurship from corporate America. The alumna, who also worked as a first-year advisor at Furman, credits Richard Letteri, a professor of communication studies, Brent Nelsen, the Jane Fishburne Hipp Professor of Politics and International Affairs, and Charles Delancey, a professor emeritus of communication studies, for advice that shaped her early career. Taking on a communication studies major in addition to her political science major opened doors at the beginning, she said.

After a brief stint in journalism, Wilson began work in 2009 as a communications representative at Duke Energy’s McGuire Nuclear Station near Charlotte, North Carolina. With the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident in Japan in 2011, “my crisis communications career started,” said Wilson, who helped address escalating public concerns about nuclear safety.

She continued in crisis communications in the biotechnology and financial industries, “working on every crisis you can think of – wildfires, active shooters, earthquakes, gas, explosions, nuclear events.” She eventually became vice president of corporate communications for a wealth management firm in San Diego, California, before launching her own company in her hometown of Concord, North Carolina, in 2022.

She soon realized how technology was reshaping her field. Originally viewing AI programs like the art-generation tool Midjourney as mere “fun party tricks,” she began seeing the impact and potential when her new clients began asking about them.

“I just started geeking out about it,” she said. “It hit me that things were going to change. AI is not going to replace you, but someone using AI will. So I locked myself into a room last December and started learning Chat GPT.”

Two of her friends, working in different specialties, were also hearing from their clients about AI. “We decided that someone should really try to find some answers,” Wilson said, “and why not us?” They began planning AImpact in early 2023 and expect more than 5,000 participants.

Making the leap to becoming the “Fairy Godmother of AI” took intellectual curiosity as well as courage, Wilson said – qualities she attributed to her alma mater.

“I want to use this technology to give a little more power back to the people,” she said. “I want this technology to empower their businesses and their lives.”

Furman alumni may use the discount code FURMAN when registering for the conference at aimpactevent.com.

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