A new question is rising in our Brussels Bubble: How long before lobbyists are replaced by algorithms? 

In his 2015 book, Humans Need Not Apply, Jerry Kaplan of Stanford University wrote: “Automation is blind to the colour of your collar.” Despite Kaplan’s warning, many keep believing that their job is safe. This is certainly true in Brussels, where most public affairs consultants have been left unscathed by automation so far. But this is about to change.

Last January in Davos, Tim Hwang, the 25-year-old CEO of US tech firm FiscalNote, announced the acquisition of Brussels-based Shungham, marking the first time ever a Silicon Valley start-up takes over an EU public affairs consultancy, and showing just how Moore’s law has reached a new peak.

Are lobbyists on the verge of going extinct?

FiscalNote – much like its competitor Quorum, which is also gaining ground in the EU quarter – uses algorithms to automate some of the most repetitive and labour-intensive parts of the work of public affairs professionals. Within a few clicks, its software gathers data from the Internet and extracts information to monitor policy issues and map decision-makers. It also allows automated machine-customised emails and can determine the chances for an amendment to be adopted.

These “digital disruptors” were successful in recent lobbying campaigns in the US and are just getting started. But does this mean that lobbyists are on the verge of going extinct? Not really.

Secret and offline EU law-making has taken over

While most companies should jump on the bandwagon of digitalisation to aim for resource efficiency, and while more digital savviness will be requested from public affairs professionals – especially younger ones –, the situation in the Bubble remains very different than on K Street.

Indeed, in recent years in Brussels we have seen the generalisation of the notoriously secretive trilogues and the growing importance of complex and opaque procedures such as comitology. Secret and offline EU law-making has taken over, making the human insight and oversight more necessary than ever.

This article was published by Noam El Mrabet, on his LinkedIn page. It was originally written as part of the 2018 John Houston EPACA Essay Contest and was awarded third place. The competition is open to young public affairs professional and the topic this year was “The impact of digitalisation on public affairs”. You can also follow Noam on Twitter: @Noam_EU