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Human connection in the age of AI

Wednesday, 3rd April 2024 | Technology

I was waiting for a flight the other day and I heard someone saying: “We need to put some GenAI in there!”

Even in the age of an AI arms race, we can still reclaim what is uniquely human: our empathy

The image of Tom Cruise shouting “Show me the money” in Jerry Maguire immediately flashed across my mind.

We have reached peak AI frenzy.

Not a day goes by without some company announcing a sprinkle of AI magic in their product offering. While much of this is likely driven by Fear of Missing Out (FOMO), we can’t deny the potential of where the technology can take us.

And it’s captivating.

But rather than worry about whether machines will take over the world, I’m more concerned about the immediate impact that the faceless algorithms have on us, and the lack of guardrails that could safeguard humans from harm and biases.

Some might observe that since prejudices and biases already exist in the world, nothing much will change when decisions become automated. However, while changing the gatekeeper from a human to a machine may not improve the outcome, we could actually make the situation much worse, since there is no recourse after the human gatekeeper is removed.

Imagine you get turned down for a loan due to your credit profile, or you are denied entry to a medical facility due to a mismatched facial recognition. Where can you go for help and who would be held liable for the outcome? Do we truly desire a future where every decision is driven by a faceless algorithm and every moment is optimised?

What then will become of humanity?

Keeping humans in the loop

We are humans, first and foremost.

In the age of artificial intelligence and bits and bytes, what sets leaders apart is their ability to connect with people , cultivate trust with them, and bring them together. It’s about understanding what drives them, beyond pure predicted productivity gains. As my old colleague, Liat Azulay, reminded us on LinkedIn recently in an article about the power of human connection, “Before we can connect virtually, we must first connect on a human level, extending kindness and support to those around us.

In fact, leadership and social influence, as well as empathy and active listening, rank among the top 10 core skill sets identified by the World Economic Forum in the Future of Jobs Report 2023. Against the backdrop of an uncertain economy, this is particularly important for leaders who strive to build more human-centric and resilient organisations — with trust as the foundation.

As cited in Mercer’s Global Talent Trends 2024 Report, resilient organisations are 1.8 times more likely to balance empathy and economics in decision making. Executives of resilient organisations, according to Mercer, are “1.3 times more likely to say that jobs should be made redundant, not people, amid the continued rise of AI and automation”. Employees need to trust that their managers will have their back.

This circle of trust is also crucial for communities to thrive. As the movie Bank of Dave reminds us, there is another way to bank. Based on the real-life experiences of Dave Fishwick, the owner of Burnley Savings and Loans, the movie tells the story of how Dave seeks a new banking license to open a community bank in his hometown in order to help the local businesses of Burnley that are unable to borrow from a high-street bank.

Caring about people is simply good business.

Recently, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued its first government-wide policy guidance to advance responsible AI innovation. Some of the proposed safeguards seek to mitigate the risks of algorithmic discrimination and provide transparency into how the government uses AI. “When AI is used to detect fraud in government services, there is human oversight of impactful decisions and affected individuals have the opportunity to seek remedy for AI harms,” the OMB says.

This is a welcome move at a time when technology innovation and adoption has been advancing at breakneck speed and we are struggling to play catch-up. As AI continues to take centre stage, the next few years represent a unique opportunity for organisations to rethink and redesign their workplace DNA and to support new ways of working augmented by machines, with trust and equity at the core. Even in the age of an AI arms race, we can still reclaim what is uniquely human: our empathy.