The Limits of AI Technology

The Most Important Aspects Of Human Interaction Cannot Be Automated. 

By Thomas J. Roach

Artificial Intelligence depersonalizes communication, and therein lies its greatest limitation.

Automation is a mechanical or electronic technology that removes the human footprint from a process that produces goods or services. Ancient Greeks employed water wheels to grind grain. During the Industrial Revolution, steam and internal combustion engines mass produced paper, glass, metals and cotton. 

In the 21st century, computers, digital controls and robotics are automating the filing system in the office, crushing the stone at the quarry, constructing the road, building the car, navigating the route, and placing digital hands on the steering wheel. 

Automated methods for sending and receiving messages have been the focus of business communication for the last 100 years. Print, broadcast and digital communication technology treat information as a commodity and allow a sender to broadcast a message to multiple receivers. 

Organizations send information out to the community through advertising, press releases, and video public service announcements, and they send emails and post videos to pass information through the internal chain of command. Even obtaining feedback is mostly dependent on automated survey programs. More sophisticated recent automated communication developments include robocalling, hiring software, and social media bots. 

The newest AI technology takes automated communication even a step further; AI dosn’t just distribute the message, AI authors it. How far will this go? We can automate the tasks, but can we replace the human element altogether, can we automate relationships? 

Maybe Not
Relationships can be inhibited by impersonal technology. Consider what the word relationship means. Formally it refers to a state of being between spouses, a parent and a child, coworkers or a supervisor and a subordinate. Informally it connotes love, respect and trust. A relationship is not a commodity; it is a quality of life manifest most often through personal interaction.

On the physical side of the scale, the effectiveness of automated production processes in manufacturing is measured with stopwatches, inspections, and customer feedback. Measuring the impact of technology on the quality of life is trickier. 

What is quality of life? Aristotle suggests it is happiness achieved through virtue. The World Health Organization looks for clues in physical health, psychological state, level of independence, social relationships and personal beliefs. 

Meaningful relationships with customers and coworkers necessarily emanate from the less formal, more intangible, qualitative side of human experience. We perceive and react to kindness, generosity and goodwill, not just because of what we communicate, but largely because of how we communicate it. The message in a handwritten thank you card is not as meaningful as the fact that someone took the time to write it. 

Power of the Message
When it comes to building meaningful relationships, the number of people receiving a message is inversely proportional to the power of the message. No matter how sincerely we compose messages, all mass distributed messages are necessarily impersonal. 

  • One-to-one is personal. 
  • One to several is impersonal. 
  • One to a lot is a lot more impersonal
  • A mass-distributed message authored by AI is a whole lot more impersonal than that. 

When it comes to hiring and evaluating employees, managing teams and building networks, the more personal the communication the better. Managers therefore need to be discerning when it comes to automated AI-generated messages and computer-driven hiring and employee evaluation processes. The best use of automated communication technology like AI is to have it take over the impersonal mechanical tasks and allow more time for authentic human interaction.

What is a meaningful work relationship if it is not supporting, mentoring or role modeling, and if it is not based on trust, respect, and good will? 

We need to create business cultures that apply technology to enhance human interaction, not replace it. 

Thomas J. Roach Ph.D., has 30 years experience in communication as a journalist, media coordinator, communication director and consultant. He has taught at Purdue University Northwest since 1987, and is the author of “An Interviewing Rhetoric.” He can be reached at [email protected].

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