In an Era of Artificial Intelligence and Big Data, Human Touch Is Needed

Back Article May 8, 2024 By Chris Harris

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The growing use of artificial intelligence has undoubtedly led to positive social and economic shifts through automation, data-driven decision-making and the integration of AI systems into sectors of all backgrounds to improve quality of life. Whether it’s the health care system using these technologies to assist with patient care or a small business automating cumbersome processes to become more efficient, it seems society is acclimating to the use of these powerful tools. 

However, these technologies do raise concerns about the long-term effects and ethical implications of their use. Many questions remain about the influence and impact AI has on the future of jobs and how businesses operate and compete. AI can recognize and understand emotions, but it cannot experience them, such as the pressure associated with making a critical decision. While AI can assist with these decisions, it’s feasible that, at some level, overreliance on these technological capabilities and purely data-based extrapolation could result in society losing touch with our own intuitions as business leaders, parents and friends. 

That would be quite a tragedy, given all the strides we’ve made as a society that acknowledges the complexity of the human condition. 

From a business perspective, intuition remains a key component in good decision making. According to the Harvard Business Review, this is particularly the case when a decision-maker is faced with far too much data to quantify or interpret into real insights and business results. Intuition helps with making data-driven decisions quickly, overcoming stagnation and inspiring leaders to make a call, especially when the decision is high-stakes or risky. 

That may seem intuitive, but leaders, sadly, seem to be losing touch with their inner selves.

A study done by Oracle, a technology company, shows that 72 percent of business leaders admit that the copious amounts of data and their lack of trust in that data have stopped them from making any decision. What’s more, that same study shows that 86 percent of business leaders say the increase in data sources has made their personal and professional lives more complicated. 

Leaders who are in touch with themselves owe it to one another to recognize these emotions and remind each other of times the “gut decision” was the right call versus going strictly by the data. 

As organizations continue to optimize data to their advantage, there is a continued and perhaps an even more pressing need for them to invest in training that blends the value that data provides with emotional intelligence. Higher emotional intelligence is often a major predictor of job success and has been shown to indicate better leadership execution. 

Organizations can promote organizational intelligence by encouraging exercises and training in self-reflection, relationship management and in the areas of social and self-awareness. I would venture to say that an empathetic data analyst can better understand the needs and expectations of their customers, consumers and stakeholders, over a person who relies on stone-cold data alone. 

Even the most ardent supporter of AI would concede that there is a significant gap to close before AI can boast a replication of general or emotional intelligence. AI could probably reliably predict when an employee will take time off, but could it truly monitor the emotions behind behavior, store unique insights — also known as thin-slicing — or discover patterns about people? Algorithms do have their limits.

And perhaps, even more ironically, these algorithms and big data sets are often the result of someone programming them or making decisions about behavioral economics in the first place. That begs the question: Wouldn’t you want these folks left in charge of these decisions to have a little bit of intuition? I certainly do. 

It’s a delicate balance to walk, but I suppose we’ll have to rely on our intuition to ensure we don’t stray too far from what truly makes us human.  

Chris Harris is executive vice president and chief strategy officer of SAFE Credit Union. He can be reached at 

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