Last weekend, I checked into a hotel for a much-needed getaway. The initial experience was wonderful. A courteous valet parked my car, a helpful bellman took care of my luggage, and I was greeted by the refreshing chill of air conditioning as I stepped inside the hotel, a sanctuary from the 43°C heat outside.
At the reception, a pleasant lady welcomed us and, due to a minor room hiccup, graciously offered drinks while we waited. So far, so good.
The Human Variable
Then, an unexpected ripple disturbed the smooth surface of my experience. The waitress who took our drink orders wore an expression devoid of emotion. Glancing around, I noticed that this wasn't an isolated incident; all the lounge staff moved mechanically, their faces lacking any semblance of emotion.
That made me ponder between the bellboy and the restaurant what had changed. The same hotel, the same training, the same environment. Was it a shift in management, a difficult day, or simply a collective low mood?
Being human comes with its pros and cons. Our capacity for joy, creativity, and enthusiasm is mirrored by our potential for sadness, frustration, and negativity.
This duality leads us to an intriguing question: Do we always prefer human interaction in specific scenarios?
I would have said yes, I would have said that you want humans to handle emotional responses but I am starting to question if humans are the right answer for this depending on the context.
The Human Factor
There's been a lot of talk about how AI is making waves in the service industry. Sure, the convenience of chatbots and automated systems is undeniable, offering quick and consistent customer service. AI never has a bad day. It's always ready to help, never fatigued or emotionally drained, offering a consistent customer experience that isn't swayed by human moods but it was also missing something. A human feel.
Roll in 2023 and LLMs have provided a major step change in natural language understanding and language generation and all those FAQ chatbots are starting to be jazzed up with ChatGPT vibes and it is getting harder to know what is human and what is bot. AI can now compose music, write articles, and even manage some complex tasks that previously required human ingenuity and they can do this without having a 'bad day'.
So when you're already frustrated about a complicated or emotional issue, the last thing you need is a disgruntled human on the other end making things worse. A recent personal experience highlights this point perfectly. I had booked flights for my family to come see me in the UAE. Due to an unforeseen medical situation, they could no longer make the trip. I was assured by a human customer service agent that presenting a medical certificate would suffice for a full refund. I went through the entire tedious process, only to find out later that this information was incorrect and a medical certificate wasn't a valid reason for a full refund. A 30% charge would still apply (cough emirates airways cough). Human error isn't exclusive to machines.
At a minimum why didn't the customer service representative put their email response through an LLM and reword to be more understanding or offer an alternative solution for me rather than the standard line of "our fees were clear at the time of booking the flights" which just reflects badly on the brand.
But it isn't just the humans on the frontline of customer services, it is also the human-built software of today. Despite the significant resources spent on improving customer service, many companies are still tied to antiquated approaches for gathering feedback and handling complaints. You fill out endless surveys and answer all the questions, yet find yourself staring at a never-ending progress bar. It's like a Shakespearean tragedy of wasted time.
And the climax? When you attempt to reply to the feedback email, you're greeted by that soul-crushing "noreply@" email address. It's the epitome of a one-sided conversation.
The Human Reality
Some people are in jobs that do not suit their skills or their desires. Whether it's the bad customer service representative giving incorrect information or the detached healthcare worker offering perfunctory care.
Such scenarios don't just lead to customer dissatisfaction they impact lives, shape experiences, and alter perceptions. Unfortunately, this misalignment doesn't just reflect poorly on the individuals involved; it casts a shadow over the entire human workforce, giving credence to the idea that machines could do it better.
Even as technology gallops forward, there are aspects of human existence that simply can't be bottled, coded, or outsourced to AI. Whether it's sharing a laugh that only makes sense within the context of your personal history or holding space for someone going through a tough time, the nuances of human interaction are profoundly rooted in our shared experiences of being alive.
Imagine, if you will, an AI capable of penning a poem or composing a piece of music that moves people to tears. Impressive, certainly. But the AI doesn't "feel" the weight of the words it arranges or the emotive pull of the notes it sequences. It doesn't share in the collective human journey, with all its ups and downs, that gives such art its soul-stirring resonance.
So, what's the takeaway here? It's that as AI continues to evolve, so too should our appreciation of what it means to be human. The increasing capabilities of AI don't diminish us; rather, they spotlight what makes us irreplaceable. In the grand scheme of things, we shouldn't just aim to be better at what machines can't do; we should aim to be better at what we, as humans, do best. It’s not merely about competition but about unlocking the potential for deeper, more meaningful connections and experiences.
And in a world that's increasingly digital and automated, the value of genuine human connection is likely to rise, not diminish. Professions and roles that hinge on emotional intelligence, ethical decision-making, and nuanced understanding will become even more indispensable. As you rightly said, AI can take over repetitive tasks and complex calculations, but it can't take over the role of being genuinely human.
Let’s consider it an ally in the quest for a richer, more empathetic society.