Why compassion could save your job from AI

By Gope Walker, below, CEO, Data Kraken 

Artificial intelligence is changing the way that we live, work and interact with each other. As far as technological advances go, it’s up there with the advent of online shopping and smartphones. But, despite all the benefits it may bring, there are, quite rightly, concerns about the impact it will have on people’s jobs. Not long ago, Goldman Sachs claimed that more than 300 million jobs could be affected by AI.

Every industry will be affected by the new technology to a greater or lesser extent. But the key determiner of whether those businesses will be impacted is how empathetic and compassionate they are. To illustrate the point, let’s use the analogy of a coffee shop. There are two types of coffee shops.

The first is a corporate chain whose objective is pure profit. Let’s call this Café Corporate. Because time is money, staff are discouraged from forming a meaningful connection with their customers. Here, the relationship between staff and consumers is purely transactional. You order your coffee, pay and wait for it in a separate area. If you want milk or sugar, you have to add it yourself. And the conversation with the server is purely transactional.

The second coffee shop is independent. Let’s call this Café Empathy. When you go in, you are greeted in a friendly and warm manner. If you’re a regular, the server greets you by your name and asks if you are having the usual. As they make your coffee, they enquire about how your day has been or a shared interest, and that bond with the customer gradually grows over time.

But for Café Corporate, small talk is costly, because of the time it takes to serve the customer when they could be serving other people. But at Café Empathy the reverse is true: it’s all about making the customer feel valued.

But value is ultimately determined by the consumer, not the seller. Some customers just want their coffee as quickly as possible, with minimal fuss, so they would go to Café Corporate. Others seek human interaction above all else, even if their coffee might take longer to make or be more expensive, in which case Café Empathy is for them.

At Café Empathy, the servers have many ways of making the customer feel special, such as creating heart patterns on the top of their coffee. With these thoughtful little touches, they can significantly raise a customer’s mood or satisfaction.

But there are now AI robots that can do that job too. That’s why, if you work in a business such as Café Corporate, which doesn’t value compassion or empathy, then your job can be easily replaced by a machine which uses facial recognition to identify the customer, and knows their name and their usual order.

It’s already happening. Consumers can now get barista-standard coffee from machines in service stations and supermarkets. Next, they will be able to order their coffee using voice recognition. Robots can do almost everything a human can, and much more efficiently, without having to take sick leave, holidays or breaks.

So who should be worried about AI taking their jobs? If your role doesn’t involve compassion and empathy, then AI can probably do it instead. After all, in most businesses, customer service is purely transactional, with key performance indicators around fixing problems quickly rather than building a long-lasting customer relationship.

There are, however, some jobs that require a human touch, for example, the care sector. ChatGPT can do many things, but it can’t care for an ill or elderly person with the same level of compassion as a human.

AI will divide jobs into two camps: those that require empathy and compassion, and those that don’t. If your role is in the second group then there’s a good chance that you’ll be one of the 300m affected by AI.