When most people think of artificial intelligence (AI), they think of it as an abstract or outside influence – something apart from our own personal interactions. It’s a tool more than anything, and yet already, AI has become deeply integrated into our lives – influencing how we communicate with one another. It promises to become even more so in the future.
While it’s unlikely in the short term to see AI supplant how we have conversations with friends and family, it is becoming a prevalent tool in how we engage with the Internet, reply to professional contacts, and request support from the companies with which we interact. Let’s take a closer look at how AI-mediated Conversations or Communications technology is already impacting our interactions and what that influence will look like in the future.
AI Suggestions Dot Our Social Landscape
If a world in which AI augments and supplements communication seems far off, consider that we already readily rely on suggestions from AI systems on a daily basis. Consider the number of times every day that an application or platform makes suggestions based on your current and past behavior.
Google autocomplete has billions and billions of search queries, demographics, and personal data with which to predict your search intentions. Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter recommend with whom you should connect based not just on your shared connections, but on behaviors, shared event activity, and dozens of other factors.
Facebook’s suggestions in particular draw on an intricate AI system to accurately predict who you may already know but are not connected with yet. They’ve developed these robust AI systems because they encourage us to communicate more often, which is in turn a net positive for their systems. AI is constantly evaluating your every action on Facebook – the posts you like, block, share, or comment on – and showing you content that will elicit a similar reaction. The more interactions Facebook can trigger (both negative and positive), the higher its intrinsic value as a platform.
This kind of social suggestion goes beyond the “big guys” in the space as well. Dating apps, for example, from the biggest online dating platforms to the smallest startups, rely on sophisticated algorithms to make matches and suggest possible interactions to their users. They only survive as companies if those suggestions are encouraging to their users. Even platforms like Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating systems will make suggestions in your daily actions, pulling data from both quantitative data like calendar entries and unstructured data like your emails, texts, and app activity to make suggestions on your next actions. If you’ve ever received a notification encouraging you to respond to someone in a text conversation, this is an AI system leveraging increasingly sophisticated social understanding to engage its users.
Expanding the Application of AI-Mediated Conversations technology
These are relatively simple applications for AI. They impact almost every aspect of our daily lives and can influence our social behaviors, but at the end of the day, are somewhat “fluffy”. It’s simple stuff that has a limited impact. That is changing, however.
More serious applications of this technology are already in play in the healthcare industry. Mental health issues, autism, and certain kinds of psychological communication impairment are being addressed by AI-mediated communication tools. In these situations, conversations are innately sensitive. The wrong words at the wrong time can trigger a negative reaction (or no reaction at all). By pairing the appropriate person with the person who needs support, AI can help achieve the desired outcome. This is already being leveraged to some degree in palliative care – matching medical personnel with dying patients based on behavioral profiling of both the patient and the medical personnel.
Palliative care is a somewhat extreme example of this technology being utilized to match individuals based on communication style and capabilities, but it helps to illustrate how effective such a system can be. In professional settings, it can be used for a number of high-stakes interactions, including guiding conversation topics in meetings, addressing sensitive topics in HR settings, or coaching team members to become better communicators – whether with colleagues or directly with customers.
The Role of AI-Mediated Conversations in Professional Settings
In a professional setting, we’re constantly meeting and interacting with new people. While our personal relationships are naturally curated – either by decades of familiarity or through personal preference in who we engage with – professional relationships are often hoisted upon us. We don’t choose who we work with or, to some extent, who we work for. To be successful, we must make these relationships work. There is always an optimal setting that allows both sides to achieve the desired outcome in a business environment. And that comes down to the natural rapport that develops between two people.
That rapport can be influenced by the right conversations and the right responses at the right times. Whether it’s a sales call with a prospect, a support conversation with a customer, or a difficult conversation in collections, business turns on the interactions of real humans. The affinity between any two humans is rarely ideal – most of us will get along better with some people than others, and it can influence the efficacy of business interaction.
AI can help in these instances. It plays a role in those communications and helps us find ways to improve interactions naturally, with interventions and support as it is needed. In a recent study in Computers in Human Behavior, Jess Hohenstein and Malte Jung discuss the impact that AI-mediated messaging can have on these relationships. They found that there are increased levels of trust in human communicators when smart replies are used in messaging apps. At the same time, in those situations, when conversations go awry and there is a miscommunication, participants are less likely to blame one another and more likely to designate at least some responsibility to the AI system. As a result, smart replies are playing an important role in elevating potentially high stakes conversations at the service level in professional settings, while diffusing the risk of a derailed conversation by their very existence.
The Future Impact of AI-Mediated Conversations (AI-MC) in Human Interactions
AI-MC has the potential to influence almost every aspect of our relationships and communications, from text messaging to sales and support conversations. By providing a means by which to enhance without assigning additional responsibility to the individuals in a conversation, we’re able to better match the right responses to the right moments.
The continued role of AI in predicting our intent, providing supplements to our conversations and relationships, and buffering against negative interactions will serve to enhance communication in significant ways in the future.