The case for empathy in artificial intelligence

The case for empathy in artificial intelligence
17 Jun, 2020

Science fiction provides a fountain of ideas to convert theories into reality. In Terminator: Judgment Day, the 1984 film ends with a hopeful Sarah Connor, having taught the time-traveling killer robot about human emotion, saying, “If a machine like a Terminator can learn the value of human life, maybe we can too.”

Fast forward to the present day, and we have barely moved the needle towards creating artificial intelligence (AI) that displays rudimentary levels of ‘empathy’ or ‘emotion.’ 

Sure, today’s voice assistants or chatbots are engaging in conversations through adaptive responses, but they are still quite robotic in nature and far from more natural human interactions.

Making artificial intelligence personal

Businesses are making personalization a priority to sustain and succeed in today’s competitive market. However the challenge lies in ensuring that it is both scalable and intelligent. On the flip side, today’s customers expect personalized interactions throughout the lifecycle of their buying journey. While they are starting to see progress, there is still work businesses have to do.

As AI becomes more pervasive, it will become a key part of personalizing the customer journey. As such, enterprises must navigate a sea of AI solutions that may not be as well-equipped for this new customer-centric approach. As a result, the customer experience is not evolving in tune with the market, or even with customer demands. 

While it may seem counter intuitive, the next evolution of AI requires businesses to take a step back from the technology itself and truly integrate the human perspective as well. This means fully understanding and considering a key human emotion: empathy. Empathy is an inherent trait in all of us, however it is not an inherent part of our technology systems. 

In order to truly personalize a customer’s experience today, those who can combine the right AI systems with a human touch will come out ahead.

Setting up the AI framework and objectives

For any organization, achieving true automation success is possible only when they have a defined framework of their respective AI, ML or NLP technologies. For instance, understanding the customer’s current context, intent that led to their request, and identifying behavioral patterns can help the framework offer next steps for customer service agents to address the customer as if they are already acquainted with each other.  

On the business side, the right models can help establish relevance and whether an action taken addresses the customer’s request within the right context, in addition to providing value and mutually beneficial results for both the customer and enterprise. These models can also ensure that when a business suggests a personalized offer, they are balancing between privacy and personalization and are in compliance with any local regulations.

Once models are established, customer service agents and digital experience specialists add their own natural judgement and cognitive reasoning capabilities to support empathy-powered AI models. This combination of capabilities from both human and technology can bring personalization to unprecedented levels.

Augmenting humans with empathetic AI

In a recent report on customer service and sales predictions for 2019, Forrester advises -- “Don’t replace your human service and sales team – augment them.”  

With advancements in technology and infusing empathy into AI, businesses can have the best of both worlds. AI can help support service agents by analysing customer information and suggesting the next best action to take. When companies find the right combination of capabilities from both man and machine, they will be able to infuse every customer interaction with the personalization needed to attract and retain their customer base. 

The time is right for a brand to maximize brand interaction with its customers and take a more personal approach.

Thankfully, AI has reached a tipping point and is permeating across the enterprise. By taking an empathetic approach to AI, businesses will definitely be able to get into a customer’s heart and deliver better experiences.

Suman Reddy Eadunuri

Suman Reddy Eadunuri


Suman Reddy Eadunuri is managing director of Pegasystems India. The views in this article are his own.

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