As the capabilities of artificial intelligence expand, it’s becoming integral to many aspects of our lives. Many entrepreneurs are making use of AI tools to come up with ideas, create content, and run processes that they would have previously hired a human to do. So what other roles are robots about to replace in our lives?
Of the 580 million entrepreneurs in the world, about 25% have used business coaching services to improve their operations and achieve growth. 15% of organisations have a consistent coaching culture across all levels, with 97% of those that do believing it has an impact on their employees’ performance.
For AI to replace coaches, it has to be welcomed by clients. Otherwise, the humans rule. I asked entrepreneurs to explain why they would or wouldn’t use or trust an AI coach, and the views were divided.
Why entrepreneurs would use an AI business coach
“Available, affordable, no shame, judgement or emotions,” said Doctor Cici Bassey, physician, freelance health writer and editor, explaining why she’d sign up and put her trust in artificial intelligence. “Those are things an AI coach could offer that are (near) impossible to get elsewhere. “The advice would be personalized and the AI coach would have built-in analytics to track what was working.”
CEO of technology consultancy ROCK, Rob Dance, likes the accessibility of AI coaches, that they can be available around the clock and highly relevant to their clients. “AI coaches have the ability to leverage the knowledge and expertise of skilled individuals in a given field,” he said. “An AI coach could be trained using the knowledge and experience of a top investor like Warren Buffett or Peter Lynch. I could then use that knowledge and guidance to help me develop my own investing skills.”
Unbiassed and confidential
Other entrepreneurs were attracted to the unbiased nature they believe an AI coach would have, especially when compared to a human. “It is difficult for human coaches to not have bias based on their own personal experiences, emotions and beliefs,” said Maria Amalia Rojas, chief marketing officer at X We Can. “An AI coach would offer a more objective approach to coaching. It wouldn’t be influenced by my race or socio-economic status.”
Vanessa Edwards of Practically Fabulous, who writes about artificial intelligence in interior design, felt that with an AI coach, “I would feel more free to explore my true thoughts, opinions and fears without the need to edit them to maintain a particular image of myself, as might be my tendency with a human coach,” and said she would be thrilled to use one.
A human coach might tell a friend about you, even if they left out identifying details. They might use you as a testimonial on their website or disclose information you didn’t want to share. Their questions might come with bias or coercion towards their way of thinking. This might be exactly what you want, but maybe it’s not.
Straight to the point
Separate from the privacy and influence side, Michael C. Markert, AI enthusiast and blogger, said “so far AI has been beneficial to me as a highly effective brainstorming partner for creative endeavors,” and believes that, “as a coach I imagine it would act the same way. Coaches don’t really tell you what to do, they help you figure it out for yourself, so an AI coach would be pretty effective.”
Maleeka Hollaway, keynote speaker and founder of SAVEDpreneur, would hire an AI coach to avoid, “all the extraness that comes with being coached by humans.” She liked that an AI coach, “may be less empathetic and more strategic and logical depending on how it’s created,” and would be pleased to avoid, “extra questions based on human inquisitiveness that may or may not have anything to do with the topic at hand.” Hollaway sees an AI coach as helping her, “laser in on getting a specific result.” Could an AI be trained to spot problems and offer ways of working through to solutions? She and others are open to trying.
Why entrepreneurs wouldn’t use an AI business coach
For every entrepreneur who believed that AI coaching could be effective, several thought it couldn’t. Missing nuance, limited empathy, lack of human traits and concerns about privacy were some of the opinions vocalised by the sceptics.
Not human enough to inspire
SEO consultant Steven J. Wilson is adamant it’s not going to happen. “Even being trained on the successful methods of the greatest coach ever, there is one thing that AI will never, at least not any time soon, be able to accomplish, and that’s their ability to connect with and inspire the learner.” He added that, “AI may be able to provide useful feedback but will lack what a real coach can provide in terms of personal and motivating guidance for each client.”
Kellie Whitehead, UK office director at Tish Tash, who “wouldn’t trust an AI psychologist or doctor,” can see the benefits of AI coaching only, “if the AI is based upon specific, credible individuals and their works.” But even if an AI coach was based on the work and knowledge of someone with lots of real experience, Joe Baguley, chief technology officer of VMware EMEA believes that it wouldn’t be enough, “if that’s just ingesting their written work.” AI coaches need more going for them for him to sign up.
Lack of instinct and nuance
Finally, Bethanie Durham, associate director at We Are North, believes AI’s lack of instinct lets it down, because in coaching it’s, “essential to tailor the style and content of sessions.” Although she thought that AI’s enhanced ability to recognise patterns could partially make up for this, she doesn’t believe the technology is quite there. She is inspired by coaches who share their “experiences and past stories, which an AI coach would struggle to provide.”
Entrepreneurs expressed their concerns about the ability of an AI business coach to notice body language and read between the lines. Where AI coaching is based on large language models, “I don’t think it could hear the nuance, look for congruence and explore what isn’t being said,” said psychology expert and author of How to Feel Better, Ruth Kudzi. By this she means, “the congruence or incongruence between what someone is saying, their body language, their tonality, their energy,” and added that, “as a coach you listen with all the senses, and I don’t think AI will pick up on those like a person would.”
But what about when AI coaching includes all the senses? When their clients are hooked up to sensors, and filmed and analysed in such detail that only a machine could process the data. Would heart rate, eye movement and spacing between words hint at how they could be coached more effectively? Head of communications at Readdle, Rachael Lloyd, wouldn’t want her “goals and progress evaluated purely on statistical data.” She said, “there needs to be space for observing eye contact and witnessing subtle shifts in energy.” Lloyd did add, however, that, “as AI becomes increasingly sentient, perhaps it will be a more flawless fit.”
Could AI business coaching be a thing in the future, or is it never going to happen? Some entrepreneurs are ready to give it a go, others are simply not convinced of its effectiveness. For the potential benefits of accessibility and knowledge, there are pitfalls based on AI’s lack of sentience, empathy and other human traits. Will this be one role a robot will never replace, or will the technology advance sufficiently and result in even the biggest sceptic jumping on board?