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Should we Replace Coaches with Robots?

Are you concerned about the rise of Artificial Intelligence in Life Coaching? Is the future bright or grim for coaches? Are YOU at Risk?

Robot speaking
What's not to like about robo-coach?

David: "Hello Hal, I need some coaching. I don't know what to do with my life."

Hal 9000: "Hello David. Before we start working on goals, let me monitor your brain waves and heart rate to properly assess your emotional state."

David: "Can we just skip that part and you just tell me what I need to do to get my life together?"

Hal 9000: "I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that. I'm an accredited coach-bot and I need to take your brain scans before we begin. I will then deliver you the 100% correct questions you need to have an 'aha!' moment"

David: "...Fine"

Sensationalism aside, the question remains; can an AI provide equal-level or superior coaching compared to a real human? The fact is, AI-driven wellness is already here and growing. Whether that is good or bad news for coaching is yet to be determined.

Feeling a bit skeptical? Well there is already an AI product that aims to treat mental health called Woebot. This service combines clinically tested therapeutic approaches with sophisticated AI & NLP to deliver mental wellness at any given moment. In addition to all this, Woebot Health is in FDA trials to add postpartum depression, adolescent depression, and substance abuse to its repertoire of services.

With AI driven mental health already in the works, it's not a long shot to say that AI-coaching is just on the horizon.

Which is why on CLCI LIVE Brooke Adair Walters (MCPC), Jerome LeDuff Jr (MCLC), Anthony Lopez (MCPC), Lisa Finck (ACC), and Jen Long (MCPC), get heated with the debate on robo-coaches. We discuss what is an AI, are they viable for coaching, and can AI and human coaches peacefully coexist.

What exactly is an AI?

Before we tackle the question of what qualifies as artificial intelligence we should first address what the heck intelligence actually is.

Let's just all agree for now, that intelligence is the ability to achieve goals and solve problems. A pretty all encompassing definition; it includes the simplest microbes all the way up to the most intelligent human beings.

So by extension, artificial intelligence can qualify as any intelligence that is non-biological and created by humans. By this definition, AI already exists and is used by humans on a daily basis, from computers that play chess (and can beat grand masters) to cars that use self-driving technology.

Now here's the big question...

Can an AI coach?

AI vs Humans. Who's the better coach?

Is it offense to refer to AI as "robots"?

To go a bit deeper into the process of coaching, it's a conversation where the coach asks questions and the client responds and some sort of progress is made to a clear goal that the client has in mind.

On the surface, it seems like an AI could do this pretty well. There already exists services that do just that such as PocketConfident, Replika, and LEADx. Conversation is surprisingly easy to mimic, but here's the caveat. You know you are talking to an AI.

One of the main reasons why people start coaching in the first place is for that human-to-human connection. And unsurprisingly, people are incredibly put off by AI/robotics that attempts to masquerade as human. At a certain point when an AI becomes too "realistic" is has drastically negative consequences on how people perceive it. This effect is what is known as the uncanny valley.

Now until an AI coach is able to leap over the gulf of the uncanny valley, any guess as to what AI could be capable of is up in the air.

While pure speculation can be entertaining, enlightening, and sometimes wise, it's important to take it all with a grain of salt. We are a long ways off to the days when AI-coaches can perfectly mimic or outperform human coaches. For now, they exist in two separate worlds with two separate clients in mind.

AI Coaches:

Pros: Cheap. Accessible at any time. Meant to appeal to a broad range of people. Highly scalable and customizable. Huge potential for growth for both the coaches and programmers who develop AI coaches.

Cons: Lack of human touch. Inflexible, and non-creative. Lacks actual human experience. Ethical concerns about privacy and ethics.

Human Coaches:

Pros: Empathy, understanding, and emotional connection. Can be highly creative in the coaching process. Years of experience > programming. No two coaches are alike.

Cons: No two coaches are alike, can take a lot of time finding the “right coach”. Relatively expensive. Limited to the amount of clients they can coach and hours they could coach.

If CLCI had to put our money somewhere, we would bet that real coaches are going to be in business for a long long time. If & When AI-coaches reach the same set of standards we hold ICF accredited coaches to, there will always be clients who want to know their coach is listening to them, understands their feelings, and will be there for them to achieve their goals.


Thank you,

Lisa Finck, Brooke Adair Walters, Jerome LeDuff Jr, Anthony Lopez, and Jen Long!

For further reading on the future of A.I., check out Life 3.0 by Max Tegmark

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