To Harness AI, Business Needs To Better Understand Humans

The technology will change consumer expectations, and companies must be ready to adapt

Business needs to understand humans to capture the power of AI

Generative artificial intelligence (AI) is developing at a dizzying pace. In the 19 months since ChatGPT’s public launch, the narrative on generative AI’s impact has changed from the next AI revolution, akin to the industrial revolution, to the end of humanity, to the end of modern employment and school education, to an efficiency generator comparable to the digital spreadsheet, and back to the end of carbon-based life-forms.

Nobody has a crystal ball, but history reminds us that we used to think telcom businesses would be the big winners of the internet and publishers would be the big winners of digital media. We believe that to better understand the potential of generative AI and the impact it will have on businesses, we need to start by understanding how it impacts humans. After all, a business is a system of organizing humans to turn input into output.

So, we have come back to the basics – how does generative AI change what it means to be human? What does it mean for us as consumers and employees? And what might be some of the key implications for businesses and employers?

Redefining the meaning of “machine”

Generative AI has shown an interesting ability to accomplish tasks that reflect complex, human-like qualities such as emotion or creativity – and do it well. In a survey of more than 25,000 people by the Oliver Wyman Forum, one in three respondents reported that they believe AI can capture the depth of human emotion. Likely for that reason, respondents were five times more likely to say generative AI made them feel they have a reliable confidant for sharing personal thoughts than they were about a human.

Some consumers are even getting serious with their openness to the technology. One in five respondents report they would go on a virtual date with a generative AI partner, implying that one might be able to connect on an emotional level with a chatbot. 

Generative AI appears to have some level of “emotional intelligence” – at least enough to provide emotional support and foster psychological safety – despite not having actual emotions. Respondents might feel this way because public generative tools are always available and can appear non-judgmental. 

In addition to emotion, generative AI has also shown remarkable creativity. It can create music, design graphics, and generate ideas for new products or services. One in three respondents even believe that given enough time and data, AI can surpass human creativity.

These qualities manifest in the types of services people would turn to generative AI for. Almost half of survey respondents, for example, said they would utilize generative AI for regular emotional health check-ins or therapy sessions. One third would listen to music made by AI. This behavior could have large implications on the humans that provide these services today.

Redefining what it means to be human

If generative AI can emulate the qualities we have long considered to be exclusively human, then what makes us human? It's not so much our ability to feel and create but our desire to do so, and to look for meaning in everything we do, that sets us apart.

We are, by nature, seekers. We yearn for moments of connection, find beauty in art and nature, and seek meaning in our actions and experiences. This pursuit is not merely a survival function, but a testament to our complex emotional and cognitive capabilities that are deeply intertwined with our experiences, memories, and subjective interpretations of the world. These things are difficult to replicate in AI systems that, at least for now, are simulating emotions and creativity through discerning patterns in existing data.

Humans also are not always guided by logic or data-driven decisions, like AI. We can act on intuition, emotion, or personal values even if the resulting decisions might defy logic. Given the observed probability of success in entrepreneurship, most people would not want to start their own businesses. But again and again, we defy the odds and create our own narratives, choosing fulfillment and meaning over statistical probabilities. And it’s the imperfection in our “programming” that could be our superpower.

What does this mean for business?

If we fail to consider and comprehend what it means to be human in the wake of this new technology, we risk being unable to develop workplaces, services, and products that effectively cater to our future needs and aspirations. Based on what we know now, employees might want to double down on their humanistic qualities to stay relevant; consumers might seek traditionally human services from generative AI tools. We see three implications business must be aware of to stay ahead of these changes.

The human-AI symbiosis

The qualities that set us apart, such as our pursuit of connection and meaning, paired with generative AI’s strengths can drive innovation. We are already seeing this collaboration at a small scale as people use public tools as a precursor to their own outputs, building on what the tool generates with perspectives that cannot be replicated by AI alone. Generative AI can provide valuable insights and solutions that may be beyond the reach of human cognition, but humans can apply greater contextual understanding to these insights. Organizations should look to the technology not as a replacement for humans, but rather as a complement, to create a synergy that opens new avenues for innovation and discovery.

Reskilling the workforce

In our survey, when asked which skills respondents thought would be important for them to receive training or re-skilling efforts in over the next five years due to AI disruption, 64% selected empathy and active listening and 71% selected creative thinking. Employees are exhibiting a willingness to double down on their humanistic qualities and forge a clear distinction between human and AI in the wake of the technology’s disruption. 



While employers must recognize the anxiety that the workforce might have, especially within certain functions like call centers or administrative support, they have a great opportunity to help employees improve their skills and learn to harness the power of generative AI to create better services, better products, and disruptive designs. That, in turn, can cultivate a reputation for being one of the most desirable places to work.

Understanding evolving customer expectations

The only thing that changes faster than technological advancement is customer demand and expectations. The speed of internet connection has grown by leaps and bounds in the past two decades but so did the number of people who complain about slow connections because of the ever-expanding ways to consume that bandwidth.

We suspect that in five years, consumers will find it unacceptable for a business not to have a 24-7, generative AI-powered online customer service that can solve 90% of problems. Gone are the days when, “I’m sorry but our customer service is available from 9am to 5pm” is accepted with a shrug. Similarly, patients will expect all test results and documents to be at the doctor’s finger tips so that most in-person time can be spent on delivering actual care. Parents and students will expect more personalized education when generative AI and teachers work together. 

A lot of the businesses are taking a wait-and-see approach to using generative AI for customer interactions given the potential privacy and compliance risks. However, they need to get ahead of the curve and make sure that they can be a fast follower once the use cases are proven. Experience shows it doesn’t take long for customers to adjust to the new norm and expect the latest innovations from all service providers.

We’re only in the first stages of generative AI’s impact on the world. As the technology continues to develop in the coming years and decades, likely taking on qualities that make it more indistinguishable from the human mind, we must keep asking ourselves: What does it mean to be human? What sets us apart? Asking these questions allows us to optimize how we collaborate with this powerful tool and imagine how human desires and needs change around it.