Feedback in the age of AI

Reece Akhtar
February 28, 2023

When you are very young, your mother or father know more about you than you know yourself. As you enter school, teachers can make judgements about you that predict outcomes years in your future.

But as you get older you begin to build an understanding that neither your mother nor your teachers could know. The you that only you know feels like it is your own, true self.  But, says Yuval Noah Harari, a new force is seeking to understand you in ways far more accurate than any parent. He believes AI will soon know you better than you know yourself. Building a picture from myriad, seemingly unconnected data points AIs can predict pregnancy, your sexual orientation or even your likely success in love.  Our own lab has demonstrated how Facebook likes point to the ways in which your least attractive dispositions show up.

AI succeeds because even though most people believe they are self-aware, being self-aware is very rare. Studies estimate that 85%-90% of people don’t understand themselves or the ways they impact others. Research has shown that as a person rises in an organization the overlap between self-perception versus staff-perceptions actually decreases.

The systems that know you best however, are owned by private companies who are targeting ads at you or profiling you for their own ends.  Although AIs are often described as improving the relevance of recommendations, the problem is that the AI can be trained to further exploit dark patterns and get us hooked to services and content in ways that were not otherwise possible. Rather than use this deep insight to help us thrive, much of AI is actually getting in our way.

Getting feedback is clearly a priority — the start of self-awareness has to be seeing oneself in a clear, objective light. From there, we can use this awareness to help positively shape and enrich our lives. This means not having absolute systems telling you what job you do or do not “fit” with, or judging whether you met some arbitrary (and often biased) cut-off. Instead, we see a future where AI systems are both informed by the science of industrial-organizational psychology and human centric, where their predictions can help us better understand ourselves and make better decisions about how we live and conduct our lives.

For some time high quality feedback has been the preserve of the corporate elite – high flyers who take detailed psychological assessments, have them interpreted by expensive coaches and spend time on retreats and mini-MBAs. But to transform organizations and make them better places for all, quality feedback should be democratized. AI can make this possible.

Using AI and personality science, we can democratize self-insight and enhance employee development through personalized interventions across all levels of the organization. Using AI to drive accurate feedback, would give everyone deep insight into their own behavior and a unique path towards realizing their best selves at work. We’re proud to say that this is the mission of Deeper Signals.

To achieve this deep level of understanding, AI-powered tools need to be human-centric. This does not mean passive assessments that process your emails, scan your facial expressions, or monitor your digital footprints. Instead, it requires active involvement from the user — something that the assessment industry sorely overlooks. We should stop doing things to people, instead take the time to understand the person and design around their experience.

We believe that the most successful AI-powered feedback tools will deliver on three things:

  1. The inputs will be fast and transparent. Individuals won’t be completing long surveys, playing boring gamified tools, or be passively monitored. Instead, short, frictionless, and transparent ways to capture accurate data will be the preferred and most effective way of capturing relevant data to understand someone.
  2. Feedback must be accurate. Let’s do away with the 20 page PDF reports that no one ever reads. AI-powered technology will create a dynamic feedback loop between assessment, coaching and tracking behavioral change. Through delivering real-time insights and suggestions, we’ll finally be able to answer the “so what” problem that plagues current assessments and provide clear direction and support for personal growth.
  3. Engaging and memorable experiences. In the attention economy, our time and mental energy is a rare commodity. There’s a million different things always calling for our attention. As psychologists and technologists, if we want to connect with our users and really help them, we have to respect their time and priorities. Building great and memorable user experiences will be critical for AI to supply continuously helpful feedback. The static, dull or painful systems used today will continue to fail to resonate with the modern workforce.

In a world where AI will know us better than we know ourselves, psychologists and talent leaders have the potential to deliver real change and impact — helping individuals and teams live and work to their potential in a fair and ethical way. We’re making a start on this journey and would love for you to get a glimpse.

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