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Artificial intelligence and the need for compassion

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We live in an age of machines that can perform increasingly complex tasks using skills such as reasoning, planning and learning. As we witness the advance of machines into the human domain, can coaching help us understand what sets us apart?

There is much hype in the media about the rise of robots and how artificial intelligence (AI) will revolutionise the world of work. The prediction is that machines will take over many of today's jobs. While some perceive this as a good thing, freeing up time for more enjoyable and meaningful activities, others believe that this will make it harder for us to be relevant. The truth is that it is difficult to be certain about what is going to happen; history clearly indicates this. However, we should not be passive to change – and we should reflect on what are our strengths and possible weaknesses to thrive in a changing world.

Futurologists indicate that what makes us human is what will set us apart from the machines. Interestingly, it is our imperfections that make us authentic, curious, imaginative and unique. Moreover, what makes us human is what enables us to connect with one another, collaborate and grow. In this context, there has never been a better time to master advanced coaching skills, those that cannot be performed by a clever algorithm.

<>Connecting with our humanity

The third wave of cognitive-behavioural approaches to coaching offers some of these advanced skills and builds on the knowledge of neuroscience, psychology, as well as principles from Buddhism and Eastern traditions. These include compassion-focused, acceptance and commitment approaches, and aim to enhance psychological flexibility, resilience and adaptability by allowing us to connect with our humanity. It has been argued that developing these skills and this mindset not only helps us to get the most out of others but also be a better version of ourselves. We cannot connect with others in an authentic and sincere manner unless we practise what we preach. So, a good way to start developing these skills is to incorporate them in our own lives.

Self-compassion is a simple framework that integrates three components:

  • mindfulness
  • common humanity
  • kindness

Mindfulness relates to being in the moment, acknowledging feelings and thoughts derived from our experiences without feeling overidentified with them. It neither suppresses nor exaggerates these feelings, e.g. it hurts that I had a disappointing result, but the disappointing result does not define me.

Common humanity enables us to recognise that we are all humans and life is full of challenges. Therefore, things happen to us because they happen in life to all of us. Likewise, we are not perfect, and we all have our challenges and areas of development. So, when we accept ‘common humanity’ we do not feel so isolated in our suffering or personal failure.

Finally, kindness is allowing ourselves to experience warmth and be soothed rather than being consumed by self-criticism. Kindness and warmth enable us to recuperate and persevere without being paralysed by our inner critic. Compassion is active and it works very differently from the misconceptions associated with it. Compassion does not make us or others helpless, weaker or complacent. On the contrary, it empowers us to take action by normalising our emotional regulation system.

<>Tackling the inner critic

One might be wondering now, how did we make this connection from clever computers to compassion? We live in an era where standards are very high and the work environment is very competitive and volatile. The rise of robots and AI only adds pressure to our inner critic and to the pressure we put on ourselves. In this context, compassion and other related approaches are particularly pertinent to help us reconnect with our humanity, cooperate with one another and to empower our unique strengths.

Published 18 April 2018

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