Chatbots are getting better at talking, but that hasn’t saved the workers who develop them from an epidemic of loneliness.
AI researchers are putting their mental and emotional health at risk and are more likely to suffer from insomnia and drink more after work, according to research released Monday by the American Psychological Association.
“Humans are social animals, and isolating work with AI systems can have harmful spillover effects on employees’ personal lives,” lead author Pok Man Tang said in a statement.
The study, which surveyed workers across all sectors and in four countries, examines the impacts on workers of an ongoing “Fourth Industrial Revolution” driven by artificial intelligence.
The study’s relatively small sample size, based on surveys of nearly 800 office workers worldwide, makes its findings suggestive rather than conclusive.
But it does suggest early warning signs in industries using AI, as well as tactics managers can use to mitigate them.
The researchers wrote that AI-dependent workers have increasingly found themselves in a very different social environment from which humans have adapted.
“Over the millennia, people have developed internal systems for evaluating the quality of relationships with others. These systems remained effective in a workplace that, just as in primitive tribal communities, prioritized social interactions with colleagues,” the authors wrote in the paper.
But now, they argue, “the advent of digital, asocial AI systems” is forcing people into surrogate social relationships with robotic helpers.
This is causing “a shift towards more of an ‘asocial system’, where people may feel socially disconnected at work,” the authors added.
Such changes are already impacting tech workers in the United States and Malaysia, biomedical researchers in Taiwan, and real estate consultants in Indonesia.
In the study, workers interviewed by Tang’s team were instructed to continue working with AI-related technologies or take a three-week break from using them, while they and their families reported the impacts.
The more frequently employees interacted with the AI, the more likely they were to respond in both “adaptive” and “maladaptive” ways, Tang explained to The Hill.
Working with the AI triggered “a stronger need to connect socially with other human colleagues,” the researchers found. Workers who used AI were also more likely to go out of their way to offer help to other workers, likely because they were lonely and needed social contact, the researchers speculated.
But the increase in loneliness that has led AI workers to be more helpful has come with a rise in other problematic behaviors.
“The same experience that led to higher levels of help also led to higher levels of alcohol consumption and after-work insomnia (which could jeopardize employees’ mental well-being and lead to a downward spiral),” the scientists wrote. .
One solution is for managers to “try to combat the potential for employees to be lonely,” they wrote.
For example, managers should be wary of having too much “density” of AI systems in the office: Too high a ratio of AI damages employees’ ability to “maintain desirable levels of social interactions with others as well.”
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