A Conversation Coaches Need to Have – Now

Whether your view of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is dystopian or utopian, fearful or optimistic, a few moments consideration will remind you that AI is no longer something just for futurologists. It’s not just coming to a business, a car, a house or apartment near you: it’s here already in some form or many.

I’ve long had a degree of curiosity about AI and how it can change our economy, our society, our lives. Right now I have an immediate interest in getting more knowledge and a better understanding about what is happening with AI, and specifically how it is likely to affect the coaching profession.

I’m grappling with details of the technological framework within which AI is discussed, and there’s frankly a temptation to leave the whole discussion to the nerds. But the more I learn the more I believe that, whatever industry or profession we are in, we owe it to the future of our businesses, and to our own future, to inject ourselves into that discussion.

Right now, for me, the focus of the discussion is on how AI will affect – or is affecting – the coaching profession and whether coaches will, in the words of an upcoming webinar, embrace AI or “expel” it from their consideration.

The webinar, sponsored by the International Association of Coaching (IAC) is being held at the beginning of next week (Sept 4) as the first webinar in the second Quo Vadis series, examining key issues about the future of coaching.

I’ll be speaking there with IAC President Krishna Kumar, and Change-Inc Founder Tamal Bhatia. The webinar, titled “Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Coaching: Embrace or ‘Expel’?”, is sub-titled “Impact and Opportunities for the Application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the Coaching World”. Details: Monday, Sept 4, 8.30 am Eastern time (US/Canada): register here (it’s free!).

“AI is the New Electricity”

Andrew Ng, Former Chief AI Scientist, Baidu Research

Step Change or Game Changer?

I was going to head this section something like “Gradual Change or Tsunami?”.

I thought that might be over-dramatic.

On the other hand, the more I read, and the more I discover about the changes already happening, the more I wonder whether tsunami might be the appropriate metaphor after all.

And judging by how little reference I’ve seen in my research to the implications for coaching that I’ve found online or in some key reports, I’m starting to think that our coaching community might be like a bunch of tourists sitting on a beach, hearing about a possible tsunami but not registering that things are about to change dramatically for them.

Increasing tempo

What I see is an increasing tempo for the adoption of technologies that can conveniently be grouped under the AI banner – autonomous vehicles (a.k.a. “driverless cars”, “driverless trucks”), chatbots everywhere, Siri, Google’s AlphaGO beating the champion of GO champions.

If it’s not a tsunami yet, it is a rapidly growing and pervasive phenomenon.

Why, and why now?

robotToby Walsh (no relation), Professor of Artificial Intelligence at the University of New South Wales, said on a recent documentary on AI by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that it is from the convergence of four “exponentials”:

  • Every 2 years computer power doubles (“Moore’s Law”)
  • Every 2 years the amount of data doubles
  • The algorithms are getting better (50 years in development)
  • Funding is doubling every two years

Where to from here?

There is no question that there is greatly increased interest in AI and its potential impact.

My view on the big picture is that we are not about to be overrun and enslaved by sentient computer HAL type robots, but that nevertheless our world is going to change in amazing and not always palatable ways.

I believe we ignore at our peril what is happening and our best course of action is to do what we can (and a bit more) to learn about this technology and its implications, embrace the technology and apply our best talents to finding ways for the technology to be put to work for the betterment of people.

For now, and I believe for either a very, very long time or forever (my bet), the machines will not have the human abilities of creativity, adaptability (at a human level), emotional intelligence, social intelligence, and wisdom.

I am not complacent about that. In a local tech group a week ago, focused on AI and machine intelligence, there was a significant number of tech heads in room who scoffed at my view that there would always be those factors that set humans apart. Think “The Singularity”.

How all this impacts coaching

Back to the topic of the upcoming webinar. I see three broad areas in which we need to explore the potential impact of AI on coaching:

  • the coaching process
  • our coaching businesses
  • how AI affects our clients

What will all that look like?

Here are a few suggestions.

For the coaching process, there are already bots which seek to mimic, or at least complement the actual process of coaching. There will surely be more. We need to be sharing information, reports and reviews about these, to see which, if any, we feel could help us be more effective coaches.

For our coaching businesses, I see a particular competitive challenge for coaches who currently have solo businesses, being “out-AI’d” by larger coaching partnerships of practices with potentially deeper pockets to build or pay for tools which for example could deliver useful data and for people skilled analysing that data. And will some clients prefer to work with an IBM Watson type super computer than with their friendly human coach of the past few years?

For our coaching clients, we can assume for the sake of planning that as most or all industries either will be affected or are being affected right now, we will need to be as well informed and up to date as is reasonable (and probably a bit more in the direction of unreasonable expectations) so as to be as attuned as we can to the challenges and opportunities our clients face.

We’ll be discussing these and other aspects on the webinar next Monday, Sept 9 (8.30 am US Eastern time) – register here (it’s free!)

What’s your view. Will the coaches of the future be robots?

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