Do algorithms need psychotherapists?

I’ve become more and more curious about the power of algorithms. They are wonderful things that can take mind numbing hard work out of routine processes, freeing humans to do more meaningful work.


Who writes the algorithm? When you think about it, whoever writes the algorithm passes on their own worldview, biases, heuristics and experience into eternal digital form. That’s a thought.

Algorithms are normally written by engineers – people with powerful, logical brains, skilled in getting from A to B via the most direct route. It is therefore not too fanciful to imagine that the algorithms they write take on something of their creator’s psyche.

Engineers are vital to our society, and we don’t have enough of them. That said, whilst all are different, software engineers, generally speaking, are not renowned for empathy.

So, if I want to create an algorithm for a customer service interface, who should write it? – somebody with really good programming skills, or somebody with real empathy?

I came across this article from Psychology Today as I explored this idea, and it gave me real pause for thought.

There’s a view that up to half of routine jobs will be replaced by algorithms of various flavours by 2030. That’s (probably) an extreme estimate, but even if only partially correct, we will be replacing flawed, inefficient, but essentially human agents with (by definition) soulless algorithms in significant numbers.

That has potential to create emotional havoc.

There’s a huge opportunity here – to combine digital efficiency with empathy and compassion. It will require however a holistic approach to design – one which better represents the way we work together as humans.

As I’ve explored this area, I’m beginning to understand that just a few seconds working with an unsympathetic (but logically efficient) algorithm can very quickly screw up a potentially good experience and relationship.

The future of brand reputation relies, I suspect, on getting the right balance between the messy human and the efficient algorithm.

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