January 21, 2021

The Feeling Economy: How AI is Creating the Era of Empathy

New Book Guides Workers, Leaders and Educators

The next stage in the evolution of artificial intelligence (AI) has workforce implications that may seem surprising.

Rather than fostering tech-savvy, AI is making emotional intelligence and empathy increasingly important, and analytical ability less important, write authors Roland Rust and Ming-Hui Huang in their book “The Feeling Economy: How Artificial Intelligence Is Creating the Era of Empathy,” released today by Springer International Publishing.

“Ironically, as AI is becoming more able to think, human intelligence is deemphasizing thinking in favor of feeling and interpersonal relationships,” says Rust, Distinguished University Professor, David Bruce Smith Chair in Marketing and founder and Executive Director of the Center for Excellence in Service at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.

The book sheds light on the stages of AI’s ongoing development and shares strategies to help business leaders, educators and today’s workers prepare for careers, organizations, and a world in which AI and human intelligence collaborate closely, says Huang, Distinguished Professor in College of Management at National Taiwan University. “This involves AI doing more of the ‘brain’ work and humans handling the ‘heart’ work, including social interaction, emotion recognition, nuanced communication and genuine care for customers.”

The Feeling Economy further means:

  • Women are poised to become more important in business and society than ever before.
  • Feeling Intelligence will be dominant in the economy – a shift already well underway.
  • A much greater emphasis on empathy, and less emphasis on rational thinking in politics – a shift also underway and being amplified.
  • STEM education may have already passed its peak and is likely to be much less important in the future.

The book draws from the authors’ research published recently in California Management Review. They sifted through U.S. Department of Labor data on work tasks associated with jobs and the people who perform those jobs, covering millions of workers throughout the U.S. economy. They coded the things people report doing in their day-to-day jobs as physical tasks, thinking tasks or feeling tasks and compared the breakdown for each job in 2006 and 2016. The results revealed “a profound shift across the board toward feeling tasks, a big indication that the move to a Feeling Economy is already underway,” says Rust.

That evidence confirms “that knowledge workers should prepare now for the coming reality: As AI evolves to handle much of the thinking required in fields from manufacturing to retail to healthcare, humans will need to recalibrate and capitalize on strengths beyond pure intelligence—like intuition, empathy, creativity, emotion and people skills,” Rust adds.

The book adds real-world examples to the research to illustrate and guide readers on the emerging future of “feeling jobs” and “relationalization” (personalization plus relationship), Huang says and elaborates:

“Collaborating with thinking AI inevitably changes the nature of human jobs and what business leaders can do to keep pace. This starts with upgrading existing jobs—including financial analyst, immigration officer, bank teller, and physician—to emphasize people skills.

“With women inherently advantaged in the Feeling Economy, we give strategies to support women’s rise to the top and encourage every woman to leverage “soft” skills and people-oriented strengths without reinforcing gender stereotypes or discrimination.

“The advance of thinking AI is changing consumers—from their product expectations to their everyday life—we explain how to tailor sales, marketing, and service to meet the needs of emotionally-driven buyers.”

Rust is an award-winning scholar who has edited several major journals and consulted with American Airlines, AT&T, Dupont, Eli Lilly, FedEx, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, NASA, and Sony, among many companies worldwide. Huang is a Fellow of the European Marketing Academy, International Research Fellow of the Centre for Corporate Reputation, University of Oxford, UK, and Distinguished Research Fellow of the Center for Excellence in Service at Maryland Smith. She is also the incoming Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Service Research (JSR).

For more information, go to “The Feeling Economy: How Artificial Intelligence Is Creating the Era of Empathy.”

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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and flex MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, business master’s, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.

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