As part of its “Watson at Work” campaign, IBM in early April released a series of videos showing cognitive systems helping people do their jobs. One video shows Watson, IBM’s cognitive computing powerhouse, working with an insurance adjuster to compare claims to coverages and work through claims audit reports.

The adjuster is also trying to shake off a co-worker hanging out by her desk to urge her to attend the company picnic. “Too much work to do,” she reports.

Watson objects. “Piece of cake. My APIs will fly through these tasks. No need to miss the picnic,” he says.

“Watson, you’ve got to learn how to take a hint,” the exasperated adjuster tells the overzealous computer.

“I love to learn,” Watson replies. But can Watson learn to take human cues? To be intuitive? To energize and inspire? To feel empathy for insurance customers and human co-workers?

It’s unlikely that the video creator intended to prompt these or any questions linking the concepts of artificial and emotional intelligence, but the dual themes of the second-quarter edition of Carrier Management magazine brought them to mind. Inside, we present articles about the initial forays of P/C insurers into AI adoption and some basics of EI—a combination of personal traits like empathy and self-regulation that distinguish leaders who can understand how their decisions impact others.

Industry executives now face at least two competing sets of challenges. On the one hand, they need to keep pace with competitors (including industry outsiders) who are adopting AI to pore through documents and images—and learn from them—faster than humanly possible and those who are using automated systems that kick customer service responses into high gear. On the other, they have to reshape human workforces, dealing with questions of culture and employee morale in the process. And they have to decide whether machines or people are more in tune with their customers.

As today’s workers and leaders prepare to interact and play nice with their robotic co-workers, the idea that machines lack EI traits is one of the accepted beliefs helping us deal with the new reality of working side-by-side with them. A computer can’t possibly respond to a policyholder with a claim like insurance professionals trained in EI. (See related article, “Setting PURE Group Apart: The EQ Strategy for Successful Member Engagement“)

A growing body of online articles on AI and EI (not addressing insurance specifically) suggest that humans need to work on greater EI development in order to stay employed as smart machines take on the tasks of data gathering, analyzing and interpreting results. “A smart machine might be able to diagnose an illness and even recommend treatment better than a doctor. It takes a person, however, to sit with a patient, understand their life situation (finances, family, quality of life, etc.), and help determine what treatment plan is optimal,” wrote Barry Libert and Megan Beck of Open Matters, a digital consultancy, in a recent article for Harvard Business Review.

In a second article in Forbes, the same writers build on their advice to invest in EI skills and play to human strengths of being motivators, managers, listeners (and innovators). Likewise, University of Virginia Professor Edward D. Hess (author of “Humility Is the New Smart”) advised during an interview with Knowledge@Wharton: “Define yourself as the quality of your thinking, listening, relating and collaborating” as smart machines outprocess our human brains.

But while these thinkers assert that EI traits are uniquely human, others suggest that training machines to show empathy could be part of a new skillset for human workers. In their March 2017 article in the MIT Sloan Review, Accenture’s H. James Wilson, Paul R. Daugherty and Nicola Morini-Bianzino introduce the idea of “empathy trainers,” which teach AI systems to show compassion rather than delivering canned responses.

Interestingly, a USC study in 2014 found that in a clinical setting, patients are more willing to disclose personal information to virtual humans than actual human health professionals. “The researchers were careful to emphasize that the virtual human could supplement—not replace—trained clinicians,” opening up the potential for reduced costs, screening patients in remote areas or creating “role-playing partners for training health professionals,” a media statement said at the time.

Taking that last idea of machines training humans to interact with humans one step further, School of Life Founder Alain de Botton suggested the idea of artificial emotional intelligence—technology providing self-knowledge that is akin to an emotional Fitbit, coaching wearers when they sense angry outbursts or inappropriate emotional responses. (See WIRED U.K., “Six areas that artificial emotional intelligence will revolutionise,” Oct. 21, 2015 and related School of Life video, “Emotional Technology.”)

Whether you believe in AI teaching EI to humans or humans teaching EI to machines, the ties between the two forms of intelligence are worthy of attention from leaders and professionals in all industries, including insurance.

On deck: Carrier Management’s third-quarter magazine will be published in late August. Among the features is one on The Future of Insurance, including responses from 26 industry leaders to questions about changes on the horizon in the next decade.

Topics InsurTech Data Driven Artificial Intelligence Training Development