Employees who frequently interact with artificial intelligence systems are more likely to experience loneliness, which can lead to insomnia and increased drinking after work, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.
Researchers conducted four experiments in the United States, Taiwan, Indonesia and Malaysia. The results were consistent across cultures. The research has been published online in the Journal of Applied Psychology.
In a previous career, leading researcher
Pok Man Tang
PhD, worked in an investment bank where he spent
systems, which led to his interest in researching the current problem.
“The rapid progress of AI systems is triggering a new industrial revolution that is reshaping the workplace with many benefits but also some unknown dangers, including potentially harmful mental and physical impacts on employees,” said Tang, an assistant professor of management at
University of Georgia
. “Humans are social animals, and isolating work with AI systems can have harmful knock-on effects on employees’ personal lives.”
Going and experimenting
In one experiment, 166 engineers at a Taiwanese biomedical company working on AI systems were surveyed over three weeks about their feelings of loneliness, attachment anxiety, and sense of belonging. Colleagues rated individual participants on their helpful behavior, and family members reported on participants’ insomnia and alcohol consumption after work. Employees who interacted more frequently with AI systems were more likely to experience loneliness, insomnia and increased alcohol consumption after work, but also showed helpful behavior towards employees.
In another experiment with 126 real estate consultants at an Indonesian property management company, half were instructed not to use AI systems for three consecutive days, while the other half were told to work with AI systems as much as possible. The results for the latter group were similar to the previous experiment, except that there was no correlation between the frequency of AI use and alcohol consumption after work.
There were similar results from an online experiment with 214 full-time working adults in the United States and another with 294 employees of a Malaysian technology company.
Tang said that going forward, AI technology developers should consider equipping AI systems with social features, such as a human voice, to mimic human-like interactions. Employers could also limit the frequency of working with AI systems and offer employees opportunities to socialize. Team decision-making and other tasks where social connections are important could be done by humans, while AI systems could focus more on boring and repetitive tasks, Tang added.
“Mindfulness programs and other positive interventions can also help alleviate loneliness,” Tang said. “AI will continue to expand, so we need to act now to reduce the potentially harmful effects on people who work with these systems.”
Everything is not so bad
At the same time, working with AI systems can have some advantages. The researchers found that employees who frequently used AI systems were more likely to offer help to co-workers, but that response may have been triggered by their loneliness and need for social contact.