Why AI Needs the Humanities

At Next IT, we’ve always viewed AI from an human-centric perspective. Digital assistants and advanced machine learning techniques are increasingly driving a great deal of automation, yet AI requires a hands-on approach and human oversight to be truly effective in business settings.

Whether for customer service, workforce support, or strategic business intelligence, AI isn’t simply a plug-and-play automation solution. At its most effective, AI can represent the best of your brand, provide insights for your business, and help employees and customers to faster solutions. In developing digital assistants for the enterprise over the past fifteen years, we’ve come to recognize the importance of both humans and the humanities in creating effective AI.

Earlier this year, Mark Cuban told Bloomberg that over the next decade there will be increased demand for humanities and liberal arts majors precisely because of the rise of AI and increasingly automated technologies. On the surface, Cuban’s statement may seem counter-intuitive, but the truth is the humanities teach critical, creative, philosophical, ethics-based skills no computer can learn on its own.

The need for stronger humanities education is not simply about hedging against future automation. Liberal arts skills are becoming instrumental in the development of AI. In fact, tech has always been driven by those with strong backgrounds in the humanities.

 AI is as much about art as it is engineering. Companies are increasingly using bots and digital assistants as one of the first and primary touchpoints with customers. These manifestations of AI represent your company; they reflect your brand’s values, voice, and personality; they can surprise and delight customers in new ways.

No AI system, however, can naturally develop a personality that reflects your brand’s values. AI must be trained, continuously updated by interaction feedback, and capable of incorporating new company directives. Most importantly, a truly successful AI system needs to know how to make decisions on behalf of your brand; how your system executes solutions is as important as whether it achieves the outcomes you and your customers desire. Humans direct all of this development and training, and getting it right requires humanities-based thinking and skills.

In short, framing any technological development as either an engineering or social-engineering sets up a false dichotomy. Thankfully, over the past few years, we’ve seen more of an emphasis on interdisciplinary education that seeks to meld the critical thinking of the humanities with the necessary technical skills of STEM. AI development depends on this kind of intellectual agility because the real value of AI is measured by how well it works with humans. This has long been the philosophy of Next IT, as it is of any enterprise truly succeeding with AI.