Technology and innovation are moving at blinding speeds. It may seem like technology is on an ambitious mission to solve all of humanity’s most pressing problems. NLP or Natural Language Processing is an integral piece of the AI puzzle.
That’s because technical problems like jet propulsion or GPS are largely math- and physics-related, which is where computers (and programmers) excel. But solving human problems like employee engagement usually requires empathy. And that’s notoriously hard to codify.
Humans are emotional creatures. Especially when it comes to making decisions. First we feel, then we apply logic. It helps us to justify our emotional response, and, finally, we act. Thus, any attempt to help people make better decisions that doesn’t account for emotional factors is almost always destined to fail.
However, there have been recent advances in artificial intelligence, and especially natural language processing (NLP). We finally have the technological tools for tapping into the power and complexity of human feelings. This approach has major implications for how we design systems, and it’s leading to solutions with more humanistic points of view.
Reading between the lines of NLP
For the first time, we’re able to teach computers to understand not only the basics of what people are saying. — by doing things like counting words or looking for specific phrases — but to intelligently “read between the lines”. And get to the true intent and meaning behind our words. This, of course, is an important skill people have acquired over time as a function of empathy.
The common “satisfaction survey” is a classic example of technology’s limitations in solving even the most basic questions of how someone feels. In principle, it’s a powerful way to gain an understanding of how people feel about a product or service. In practice, it’s clunky, inaccurate, and long overdue for a remake.
Looking in the mirror
In addition to helping us better understand one another, NLP can also give us a better understanding of ourselves. Language is the most detailed window into our thoughts. Same with our feelings. When technology can begin to understand us as we are (not as how it wants us to be), it can become a true partner. So as to help us discover how best to grow and improve.
Take the dreaded performance review and the various biases that plague it. When you ask people in a work environment whether they might be biased, even subconsciously, they will vigorously deny it. However, studies of performance reviews show widespread, unconscious bias.
To solve the world’s most challenging “people problems,” whether through developing better products or enabling better understanding and more fairness in the workplace, we need technology to demonstrate empathy. When we leverage advances that combine both heart and mind, we can further develop and deliver the people-centric solutions we all deserve.