As the use of AI systems has increased, health problems have also increased simultaneously. According to a study published by the American Psychological Association, employees who frequently interact with AI systems are more likely to suffer from loneliness, which can contribute to insomnia and increased drinking after work. The researchers conducted four experiments in the United States, Taiwan, Indonesia and Malaysia. The results were consistent across cultures. The research was published online in the Journal of Applied Psychology.
In a previous career, lead researcher Pok Man Tang, PhD, worked in an investment bank where he used artificial intelligence systems, which led to his interest in timely problem finding. “The rapid advancement in AI systems is sparking a new industrial revolution that is reshaping the workplace with many benefits but also some unexplored dangers, including potentially harmful mental and physical impacts for employees,” said Tang, assistant professor in management at the University of Georgia.
“Humans are social animals, and isolating work with AI systems can have harmful spillover effects on employees’ personal lives.” At the same time, working with AI systems can have some advantages. Researchers found that employees who used AI systems frequently were more likely to offer help to coworkers, but that response may have been triggered by their loneliness and need for social contact.
Additionally, studies found that participants with higher levels of attachment anxiety — a tendency to feel insecure and worried about social connections — responded more strongly to AI system work with both positive reactions, such as helping others, both negative, such as loneliness and insomnia.
In one experiment, 166 engineers at a Taiwanese biomedical company working with artificial intelligence systems were interviewed for three weeks about their feelings of loneliness, attachment anxiety, and sense of belonging. Colleagues rated individual participants on their helpful behaviors, and family members reported on participants’ insomnia and drinking after work. Employees who interacted more frequently with AI systems were more likely to experience loneliness, insomnia, and increased drinking after work, but also exhibited some helping behaviors toward coworkers.
In another experiment with 126 property consultants at an Indonesian property management company, half were asked 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 association 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 at a Malaysian technology company. The research findings are related and do not prove that working with AI systems cause loneliness or the other responses, only that there is an association between them. Tang said moving forward, AI technology developers should consider equipping AI systems with social features, such as a human voice, to emulate human-like interactions.
Employers could also limit the frequency of working with AI systems and provide opportunities for employees to socialise. Team decision-making and other tasks where social connections are important could be done by people, while AI systems could focus more on tedious and repetitive tasks, Tang added. “Mindfulness programs and other positive interventions could also help alleviate loneliness,” Tang said. “Artificial intelligence will continue to expand, so we need to act now to reduce the potentially harmful effects on people working with these systems.”
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