Comparing artificial intelligence and human coaching goal attainment efficacy


Nicky Terblanche, Joanna Molyn, Erik de Haan & Viktor Nilsson
Plos One, 2022

The history of artificial intelligence (AI) is filled with hype and inflated expectations. Notwithstanding, AI is finding its way into numerous aspects of humanity including the fast-growing helping profession of coaching. Coaching has been shown to be efficacious in a variety of human development facets. The application of AI in a narrow, specific area of coaching has also been shown to work. What remains uncertain, is how the two compare. In this paper we compare two equivalent longitudinal randomised control trial studies that measured the increase in clients’ goal attainment as a result of having received coaching over a 10-month period. The first study involved human coaches and the replication study used an AI chatbot coach. In both studies, human coaches and the AI coach were significantly more effective in helping clients reach their goals compared to the two control groups. Surprisingly however, the AI coach was as effective as human coaches at the end of the trials. We interpret this result using AI and goal theory and present three significant implications: AI coaching could be scaled to democratize coaching; AI coaching could grow the demand for human coaching; and AI could replace human coaches who use simplistic, model-based coaching approaches. At present, AI’s lack of empathy and emotional intelligence make human coaches irreplicable. However, understanding the efficacy of AI coaching relative to human coaching may promote the focused use of AI, to the significant benefit of society.

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journal.pone.0270255 AI article