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Loneliness, insomnia associated with frequent use of AI systems at work: study

By Noushin Ziafati, Writer

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    TORONTO (CTV Network) — The artificial intelligence revolution is underway and with it comes a range of questions about what the future of work will entail — such as how working with AI systems may impact employees.

A new study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology aims to answer that question.

Researchers conducted four experiments in the United States, Taiwan, Indonesia and Malaysia and found consistent results across the board — employees who regularly use AI systems have a higher chance of experiencing loneliness, which can lead to insomnia.

The researchers note that their findings don’t prove that working with AI systems causes loneliness or insomnia, but there is an association among them.

The experiments involved 166 engineers at a Taiwanese biomedical company, 126 real estate consultants in an Indonesian property management company, 214 full-time working adults in the U.S. and 294 employees at a Malaysian tech company.

At the Taiwanese biomedical company, the engineers were monitored over three weeks about their feelings of loneliness, attachment anxiety and sense of belonging. Co-workers were asked to rate each participant on their helpful behaviours at work, while family members were asked to report on participants’ insomnia and how much alcohol they consumed after work hours.

In that experiment, employees who interacted with AI systems more often had a higher chance of experiencing loneliness, insomnia and increased alcohol consumption after work.

In the case of the Indonesian property management company, half of the 126 real estate consultants involved were told not to use AI systems for three days in a row, while the other half were told to use AI systems as frequently as possible.

Among the latter group, the researchers’ findings were similar to the previous experiment, except there was no association between the frequent use of AI and higher levels of alcohol consumption after work.

The other two experiments, conducted in the U.S. and Malaysia, garnered similar results. In addition to these findings, the study also suggests that working with AI systems may have some benefits.

Employees who often used AI systems were more likely to offer to help out fellow employees, according to the experiments. However, researchers note that this tendency may have been prompted by feelings of loneliness and a desire for social contact.

Participants with greater attachment anxiety responded more intensely to working with AI systems, exhibiting both positive reactions, such as helping other people, and negative ones, such as loneliness and insomnia, the study found.

AI OFFERING BENEFITS AND ‘UNCHARTED DANGERS’ IN THE WORKPLACE: EXPERT Pok Man Tang, an assistant professor of management at the University of Georgia in the U.S., led the study, which was also published by the American Psychological Association. He said he was inspired to pursue the research because of a previous job he had at an investment bank, where he used to work with AI systems.

“The rapid advancement in AI systems is sparking a new industrial revolution that is reshaping the workplace with many benefits but also some uncharted dangers, including potentially damaging mental and physical impacts for employees,” Tang said in a news release.

“Humans are social animals, and isolating work with AI systems may have damaging spillover effects into employees’ personal lives.”

Tang said AI developers should think about equipping their systems with social features, such as a human voice, to imitate human interactions. He also suggests that employers limit the amount of time workers spend using AI systems while providing more opportunities for employees to socialize with their peers.

He added that team decision-making and other tasks that typically involve social interaction could be performed by people, while AI systems can help with tedious or repetitive tasks.

“Mindfulness programs and other positive interventions also might help relieve loneliness,” Tang said.

“AI will keep expanding so we need to act now to lessen the potentially damaging effects for people who work with these systems.”

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