Why AI-Generated Responses Are Bad

We’ve dedicated this week to some things that kill our ability to communicate effectively. If it were up to me, we would be better off without them. As you might have noticed, many of these things appear to make us more productive. They enable faster and shorter responses and allow us to respond on the fly wherever we are. That’s exactly where they fail in creating deep, meaningful communication. To co-create, we don’t need to communicate faster; we need to communicate more thoughtfully.

I’ve saved “the best” of these deceiving tools and practices for last, and it probably won’t surprise you that the thing I recommend ditching today is related to AI. Well, it’s in the title of this post, after all. 

We have too many emails; we hate that. We believe emails are making us less productive and less effective. The solution, if you ask companies like Google and Microsoft: let’s respond to these emails automatically! What was science fiction until not long ago is now practically a basic feature in most email clients. AI can “understand” the email you receive and offer you some valid responses at the click of a button. Let’s be honest; it’s more than tempting. Who would bother to think about and write an actual response when they can clean up their inbox in a matter of minutes? 

The problem is not that AI-generated responses are not good enough. They might be well-phrased and to the point. If they still aren’t, the next version of your favorite AI-powered email client will surely be better. The problem is that when using this feature, it is not us who communicate. 

Let’s reframe the scenario a bit. Let’s say you have a bright child. He is in college, smarter than anyone else in his class; you can talk with him about many things and trust him. Would you let him review your work-related emails and respond on your behalf? I’m willing to bet the answer is no. I know I wouldn’t. 

First, no matter how bright someone is, communication is meaningless without context. Scratch that: it can be disastrous without context. It’s not enough to understand the content of an email. What happened before the email was sent, what you know about the sender, what you know about the organization, conflicting tasks, the mindset, the values, and numerous other things affect (or should affect) your response. You might not be aware of this impact, but it is there. As bright as your child is, he lacks the understanding of this context (much of it is not even written, so it cannot be learned over time based on your written communication). 

That’s not all, though. Whatever is in your inbox might be critical to your next task or refining the context of your following interactions. Maybe some of your emails are less important. Some of them might be pure junk. But you must not assume they all are. We should all aspire to have more emails that are truly important in our inbox. When you delegate the task of reading and responding to your email to your child, you are bound to miss many critical things you must know. Of course, you could argue that you read the email yourself before delegating the response to your child. However, if you’re not going to write a reply, your reading will likely be shallower. 

The decision to have an AI-powered bot responding on your behalf is not that different. Not responding yourself is ineffective at best and can sometimes cause actual and immediate damage. It doesn’t matter how well-phrased the AI-generated responses seem; it doesn’t even matter if the other side will not be able to tell it wasn’t you who wrote the reply. To create great things together, we must be present in the conversation. When we delegate our part, we create an illusion of communication. Nothing more. 

If you are flooded with emails, focus on solving the root of the problem. Work on making any email in your inbox count. Don’t delegate the act of communication to anyone or anything else. It will create a cycle of misunderstandings, ambiguity, and bad decisions.

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