Have you heard of “human-in-the-loop,” or HITL for short? It’s not a new concept, but it has certainly grown in popularity in the last year with the emergence of generative AI and its various use cases. (I know. “Emergence” is an understatement.) AI is probably the hottest topic in CX right now. I’ve had more conversations about this than anything else this year. So, I thought I’d take a look at a concept that might mitigate one of the biggest fears about AI, i.e., that it will cause you to lose your job. Guess what? Maybe not. Here’s just one way to keep you in the game. Or in the loop.
WHAT IS HUMAN-IN-THE-LOOP?
The basic idea behind HITL is to combine human intelligence and machine automation in a collaborative manner to achieve specific tasks or goals. When used in AI and machine learning, HITL involves incorporating human expertise and decision-making into automated processes.
It’s used in applications such as content moderation, customer service, autonomous vehicles, medical diagnoses, virtual simulations, data analytics, financial services, quality control, and more. It helps to drive better outcomes by removing bias, mitigating AI limitations, increasing accuracy, and speeding up the process while still allowing for efficiency and scalability of automated processes.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
Fully automated systems offer a lot of advantages, but there are also limitations that require human intervention. Artificial intelligence isn’t human intelligence, right?! Some of the limitations that require human intervention include lack of contextual understanding, inability to deal with ambiguity and unforeseen scenarios, inherited biases from training data, inability to make value-based decisions, inability to build trust and be transparent, lack of empathy and understanding, and inability to solve complex problems or think critically, just to name a few. No worries. Humans have their limitations, too; unpredictable or irrational human behavior throws automated systems off course, and humans can interject biases that automated systems may not be able to detect or deal with.
It seems that having a human-in-the-loop is necessary to complement the strengths of automated systems and to address their limitations. Combining human judgment, adaptability, ethical reasoning, and empathy with automation’s efficiency and scalability can result in more robust and reliable outcomes.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF HITL?
Human-in-the-loop models offers a variety of benefits, including:
- Improved accuracy: Human oversight can catch errors and ambiguities that automated systems might miss, leading to higher overall accuracy.
- Complexity handling. When tasks are complex, humans can provide insights and solutions that automated systems and processes may struggle with.
- Adaptability. Humans can adapt to dynamic situations more effectively than rigid systems and can handle scenarios that weren’t anticipated during system design.
- Quality control. Human reviewers can ensure that outputs meet required standards or compliance requirements.
- Efficiency. HITL models automate menial and repetitive tasks, reducing the workload for agents and allowing them to focus on more value-add work.
- Continuous improvement. The feedback loop between automated systems and human agents is definitely a continuous improvement process.
- Customer satisfaction. In customer service interactions, escalating complex issues or inquiries to human agents drives satisfaction and builds trust.
- Risk mitigation. HITL models help reduce risk of errors or mitigate potential harm, especially in applications such as autonomous vehicles or healthcare.
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES OF HITL MODELS?
As with any new venture you undertake, you’ve got to not only understand the benefits but also the challenges. While there are some awesome benefits, there are some challenges when implementing HITL models. They include:
- Cost. You automated processes to save money. Incorporating humans into the process then adds significant operational costs.
- Scalability. It may be challenging to efficiently scale HITL models, especially if there’s an uptake in need for human intervention. Think about a customer service example when there’s a surge of issues that your automated systems are not equipped to handle.
- Speed/latency. Introducing humans into processes can certainly slow things down, as you want for the human to intervene.
- Consistency. Different humans, different approaches, ideas, thoughts, decisions, etc. This can lead to inconsistent outcomes.
- Bias. Human bias can easily be introduced into these systems.
- Training. Humans have to be adequately trained to insert themselves into these decision trees and decision points within the process. That training can be time consuming.
- Feedback loop. There must be an effective feedback loop between the automated processes and the humans who will intervene. The loop is necessary for continuous improvement but may be challenging to implement and maintain.
WHO DOES WHAT: MACHINE VS. HUMAN?
Human-in-the-loop, of course, refers to a loop that the human is a part of. The other part of the loop is machine. So, who does what? What’s the human’s role in HITL, and what is the machine’s role?
Let’s start with the machine’s role, since we’re inserting the human into the machine’s loop. The automated systems are going to be processing large volumes of data quickly and efficiently; handling routine, repetitive, and rule-based tasks; analyzing data, recognizing patterns, and providing insights or predictions based on historical information; performing tasks at high speeds and scale to handle a large number of requests or data points simultaneously; and more – all consistently and reliably.
The human agent is going to be providing oversight and assisting with decision-making where human judgment is essential; handling complex or ambiguous inquiries or requests; making ethical and value-based decisions; adapting and learning from new situations; providing feedback to improve the systems; and bringing empathy, emotions, and effective communication that adds the human touch so many interactions require.
WHO BENEFITS: EMPLOYEES OR CUSTOMERS?
We know there are pros and cons for both employees and customers when processes are automated. But who benefits when it’s a joint effort, when it’s a human-in-the-loop model? Turns out, they both do.
Employees experience increased productivity, reduced workload, new skills development, reduced errors, increased efficiency, continuous learning, and increased job satisfaction, to name a few.
Customers, on the other hand, experience faster response times, first call resolution, improved service quality, personalization, consistency, availability, convenience, and more.
Humans and machines can work together in harmony. One needn’t fully take the place of the other. That’s a major fear factor with AI and automation: people will lose their jobs, and we’ll all lose control. That’s not the case – or it certainly doesn’t need to be the case. Consciously and conscientiously building human-in-the-loop models will ensure that employees, customers, and businesses overall reap the benefits of AI.
HITL models harness the strength of both humans and machines. Humans bring judgment, adaptability, and ethical considerations to the table, while machines contribute efficiency, scalability, and the ability to process large amounts of data. This collaboration helps achieve more robust and effective outcomes for all.
Robots are not going to replace humans; they are going to make their jobs much more humane. Difficult, demeaning, demanding, dangerous, dull – these are the jobs robots will be taking. ~ Sabine Hauert, co-founder of Robohub.org
Annette Franz is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, speaker, and author. In 2019, she published her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the “Customer” in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business); it’s available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. In 2022, she published her second book, Built to Win: Designing a Customer-Centric Culture That Drives Value for Your Business (Advantage|ForbesBooks), which is available to purchase on Amazon, Books A Million!, Target, Barnes & Noble, and thousands of other outlets around the world! Sign up for our newsletter for updates, insights, and other great content that you can use to up your EX and CX game.
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