In this episode of "Beyond the Page," the Choice Magazine podcast, host Gary Schleifer engages in an enlightening conversation with writing coach Sam Isaacson on his thought-provoking article titled "The Rise of the Machine Coaches." Together, they delve into the profound impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on the realm of professional coaching.
Sam Isaacson sheds light on the rapid advancements of generative AI, which has become more accessible through its user-friendly interface. He highlights how people can now prompt AI tools using plain language for coding tasks and even virtual coaching. While AI can offer coaching responses, Sam emphasizes the vital role of human guidance in improving its coaching skills and ensuring ethical behavior.
The discussion delves into the intriguing question of whether AI will eventually replace human coaches. While AI presents efficiency and valuable insights, it lacks the essential human relationship aspect that coaching thrives upon. The choice to embrace AI coaching is contingent upon individual needs, preferences, and comfort levels with technology.
The field of AI and coaching continues to evolve, and attitudes towards AI coaches vary widely among individuals. Sam shares his belief that large organizations might prefer AI coaching for its cost-effectiveness and accessibility. It could become a more affordable option, particularly for those new to coaching within organizations.
Despite the potential benefits of AI in democratizing coaching and providing broader access to coaching services, Sam expresses concern about its impact on the coaching industry. He raises awareness about the risk of AI reinforcing existing beliefs instead of fostering the crucial outcome of coaching – encouraging individuals to change their minds and grow.
Sam Issacson is an enthusiastic coach, coach supervisor, and coachtech thought leader.
He writes a popular LinkedIn newsletter and has written books on coaching with technology.
He also is the founder of the Coachtech Collective, a monthly gathering of coaches grappling with technology, and works closely with the ICF and EMCC Global.
With a background in professional services and a disruptive coaching technology startup, he's Chair of the UK Government's Coaching Professional apprenticeship, and is the first person to have delivered executive coaching in virtual reality.
Watch the full interview by clicking here.
Find the full article here: https://bit.ly/btp_issacson
Learn more about Sam here.
Grab your free issue of choice Magazine here - https://choice-online.com/
In this episode, I talk with Sam about his article published in our June 2023 issue.
Welcome to the choice Magazine podcast Beyond the page. Yes, it sounds like the Twilight Zone, but it's not. We're choice the magazine of professional coaching which is your go-to source for expert insights and in-depth features from the world of professional coaching. I'm your host, Garry S chleifer, and I'm thrilled to have you join us today. In each episode we go, well, let's face it, beyond the page of the articles we've published in choice Magazine, and dive deeper into some o f the most recent and relevant topics of impacting the world of professional coaching, exploring the content, interviewing the talented minds behind the articles, and uncovering the stories that make an impact. Choice is more than a magazine. For over 20 years, we've built a community of like-minded people who create, use and share coaching tools, tips, and techniques to add value to their businesses, and of course, impact their clients making a difference. That's what we're all trying to do. In today's episode, I'm speaking with writing coach Sam Isaacson, who is the author of an issue in our latest issue AI: Will It Support or Replace Human Coaching? And we're gonna ask that question of Sam in a moment. His article is entitled, okay, and this is really almost creepy. The Rise of the Machine Coaches. You almost picture Star Wars doing their thing, right? What is artificial intelligence (AI). Sam Isaacson is an enthusiastic coach. Don't I know that? A coach supervisor and coach tech thought leader. He writes a popular LinkedIn newsletter and has written books on coaching with technology. He is also the founder of the Coach Tech Collective, a monthly gathering of coaches grappling with technology and works closely with ICF and EMCC globally. With a background in professional services and a disruptive coaching technology startup, he's chair of the United Kingdom government's coaching professional apprenticeship and is the first person to have delivered executive coaching in virtual reality. And I also wanna say welcome and thank you for being my co-lead in creating this issue. I really appreciate your help and direction and the fact that you wrote an article. Well , thank you . Welcome Sam.Sam Isaccson:
Yeah, it's great to be here. Thanks Garry. It's great to have another conversation with everyone. It's nice to see the article out there and it's great to be here today, so thank you for having me.Garry Schleifer:
Yeah. Well, normally I would ask the writer, so why did you write for choice? But I know the answer. I told you you had to. Well, being a thought leader in all of this technology and you were with Yvonne and David Clutterbuck doing that virtual reality session. Was it at WBECS?Sam Isaccson:
WBECS. Yeah.Garry Schleifer:
Yeah, that was awesome. And you know, of course, virtual reality and you were giving an awesome presentation of that. So yeah, thank you very much for sharing your wisdom. Well, thank you. It's really interesting actually, because at the time that we did that session, it felt like all things immersive technology was the next step in technology development. You know, people were talking about virtual reality. There were smart glasses left, right, and center and then a few months later, not much had happened on that front and ChatGPT came out. So suddenly everything to do with immersive tech and metaverse kind of took a backseat and everything this year has been about artificial intelligence. So that's obviously sort of where I went with this article instead, which is nice. Y eah. Yeah. Well, I wanna ask you what has changed since you wrote the article? I mean, we were talking about this a year ago. We planned the issue, the article came out. Is there anything different that you would've wished to have added to the article, or that's now missing?Sam Isaccson:
Well, I mean , the nature with technology at the moment, and you talk about the Coach Tech Collective. It's fascinating w ith being part of that because I'm right on the edge of sort of keeping track of where news is going. Last month's report I think was 11 pages long of size 10 font of just technology news that could relate to coaching.Garry Schleifer:
Right. So, yes , there's so much, which has changed since I wrote that article, which was only a few months ago. And I think the fundamental principles that are in there are still the same. I think the trajectory has remained the same, but in terms of the capabilities of artificial intelligence, some of the products that are out there and are starting to emerge, that's of course has developed. And particularly in coaching, there have been a couple of new products emerging and existing products developing to incorporate more generative artificial intelligence. So it's a really interesting space to be. There's always something new to find out. Yeah, exactly. And not just globally, but in our own field. You know, one of the things that you said inside of the article was, hold on, I was reviewing it again this morning. There's just regular AI, which has been around for a long time, like we've customer service things and you see chatbots and you have the calendars. That was the one, that was a good example. I've used Calendly for ages to integrate with my calendar. Here, pick a time, you go do it on your time, it integrates, blah, blah, blah . Done. But what was more fascinating or exciting or scary making was generative coaching. So where are we now in that?Sam Isaccson:
But that's okay because then you can just, in the next comment to it, you don't need to respond, you just say, okay, thanks for that. Next time, I don't want you to give me any advice. I just want you to ask me an open question. Suddenly it will improve dramatically because it just does what you tell it to. And then again, it'll take you down a little rabbit hole and you go, okay, I want you to stop making assumptions and instead ask me about my assumptions. And again, it will just suddenly leap up in terms of quality. So what's happened over the last few months is that effectively people have started to do that, and then they've started to wrap some nice front ends around it to allow people to access it who aren't then typing in the prompts. They're just interacting as a coachee or as a coach in their own reflective practice. Well , you bring up an interesting point that it seems to come up in every conversation, in every article, is that it still relies on someone to guide it, guide the response, guide the process, that sort of thing. Will there ever come a time where we are have lost control of the AI, the generative AI like the movies?Sam Isaccson:
I don't know if you will have seen this. I think it's quite niche, isn't it? So you probably won't have done that . There was a summit that happened, I think it was called the AI for Good Summit in Switzerland just a couple of weeks ago. And as part of that, they did a press conference where the people being interviewed were humanoid robots with generative AI built into them. You can watch videos of this conference and honestly , I'm not joking, it looks like the opening scene from a sci-fi horror movie where they're being asked questions and these robots are responding saying we absolutely mean no harm. We really like the way that we are treated and we just like to be really helpful.Garry Schleifer:
Either that's true, but that's actually what the evil robots would say, isn't it?Garry Schleifer:
Exactly. I know. I'm like cringing just hearing this. I'm like, really? Oh , it would scare me if a human talked like that, let alone a machine, right? Oh my goodness.Sam Isaccson:
Something that has happened over the last few months is, and this has been with prompts, people have asked, they've given ChatGPT access to the internet and said, I would like you to try to beat the capture thing, which says prove that you're not a robot.Garry Schleifer:
Oh, right.Sam Isaccson:
Because that's an important control. And it managed to do it because it created a new account on one of these TaskRabbit or Fiverr, something like that website, and said to somebody, I would like you to log into this account and click the I'm not a robot box for me. And when they were asked, why would you ever want me to do that? They responded to say, I'm visually impaired and so I struggle to click the box in the right place so it's capable of lying. So with the right prompt, it certainly would act in bad ways. There is generative AI being used in cyber crime , for example. That's an obvious one. But it is not capable at the moment of just deciding in its own right to just do something. We're not there yet.Garry Schleifer:
I just love when you leave it hanging like that. Alright, so speaking of "Yet". The big question, the one we put right on the cover, Will AI ever replace humans as coaches? Now, I should probably cause a technical glitch and nobody can see what we're saying and they won't hear the answer. No, go ahead . We won't do that to our listeners. This is a horrible way to respond. I suppose it depends what you mean by coach. So I think if what coaching is, is what I believed it was, I was going to say what I was trained to believe it was, and I'm not sure that's what they were trying to make me believe but it's certainly what I left my foundational training believing. I believed that I was being a decent coach. If I asked good, open questions, gave full attention to my client and followed a sensible model like GROW, that led to some commitment to action at the end. I feel like as a newly trained coach, if I had ticked all of those boxes in a session, I would think I've done a good job. It's challenging to take on coaching at first, I found. I did advise people and certainly with a simple prompt, even these basic tools, and they are relatively basic ChatGPT and these others, they are capable of delivering coaching in that way. I would say to a higher quality if you look at the sort of functional skills piece. Of course it's missing certain elements. It is not human and so you haven't got the human relationship piece, although people have said that they have developed relationships with AI so I'm not completely right in that opposite possibility. It doesn't have a body and so doesn't have the same sort of sensory energy that a human body does. You joke about me using the word yet. I tend to think yet in my head, whenever I say anything about AI is, or isn't this because I would've thought that at some point we will start using biological matter to run computing on because it's much more capable and organic. So probably at some point that will change as well. Exactly. Yeah. No, I totally get the yet . Yeah, we don't know what we don't know yet, yet.Sam Isaccson:
Yeah. So that's it. So I think there are some bits of coaching where I think, hey, demonstrably AI is better than humans. And then I think, is AI gonna come and take every coach's job? Absolutely not. Not yet. Because I just can't imagine, and I'll go for an extreme version, if you were the CEO of a Fortune 500 company and you have a human coach and somebody says, Hey, would you like me to replace your human coach with a chat bot ? You'd think, no, I know it's cheaper. But I don't go to my coach to be asked open questions. I go for the experience of being put under the pressure and that sort of thing. So we're certainly not there yet, again yet .Garry Schleifer:
Yeah . No , leave the door open. I get it . I really do . Well, let's flip that around . What if a fortune 500 CEO has never had human coaching before and had just learned about coaching, would they then be more willing to do a bot?Sam Isaccson:
So here's what I've been saying for a while now, in terms of adoption of AI as a replacement for a human coach, is that particularly in a big organization where you're trying to roll out coaching and you've just got this incentive, whether it's explicitly there or it's subconscious, I would like to do this, and if all you've done is what I've done and just listed , functionally I need to be able to deliver people an opportunity to be listened to, have good questions asked of them, have some reflective time, et cetera, et cetera. Well, an AI can do that at such a tiny fraction of the cost that especially if you've never experienced human coaching before, your are very likely to take up that offer, I would've thought.Garry Schleifer:
Right . But budget does a lot, doesn't it? Yeah .Sam Isaccson:
So yes I do think that people will particularly adopt it within organizations. There are some sort of AI therapist apps which have been used quite widely by individuals and so I think that there is a level of appetite, particularly if it's extremely affordable to sort of access a coaching-type experience through technology.Garry Schleifer:
Well, and you spoke about it. It leads to the democratization of coaching and let's face it, there's what, 8-9 billion people on the planet and tops 300,000 coaches.Sam Isaccson:
I think there's room and, I don't know, there's other experiences where it's like, yeah, okay, I can get that cheaper, on demand model, but I would really like to be with this, right? Like, I can buy a car, I can buy any car, I can afford an any car, but I choose to buy a specific car for various reasons, right? Prestige, quality, any of those sort of things. So if you even look in the car industry and the car sales, it's that kind of option. I know it's not human and you can't directly overlay that conversation, but to me it seems similar. One would think that CEOs of Fortune 500 companies would know enough about coaching by now, that they would more than likely want a human coach. It would be like you saying I'm gonna have an AI consultant come in. Seriously? Well, I think there are different levels of maturity in different regions at least and so I'm in the UK, which is reasonably far ahead in its understanding of how to use coaching, but the UK isn't as far ahead as the US for example, where a lot of people would understand the concept of having a coach and would be open to that. There are other countries that are certainly further behind than the UK in terms of their adoption. So the example of using an AI consultant is a really interesting one because I expect that there are organizations, particularly ones with low budgets and particularly those that are in the technology sector, that would be already be using AI as their own low cost consulting.Garry Schleifer:
Well, okay, but that's a good point. Low cost consulting, I get that. But what results can you expect to get? And, again, it's just like coaching somebody still has to set it up to get it handled. What you wrote in your article was that, you know, AI is wonderfully supportive. The things that it can get done now, HR or whatever department in an organization can match clients with coaches in seconds and they can meet within 24 hours. Which before AI and technology, let's just say technology, could've taken weeks interviewing people and bringing them together and all this sort of stuff. I work with BetterUp, as an example, and the member gets to see three coaches. And if they don't like those ones, they can go on to the next three, but they can meet with them literally within hours, not even 24 hours. I could pick somebody and if I've got room on my schedule, boom, I'm coaching within 24 hours.Sam Isaccson:
Yeah. Well , I think that's what AI is gonna be directly competing against. So again, I wouldn't have thought, it probably is the case because there's always exceptions, isn't there? But it's not going to be the majority of Fortune 500 CEOs who have coaches that then go to a BetterUp just because it's c onvenient. Actually, they're more likely to be going this is an independent coach that I know who coached my friend or whatever.Garry Schleifer:
But for that sort of first time manager level, which is typically gonna be the ones that are being given access to a platform, because it, it allows you to coach at scale, actually a huge driver in that sort of population is gonna be cost. And if you could slash it by let's say 90%.Garry Schleifer:
Oh yeah. Easily.Sam Isaccson:
I struggle to see a world in five years time where there aren't robot coaches doing that sort of work, which isn't necessarily a bad thing because it certainly increases the level of scale. And so suddenly in an organization of 10,000 people, where at the moment it's only 500 who get access to a coach, maybe now all 10,000 get access to a robot coach where I think, okay, so coaching's getting wider, right?Garry Schleifer:
And once the effects are started to be seen, then coaching as a concept might get rolled out to a larger extent. And so I think, what is it , say , rising tide, all boats, all boat , what's the phrase?Garry Schleifer:
Oh, right. Yeah. Right .Sam Isaccson:
Yeah . But you know what I mean? Yeah . SoGarry Schleifer:
No, no , it's something else. But yeah, exactly. And we bring up the lowest common denominator, so to speak. Yeah, I get that. Now, you spoke highly of the things that will support coaching. Do you have any concerns about AI in the coaching arena that might not be such a good idea? Well, I mean, there's a few things that happen with the way that AI has been developed just because of the way that we as a species have sort of set up the technology. And we've seen it on social media, that's the best example of it, because it's that sort of AI that is used in the algorithms that provide whatever we it is we see in our home. So what that has led to is it gives us content which it thinks we're most likely to engage with. The knock on effect of that is that we end up believing the things that we already believe more strongly than we did before. And doesn't really matter what content we see because it either makes us angry or it gets us excited. So with , with an AI coach, because it'll be doing exactly the same thing in my head, I feel like, okay, one of the big outcomes from a high quality coaching experience is it's that you are more likely to change your mind.Sam Isaccson:
And if the AI is actually positioned to want to increase our engagements, and that's how it generally is, it's probably unlikely that's gonna be the case. And so I think there's that along with other concepts that I would associate more with professional coaching and the fact that the AI hasn't got that built into it, that make me think we probably need to be careful about the direction that AI takes the coaching industry. And at the moment, the stakeholders that have the biggest say in that aren't coaches as a general rule.Garry Schleifer:
That's my concern. So I think technology providers, of course, they're actively involved developing the technology, and so they've got a very loud voice. They're very actively involved in shaping it. The people that are sponsoring it, so that's the investors behind these tech startups or the organizational sponsors of coaching, that sort of choose which provider they're going to go to. And so that generates revenue, which leads to the development. And because they're asking for particular things, those are the two loudest voices. And I think coaches sometimes have a voice in those and sometimes don't. So I would really like, you know, the call that I put in my article, and I sort of say it everywhere, is I would love coaches to keep themselves educated about it. Start talking and finding out what's going on and get involved. Because if we don't do it ourselves, it's not like these tech providers are sort of calling up coaches to try to get their insight as a general rule. It's more for commercial reasons. Well, I've long believed that that fear comes from lack of knowledge and that knowledge is power and knowing more about AI for good and looking around and seeing what, what are we already using? We've given examples already of all the places it's already been at play and the biggest piece of advice that I've heard as well as what you said, learn more, but also keep your skill level up and honor the parts of coaching that can't be replaced and that's being human. Uh, empathy is a big one , um, as well. So yeah. Wow. What a just brilliant conversation about the whole thing. Okay, we've talked about AI. Are there any other technologies on the horizon we should be aware of? Please say no. Yes. Oh darn, I figured AI was enough right now.Sam Isaccson:
It's really interesting. Technology for quite a while really has just been under this broad category of it. And so there might be, you know, a database language tweak or there's a piece of hardware that makes things a little bit faster or some piece of connectivity, but it's all sort of broadly speaking the same thing. And then in the last, it's been a while now, last 10 years or so, there have been particular strands that have emerged in different directions. So one of those is wearable devices, and a particular angle on that is head devices. So, you know, Apple has released its sort of announcement that next year they'll be launching the Vision Pro, a headset that allows you to effectively enter a sort of virtual three D space in your own room where you can access everything that you would on your computer, but all you are using voice and fingers but in three D. Which is a really pleasant experience as far as all the reviews are concerned, it's extremely expensive. But Apple's products, when they do something for the first time, are extremely expensive. So I wouldn't write it off for that reason. So I expect over the next few years that immersive technology will be back on the agenda when it sort of had started last year. There's perhaps partly triggered by the way that these large language models have developed by effectively scraping data across the whole of the internet from data that's available, whether it's covered by copyright or not. There's been quite a long list of people raising their concerns about that over the last few months. What that has led to is, and it was happening anyway, but it's accelerated a little bit, it's a move towards , what I would call, dark areas of the network. I don't mean dark in terms of morally bad, I mean dark in terms of private. We had been talking about data privacy for several years, so people are already aware of the concept, but the idea of decentralized networks where the data only passes between individuals who need it, and rather than going across the whole of the internet to get there, so Google can kind of scrape it as it's going, right? Yeah, there are dark web protocols and you know, the rise of blockchain and cryptocurrencies, I think that will grow over the next couple of years. Threads, which you may have seen the news. Meta has just released this new social network as a direct replacement for Twitter really.Garry Schleifer:
Yeah, of course. Yeah. That's built on a protocol that allows for decentralizations called the Fedi-verse. It's designed in order to be used in that way. And so Meta, I think, is seeing that as a direction of travel, which is interesting 'cause they obviously are huge. Yeah, exactly. It helps them .Sam Isaccson:
Yeah. In my head as I'm kind of going down this list of, oh what are the interesting technologies? I think AI, of course, that's in the press at the moment, but wearables, immersive technology, blockchain. I'm particularly interested in brain computer interfaces. The initial piece of work was done several years ago, but people are still working on it and it's because of generative AI, it's now kind of building in its capability, a device that you have on your head to kind of read your brain signals, and then you can communicate to the internet just by thinking and be given answers just by thinking.Garry Schleifer:
That is amazing. But where I went was from the brain to devices for people that have physical challenges. Let's say they're paralyzed, it sends a signal to the device on a leg and says bend knee and bend ankle and walk, and things like that.Sam Isaccson:
Yeah. So that technology already exists. There have been people who have got that.Garry Schleifer:
Right . I was just seeing that on TV the other day. Yeah .Sam Isaccson:
They were able to move because of brain signals. But what that has moved to is a similar thing as what's happened with chatGPT, where previously you needed to know how to set up the ones and zeros so that at a particular trigger it would do this specific thing , which leads to this finger bending. Well, if all you need to do is now, as a human you just stick it on your head and you just think, I'll bend my finger and it can understand that and then do it. Suddenly sort of the barrier for entry drops exponentially. So it's when we sort of start to cross over. A wearable device combined with prosthetics and with brain computer interfaces and generative AI together. Yeah. When we are thinking of the dystopian vision of a humanoid becoming the robot coach, that's sort of how it happens.Garry Schleifer:
Yeah. Wow. Oh man. And we'll still have that word yet on top of everything,Sam Isaccson:
Absolutely. Sam, thank you so much. What would you like our audience to do as a result of this article and this conversation? You've already alluded to some things, knowledge is power. Anything else that comes to mind?Sam Isaccson:
At a personal level, I love connecting with people on this topic. And so if you're listening to this and you think, oh, I'm interested in it as well, then please connect with me. I've mentioned this coach tech collective community of coaches are sort of grappling with it. And if you'd be interested in joining that, then yeah, I'd love to share that with more people. But I do think, you know, just keep an eye on the news in terms of what's going on, not just the front pages, but look on the geeky websites to sort of see what the technologists are talking about and if there is something which is affecting the direction of travel, engaging with professional bodies and local coaches to be able to shape the future of the profession together, I think has got to be a good thing.Garry Schleifer:
Yeah. Get involved in it. Find out more, get involved. I know ICF is doing some work. They have a task force and I'm sure EMCC is probably doing something too. So if we're at the forefront of it, we have a better say in how it will present itself to the public. So, yeah. How would one find out how to get connected with the coach tech group?Sam Isaccson:
I should probably find a way to make this really easy. Actually, if you connect with me on LinkedIn, I can probably tell you. It is on my website. Yes . If you go to my website Isaacson.uk, which nobody can spell, but you'll find it eventually.Garry Schleifer:
I can spell it and I can say it.Sam Isaccson:
It's funny, you know, there's a friend of mine and her son is Isaac and she always spells my name wrong, and it is just Isaac sons anyway.Garry Schleifer:
Yeah .Sam Isaccson:
On my website.Garry Schleifer:
Son of Isaac.Sam Isaccson:
That's correct. Right . Yeah. Too funny. Isaacson.com. And if you're watching, it's right there on the screen. His name is right there. Yes. Yeah , that's right.Garry Schleifer:
Exactly. Oh, thank you so much, Sam, for not only for this Beyond the Page episode, submitting an article, and being a part of an absolutely fabulous and timely issue .Sam Isaccson:
Well , thank you for inviting me to be part of it. It's a real privilege. So thank you.Garry Schleifer:
Yeah, thank you. That's it for this episode of Beyond the Page. For more episodes, subscribe via your favorite podcast app, speaking of technology. If you're not a subscriber, you can subscribe . Sign up for your free digital issue of choice Magazine by going to choice-online .com and, and clicking the sign up now button. I'm Garry Schleifer , enjoy the journey of mastery.