Can AI Replace ‘Gut Feeling’?

Artificial Intelligence is empowering business leaders to make better, data-driven, and insightful decisions. It has undergone several evolutions since it burst into the business scene in the 1950s, to the point where several thinkers have already painted a machine that replaces human scenarios for the future. Our view on the future of work has evolved into a zero-sum game, where the result is an either-or.

In my opinion, the view that AI will play a dominant role in the workplace is a little extreme. The fundamental assumption around AI replacing human workers is that humans and machines have the same characteristic. Totally untrue!. AI-based systems may be fast, consistently accurate, and rational, but they are not intuitive, emotional or culturally sensitive. Humans possess these qualities in abundance, and it is one of the reasons why we continue to surprise the world with our advancements.

Intuition is the Mother of Innovation

If we are living comfortable lives today, it’s because some business leaders chose their gut feeling over data analytics on numerous occasions. Some historical examples have been:

1: Henry Ford, facing falling demand for his cars and high worker turnover in 1914, doubled his employees’ wages, and it paid off.

2: Bill Allen was the CEO of Boeing in the 1950s, a company that manufactured planes for the defence industry. One day, he woke up to the idea of building commercial jets for a sector that was non-existent  – civilian air travel. Allen convinced his board to risk $16 million on a new transcontinental airliner, the 707. The move transformed Boeing and air travel.

3: Travis Kalanick faced serious pushback when Uber instituted surge pricing. His move seemed to anger and alienate everyone. Travis stayed the course, and Uber modified its surge policy whenever appropriate. Now, dynamic pricing is an accepted aspect of this business and many others.

So the question is, should a competent professional trust their gut feeling or make data-driven decisions?


Top professionals have repeatedly confirmed that gut feeling is one of the main reasons for their success. Leadership often gets associated with quick responses in unprecedented situations and lateral thinking. Experienced leaders are not only fearless about their instincts but are also proficient at making others feel confident in their judgment. Also, going with our instinct can help us make decisions quickly and more accurately since we tend to make choices based on experiences, values, and compassion. Malcolm Gladwell calls this ‘thin slicing’ in his book, “Blink”. Thin-slicing is a cognitive manoeuvre that involves taking a narrow slice of data, what you see at a glance, and letting your intuition do the work for you. However, he does warn that some decisions are exempt from this rule; it only applies to areas where you already have significant expertise.

Artificial Intelligence and machine learning can support leaders to see complex patterns that can lead to new understanding in this fast-moving, digital era. The contention is that ‘human gut’ feeling can go hand in hand with AI – each supporting the other to achieve balanced outcomes.

A Joint Venture Between Head and Heart

Many see AI as an aid to human intelligence, not a replacement. To be one-step ahead in the AI era, professionals must learn to balance human and machine thinking. Organizations will have to showcase the ability to use the correct information at the right time and take action. It’s about using your instinct to take advantage of data and transforming that information into timely business decisions. AI is not yet ready to replace the human brain, but it has matured into an effective co-worker.

Will intelligent machines replace human workers sometime soon? I guess not. Both have different abilities and strengths. The more important question is: Can human intelligence combine with AI to produce something experts are calling augmented intelligence? Augmented intelligence is collaborative, and at the same time, it represents a collaborative effort in the service of the human race.

Figuring out how to blend the right mix with the best of data-driven deliberation and instinctive judgment could be one of the most significant challenges of our time.

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