To Achieve a Harmonious AI Future, Start with a Human-Centered Approach





This article was written by Monica Belmaña, Director, Center for Human Understanding at Material.


Scientists and philosophers have been fascinated by the concept of AI for centuries, from the earliest examples of automata and mechanical devices designed to mimic human intelligence. In recent years, AI has transcended theory to become an indispensable part of our daily lives, from sophisticated virtual assistants to personalized healthcare, finance, transportation and entertainment experiences.

With this transformative and accelerating rise, it is increasingly evident that achieving harmony between humans and AI presents significant challenges. Consider the challenge of “algorithmic bias,” where AI learns to replicate biases that reinforce social inequalities, or the human tendency to place trust in AI outputs without fully understanding their underlying processes or reliability, risking the spread of misinformation.
These challenges arise in part because AI and human decision-making processes take place in fundamentally distinct systems: the complicated and the complex. While AI operates on complicated algorithms and large language models, human complexity is the result of the infinite emotional, historical, rational and irrational factors that inform our choices and actions. As the technology continues to advance, understanding the intersection between these two powerful dynamics – the productivity of complicated algorithms and the complexity of human behavior – will be vital in making human-centric choices about where it can be most successfully integrated into business, culture and other aspects of our daily lives.
In business, for example, achieving harmony between AI and human efficacy has enormous potential to streamline operations and strengthen customer relationships. Getting it wrong, however, can erode trust and damage long-term brand health, at a minimum. Other more disastrous consequences have been the subject of wide ranging and sometimes hyperbolic speculation over the past year.
To explore the opportunity ahead for customer-centric companies, let’s examine AI’s recent surge, the complexities of the human-AI relationship and the Material Center for Human Understanding’s approach to ethical, balanced AI integration.


AI’s Transformative Surge

The field of AI has seen significant advancements and technological breakthroughs in the past 18 months, fueled by improved algorithms, computational power and data availability. Deep learning, a brain-inspired form of machine learning, is changing the way computers understand images, language and speech, allowing AI systems to recognize complex patterns from vast amounts of data. This has led to stunning breakthroughs in the ways computers “see” images, comprehend human language, perform tasks and solve problems.
In the business landscape, AI is revolutionizing how brands interact with customers across the entire consumer ecosystem.  For instance,
  • Customer service: AI can further automate routine customer service tasks, freeing up human representatives to focus on more personalized and nuanced services that are not well supported by automation.
  • Sales: AI is being used to help generate leads, qualify prospects and close deals, improving the bottom line.
  • Marketing: AI tools can help marketers target campaigns, create personalized content and measure the effectiveness of efforts in real time.
  • Operations: AI can streamline complicated tasks such as scheduling and inventory management. This can help businesses to improve efficiency and reduce costs.
  • Fraud: AI has unprecedented capability to recognize patterns and abnormalities, making it a powerful tool in fraud detection and security. This will save billions of dollars lost to fraudulent activity and identity theft.
  • Research and development: For product developers, AI tools can assist and accelerate research and development efforts. Improvements in existing products and services, identification of new market opportunities and speed to market all drive relevance and growth for companies.
More broadly, AI’s role in our personal lives continues to expand. Tasks that once required significant human effort can now be accomplished more efficiently with the assistance of AI, from machine learning-powered search engines to advanced chatbots. With simple, user-friendly interfaces, the latest AI-powered consumer tools make complicated back-end processes more accessible and intuitive. This ease of use has made it possible for people to benefit from AI without technical expertise, removing barriers for broad adoption and utilization.


Achieving a Symbiotic Relationship with AI

However, as AI continues to advance and enter new realms of business and culture, one vital question looms:
How can we ensure that the future of AI is equitable, useful and harmonious with human life?
AI’s future will depend on how humans steer its development. Symbiosis, a concept derived from biology, describes the close, mutually-beneficial relationship between two or more species. For example, clownfish and sea anemones form a mutualistic symbiotic relationship, with the clownfish receiving protection and food from the anemones while providing nutrients, defense and improved water circulation in return.
Extended beyond biology, symbiosis has also been used to describe relationships between humans and technologies. In the context of artificial intelligence, symbiosis refers to the collaborative and interdependent relationship between humans and AI systems, where both sides contribute to, and benefit from, the association. This concept recognizes the mutual influence and feedback loops between humans and AI that shape the evolution of intelligent technologies in society.
However, it’s important to acknowledge that the way human users interact with AI is heavily influenced by the AI systems themselves, which are designed with specific objectives and functionalities. These objectives may not always align directly with our genuine human wants, needs or even well-being. Even so, we may find ourselves unconsciously conforming to the path set by technology simply because it offers convenience or appears easier to follow. This phenomenon can be attributed to various human behavioral factors, including the allure of instant gratification and the tendency to prioritize convenience over critical evaluation.
Human beings are complex, possessing intricate cognitive, emotional and moral dimensions that significantly impact our behavior. Factors such as cultural backgrounds, personal beliefs, inherent biases and subjective preferences all come into play. However, machine learning technology, a key component of AI systems, lacks the ability to adequately recognize or comprehend the nuances of human complexity. It operates based on complicated patterns, statistical analyses, and optimization algorithms without a true understanding of the underlying human context.
This creates a potential divergence between the objectives of AI systems and those of individuals, threatening the harmonious “symbiotic” state. While AI algorithms aim to optimize outcomes based on predefined metrics, they risk inadvertently disregarding or overlooking the subtleties of human desires and values. Without explicit guidance and interventions from human stakeholders, AI systems have significant potential to neglect essential aspects of human well-being, ethics and social dynamics.
For instance, algorithmic content recommendation systems are designed to maximize user engagement and retention. While this approach intends to enhance and personalize user experiences, it is also known to contribute to a feedback loop that reinforces existing human preferences or biases, and limits exposure to diverse viewpoints or novel perspectives. Users may find themselves caught in an echo chamber, constantly exposed to content that aligns with their pre-existing beliefs or interests, hindering their intellectual growth, preventing them from exploring alternative perspectives, limiting their ability to participate in broader communities and promoting isolation.


Human Responsibility

Recognizing and addressing the threats to symbiosis is crucial for establishing a more equitable and consistently beneficial human-AI relationship. We have a responsibility to critically examine the design and implementation of AI systems – from technologists developing large language models to marketers leveraging AI-powered targeting in their campaigns. This must involve a multidisciplinary approach that integrates not only technical considerations but also ethical, social and cultural dimensions. Human oversight, transparency in AI design and ongoing monitoring are essential to ensure AI systems uphold complex human values – enabling a healthy, harmonious and symbiotic relationship that addresses our genuine wants, needs and intentions.
This orientation can also help shape ethical frameworks and guidelines to ensure AI technologies are developed and deployed responsibly. As business exploits AI, it is crucial to maintain an ongoing dialogue between technologists, ethicists, policymakers and the wider public to address emerging challenges and avoid the exploitation of humans. A collaborative approach will enable us to strike a balance between the potential benefits of AI and the risks it poses, ultimately helping us to harness AI’s transformative power while mitigating unintended consequences.


Material’s Human-Centric Approach to Enhanced Experiences

At Material’s Center for Human Understanding, our approach to AI development is built on a foundation of empathy and respect for human nature and all its complexities. Businesses that embrace human-centricity will avoid exploiting human vulnerabilities, and instead create AI solutions that empower users, respond to their needs and enhance their experiences.
Similarly, the Center for Human Understanding emphasizes the value of striking a balance between AI-powered automation and genuine human interaction. In a world where AI is becoming increasingly prevalent, this balance is essential to prevent the erosion of human connections and maintain trust between businesses and their customers. By ensuring that AI systems complement and augment human capabilities, companies can create a synergy that optimizes the benefits of technology while preserving the essence of the human touch. For instance,
  • Telemedicine combines medical expertise with technological advancements to provide remote healthcare services. In this context, technology acts as an enabler, allowing healthcare providers to reach a broader patient base while reducing travel time and costs for patients. However, the human interaction remains essential. Healthcare professionals can establish a personal connection with patients, offer empathetic support, layer pattern recognition with critical perception and discernment in diagnosis and treatment, and provide individualized care, even through virtual interactions.
  • In customer service, chatbots and automated systems can handle routine customer inquiries efficiently and provide quick responses. However, when complex or personalized assistance is required, these systems can seamlessly transfer users to human representatives – enabling the person-to-person conversations that can be necessary to resolve nuanced issues.
  • Personalized content recommendation algorithms are powerful tools for filtering and analyzing vast amounts of data to identify relevant content based on individual interests. However, human curators, editors or experts – with their subjective judgement and understanding of real-world culture – play a crucial role in refining and validating algorithmic recommendations.
In addition to fostering human-centric AI development, the Center for Human Understanding supports companies in establishing ethical frameworks and guidelines for the responsible deployment of AI solutions. This includes addressing potential biases, promoting transparency, ensuring data privacy and prioritizing user agency. By advocating for ethical AI practices, the Center for Human Understanding helps businesses navigate the challenges of integrating AI into various aspects of their customers’ lives.



With AI dominating the headlines and showing massive potential to improve productivity, it’s no surprise that businesses are rushing to incorporate its capabilities into their customer service, sales and other functions. Ultimately, the most successful AI integrations will be those that seek to achieve and sustain symbiosis and harmony with infinitely complex human users – accounting for the intricacies of human behavior, emotions and decision-making processes. With this outcome as our ultimate goal, we can avoid key pitfalls while fostering an inclusive, ethical and human-centric future for this dynamic technology.


Reach out to learn how Material’s capabilities in behavioral science and deep human understanding can unlock insights to inform your organization’s AI integration strategy.