ISTM #11: An AI Coach in Your Pocket

I met in San Francisco last week with the three founders of PocketConfidant, a promising AI startup based in San Francisco and Nice. Two of them are executive coaches and the third is a computational neuroscientist and IT professional who have developed software to augment the services that coaches perform increasingly for business leaders and students all over the world. They are the first company I’ve actually interviewed for Augmenting People, Why AI Should Back Us Up, Not Push Us Out, my new book scheduled for release next year.

The company, formed earlier this year, is a Business Solution Partner of the International Coaching Federation (ICF), a self-regulating global organization that awards credentials only to those that it says meet rigorous education and practice requirements. Executive coaching is taught at an increasing number of elite institutions such as Harvard and Yale. ICF has about 55,000 members and is growing at a modest pace, while the demand for them is growing much more rapidly. For me, there is some irony to be covering an area that sees job growth, since most research for my new book finds me looking at appalling predictions of vocational reductions.

The growth is coming in two areas:

*Early-phase companies where scaling is suddenly rapid, and young entrepreneurs find their jobs moving from product development to managing staff and adapting to systematic management; and

*Global Enterprises where coaches are a function of HR, who uses it to fast-track junior employees who demonstrate leadership potential but lack experience.

Coaches are different from mentors in that they never suggest anything: they simply ask questions in the classic Socratic method. Clients use critical thinking to find answers within themselves. (In fact, one of the very first AI end-user applications, Symantec QA, was based on the Socratic method when it was introduced back in 1985.)

In the US, at least the number of certified coaches is growing more slowly than the demand, according to, the pressure on coaches is to be available to more people and have more time than is possible.

In that co-founders, Olivier Malafronte, Nikita Lukianets and Isla Reddin saw an opportunity. They formed PocketConfidant and have created an AI-powered mobile app that automates the question-asking process, so that clients can be helped wherever they are or whenever their coaches are unavailable.

This is a clear case of AI software that augments human expertise rather than replaces it. This is how it should be where real people, containing human wisdom and understanding of subtle nuances, sarcasm and irony remain in the loop where they belong.

That being said, it is no secret that this type of revolutionary software has to pass a rigorous testing process before it can be introduced to the wider world. Accordingly, put simply, testing this software ensures that it is safe and that it can be used in line with compliance standards such as IEC 61508 throughout the industry. Moreover, if you would like to learn more about the benefits of software testing, then you can find plenty of useful resources on the Parasoft website where you can also discover the best tests to use for AI software specifically.

This is a great example for me, and one that is harder to find than the projects coming out of the behemoth companies like Google, Microsoft and Amazon. I hope to find many more. My thanks to Des Walsh, a certified executive coach in Brisbane, Australia, who connected me with the PocketConfidant folks.

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