Five years ago, my colleagues and I discussed the merits and possibilities of digital and AI-based coaching. I had just completed an intensive coaching course and was fired up about how transformative it would be if all employees could have access to a coach, and AI-based coaching had the promise to do that — because, otherwise, coaching is expensive and time-intensive. No wonder it’s usually reserved for high potentials, exec leaders, or as a performance improvement intervention.

Cut to this week: CoachHub launched AIMY, an AI-based coach. It’s just for research purposes right now, but it signals a major step in the democratization of coaching (great!) and the AI infiltration of the people professions (uh-oh … ?).

In theory, AI could easily offer a basic coaching session, because, indeed, the parameters of a coaching conversation seem very straightforward: Ask a person what their goal is for the conversation, how they’ll know if they’ve achieved that goal, why it’s important, and what’s been standing in their way. Even getting a person to clarify those answers for themselves is valuable, so I can see generative AI handling a basic coaching intervention handily, even handling script-based techniques, such as leading a meditation exercise or writing out SMART goals.

But often the reason why people hire coaches is because they get stuck somewhere. Maybe it’s a recurring inner critic saying “You’re not good enough” every time you want to try something new. Or maybe it’s a belief about the world like “People like me can’t succeed at this” or “It didn’t work out with the last one, so it won’t work now.” A human coach helps a person release the shackles of those blocks and develop a new mindset. Can AI do that? Not yet, and how long until it can, nobody can say.

But still, I’m excited to see where digital coaching technology, especially powered by AI, can get us in both the short and long run. Because any tool that helps us be better humans, better versions of ourselves, is great.

This is on my mind because I’m writing a series of new reports on coaching in the workplace, how organizations deploy coaching, what untrained managers get wrong about coaching, how AI could help democratize coaching, and, ultimately, the results that improved mindsets can bring to an organization. Follow me for updates, and let me know if you’d like to chat. I’m especially on the lookout for examples of individuals and companies who have learned something useful from their attempts to integrate coaching into their organization’s approach to talent, so don’t be shy.