Roland T. Rust is Distinguished University Professor, David Bruce Smith Chair in Marketing, and founder and Executive Director of the Center for Excellence in Service at the Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland. An award-winning writer and editor, he has edited several major journals and consulted with American Airlines, AT&T, Dupont, Eli Lilly, FedEx, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, NASA, and Sony, among many companies worldwide. Ming-Hui Huang is Distinguished Research Fellow at the Center for Excellence in Service at the Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland, and Distinguished Professor, Department of Information Management, College of Management, National Taiwan University. A leading researcher and frequent contributor to both academic and managerial journals in AI and service, she is also Editor-in-Chief Elect of the Journal of Service Research (JSR). Learn more about their new book, The Feeling Economy: How Artificial Intelligence Is Creating the Era of Empathy (Springer International Publishing; January 2021), at  

Q: Can you tell us more about the "Feeling Economy"? What is that?

The Feeling Economy is an economy in which Feeling Intelligence (e.g., empathy, emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills) is more important for human workers than Thinking Intelligence (e.g., analysis, planning, calculation, etc.).  We project that this will happen in the United States in about 15 years, but the shift is already well-underway today.

Q: Why is artificial intelligence creating a “Feeling Economy”?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is getting better and better at thinking tasks.  This drives human workers, who increasingly have trouble competing with AI in thinking. toward feeling tasks, because that is where humans will probably still have a competitive advantage over AI, for decades to come.

Q: How will jobs change in the Feeling Economy?

Think of humans and AI as being a team.  The humans will focus on the interpersonal aspects, and AI will focus on thinking.  The human jobs will be more feeling-oriented, and require more emotional intelligence and empathy.  Think about management and customer-facing jobs as the places where human jobs will thrive.

Q: You say that the Feeling Economy will be a time of unprecedented power and influence for women. Why?

Although intra-gender differences are large, on average women tend to exhibit more emotional intelligence and empathy than men do.  This should result in a trend toward more women in powerful positions.  In fact, the countries that are most women-friendly have several times the GDP of the average country.

Q: Is there evidence in recent political elections that empathy is now key, and rationality is becoming less important?

Many commentators have remarked that we seem to have entered an era in which truth counts less, and "alternative facts" can be presented as true.  For example, Donald Trump did not win the 2016 Presidential election because he was smarter or more experienced than Hillary Clinton.  He won because he recognized the pain of the people left behind by the Thinking Economy.  Then, ironically, he lost in 2020, because he showed himself to be less empathetic about the Covid-19 pandemic than Joe Biden was.  Connecting emotionally seems now to matter more than rationality.  In fact, studies show that negative emotional reaction is what drives social media, suggesting that emotionally-negative content (name-calling, etc.) can work.

Q: Can AI be creative?

Roland bought Ming-Hui an AI-generated painting for her birthday.  The painting is not so great, but nobody can say that it wasn't created by AI.  Even more common is creativity that results from human-AI collaboration.  For example, much popular music today is computerized, sometimes with only the vocalist participating in a fully human way.  The most creative people will be those who can make the best use of AI in their creativity.

Q: Will AI ever get to the point where it is smarter than people in all ways?

Sadly, we believe that this point (which Ray Kurzweil refers to as the "singularity") is inevitable.  Kurzweil suggests that we humans will need to become cyborgs--part human, part machine.  Ultimately, though, the AI part may have little use for the human part, once AI can dominate human intelligence in all ways.

Q: What is necessary to produce AI that has feeling intelligence?

For AI to have feeling intelligence, it must pass the "Turing test."  That is, humans must be able to not tell the difference between AI feeling intelligence and human feeling intelligence.  Passing the Turing test requires accurately perceiving human emotions, and then responding in an emotionally-appropriate way.  There is active research in both areas.  For example, facial recognition AI is rapidly advancing, and can often tell at a glance what someone's emotional state is.