It seems like artificial intelligence (AI) has been hyped by every news outlet on the planet recently. We may look back at 2023 as the year AI received as much press as when the internet forced its way into the public consciousness as a transformational global communications and information network.

Looking back though, not everyone believed the internet would change the world to the degree it has. In 1995, a Newsweek piece by digital forensics pioneer Clifford Stoll opined, “The truth is no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.” You can read the entire article here for a good laugh.

While AI has already exhibited tremendous potential, it’s apparent there is still a way to go. When recently asked how to solve the problem of rising healthcare and pharmaceutical costs, ChatGPT responded right out of the figurative Benefits Manager Playbook:

  • Promote preventive care.
  • Implement wellness programs.
  • Negotiate with healthcare providers and insurers.
  • Promote generic and cost-effective medications.
  • Explore employee wellness incentives.
  • Offer telemedicine options.
  • Analyze healthcare utilization data.
  • Provide employee education.
  • Consider self-insurance or alternative healthcare models.
  • Advocate for healthcare policy reforms.

It seems like ChatGPT developed its advice based on the presentations at the latest HR conference in Las Vegas or wherever. While Stoll’s crystal ball seemed to underestimate the paradigm-shifting power of the internet (he also asserted that instant shopping would never overtake local mall shopping), his thoughts on the continued need for human influence still ring true.

With some (potentially lifesaving) medications costing employers well over $1,000,000, do we really want an artificial intelligence tool determining who should and should not receive them in the future? Will AI be able to break from the status quo and craft innovative and effective solutions to the major challenges facing employers and employees? Or will it simply parrot back a compendium of popular approaches found on the internet?

Without making any bold claims or sharing hot takes that might prove embarrassing in 30 years, it seems prudent to say that many things we believe artificial intelligence will be able to do, likely won’t come to pass anytime soon. And conversely, solutions may emerge to many problems we once considered unsolvable.

Because, as ChatGPT reiterated in response to many of the prompts, “This is a complex healthcare system with many ethical and financial questions that do not have a definitive answer.” So, for the next several years — maybe decades — it is still up to us and our own ingenuity to positively impact this complex system for the benefit of our plan members and employer.