AI & The Rise of the Machines – Time to plan for a quintessentially human future?

originally published on linkedin August 20, 2019

There is so much talk about artificial intelligence and machine learning at the moment, that it is hard to avoid writing something about it. If you dive into the landscape of commentary surrounding the topic you quickly realise that there are far fewer clear answers about the future impact of these technologies on people, jobs and businesses, than there are big ideas about the possibilities they will provide or apocalypses they may create.

This is just a pattern…which I am sure AI will soon also identify and hopefully tell us all to calm down.

When we discover something new and consequential, and we start to tinker around with it, we may think, “this is massive!” And because we realize we have something big, we either get excited and optimistic, or anxious and afraid. When there are many of us, we get both.

I’ll bet the answer will be somewhere in the middle.

The middle, for me, can be encapsulated in the following three predictions:

  1. These technologies will enhance our creative and collaborative opportunities.
  2. People, and therefore society, will have to endure some unpleasant change and adapt as certain roles and organisations lose their importance.
  3. Far from being replaced, the impact of humans will become even more obvious and enhanced.

I’ll justify all three of these predictions in more detail in a minute, but for now I present you with a question, one AI will no doubt already know the answer to…

Can you name a technological revolution in history that hasn’t satisfied all three of these predictions?

  1. These technologies will dramatically enhance our creative and collaborative opportunities.

Simply put, AI and machine learning technologies are advanced pattern recognition engines that improve as they go. What this means is that they will be incredibly good, in comparison to humans, at performing many routine tasks. They will even discover things we didn’t even know were routine i.e. patterns not previously envisaged.

This will not be good for certain jobs that have high degrees of routine mental functions, but it will be amazing for creative endeavors.

Creativity is really all about the volume of options we generate, and the ability to blend existing concepts together in new and useful ways. Technology that can reliably and quickly distill new patterns will give us more conceptual fuel for our creative fires.

That’s awesome! We get to pick from vastly more ideas and mashups to create cool stuff we want or need…what’s not to like about that?

These technologies will also increase our collaborative opportunities for two reasons. The more routine functions that can be performed by technology, the more opportunities we have to explore or curious, creative and interactive sides. Secondly, AI’s progress and trajectory in the areas of speech recognition, text to speech, speech to text, and translation look set make existing modes of digital communication significantly more accessible.

We will be able to collaborate with more people, in more places, over more channels, more often.

2. People, and therefore society, will have to endure some unpleasant change and adapt as certain roles and organisations lose their importance.

Make no mistake, lot’s of jobs are under serious threat. If your job involves high degrees of routine mental processing or diagnosis, you need to pivot or elevate very soon. Finance professionals, general practitioners, paralegals…heads up!

But very few jobs are completely routine, so what does it mean? It means that the number of people working in these fields will drop, and that the remodeled jobs in these fields will involve higher degrees of creativity or collaboration i.e. the bits of work AI lubricate well, not do on its own.

Take a good look at what you do, or what your business does. If you feel significant parts of your job/service are routine and that if systems were better integrated these tasks could be automated, it’s time to focus more on the creative, innovative and collaborative parts of your work…or if this isn’t possible, its time to move on….

But to where?

3. Far from being replaced, the impact of humans will become even more obvious and enhanced.

These technologies are set to be incredibly good at pattern recognition, to the extent that they may develop the potential to mimic human behavior, almost imperceptibly, in certain situations.

But the idea that being incredibly good at copying something, even emotional reactions, and knowing exactly which context to mimic that observed action in, is somehow the same as the intrinsic motivation humans experience to take action from a place of curiosity, love, joy, fear, or some other emotional state, is naive in the extreme.

Believing in this displays deep lack of understanding of the self and what it means to be human, and reduces us to drones, devoid of motivation, that respond to external stimuli in a particular set of predictable patterns.

That’s implausible, and to me…self-evident.

The alternative may be that these amazing stimulus-response machines one day leap across the chasm of consciousness and become self-motivated. But to believe that this will happen, in the complete absence of any intelligent theory as to how it might, or even any scientific or anecdotal evidence that may suggest it, is simply a giant leap of faith rather than a risk we need to mitigate.

This doesn’t mean we don’t need to plan for the future. We do, we just need to plan for a quintessentially human future. It’s hard to be specific about what that means, but I do know that increasingly I am focusing on elements of my work and investment life that are expressive, creative and connective.

But if you are thinking of retraining, or advising a kid on what career path to follow, one quintessentially human problem, evidenced by the alarming rise in “deaths of despair” in westernized societies, and one only real humans will be able to address, is poor mental and emotional health.

I don’t think its a stretch to assume that the rock-stars of the future will be those of us that make cool things, inspire others, or help people find happiness.

Create, teach, help…do two out of three to secure your future 😉

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