Q. I, Human is an interesting title for a book on artificial intelligence (AI). What’s the implication here?
It is a playful reference to I, Robot, the seminal masterpiece by Isaac Asimov. On a more serious note, the intend was to highlight the distinctive possibility that the AI age could also be the human age: The title makes reference to what I saw as the often forgotten part of this technological revolution, namely humans. AI is a human invention, a tool invented by humans for humans in order to enhance our adaptability and improve our relationship with the world. In essence, the book deals with the human-AI interface, but from a human perspective and for a human audience, though I am aware that it has already been read and quoted by AI (for example, the book Reid Hoffman co-wrote with chatGPT, references it).
Q. Why do you think the concern has to be not about AI automating humans but degenerating humanity?
Automation is generally an exception: AI eliminates a few jobs but creates many more, new and exciting jobs. And when it automates tasks within jobs, it makes current jobs more interesting: For instance, an Uber driver doesn’t need to memorise locations or routes, or study a map, focusing instead on serving customers. Likewise, recruiters don’t have to waste time scanning CVs or cover letters, or rewording job ads, focusing instead on client and candidate relations. In general, automation is not the problem. The problem is when gains in productivity and efficiency are not leveraged for creative or fulfilling tasks, but instead wasted on social media. If all we care about is efficiency and speed, then the risk is that we become more mindless, boring, and uninteresting as a species. The opportunity here is to cultivate the freedom we get to become a better version of ourselves. And that is on us not on AI.
Q. Relentless flow of data is turning the world into a more prejudiced place. Can AI help in taming bias?
It could! In fact, AI may be the tool that helps us, biased humans, debias systems and organisations. Note that AI is often blamed for introducing biases in human society, which is fake news. In fact, humans are biased by design, and we have done a brilliant job refining and perfecting our biases for millennia, without the help of AI or any other technology. Even when famous AI experiments backfire, like companies training chatbots to select leaders, only to have them recommend a surplus of middle-aged white men, the bias is not in the AI, but in the organisation: Which is why, if you don’t use AI, those people still get promoted.
We could retrain all recommendation algorithms to give us not what we want but what we need: Spotify, Netflix, Tinder, Amazon, Twitter, etc… to help us become more open minded (think of it as open-minded AI). However, it would lead to a mass exodus away from those services and platforms, and onto some that lubricate our delusions and reinforce our filter bubbles and echo chambers. People are not just aware of their biases, they love them. Which is why there is so much resistance against AI, especially when it highlights our biases to the world.
Also read: What should leaders make of the latest AI?
Q. “Life has been downgraded to an occasional psychological interruption… from our nearly perpetual state of digital focus.” Please elaborate.
Sixty-five to 80 percent of smartphone use occurs during working hours; 70 percent of workers report to being distracted; multitasking and switching between tasks and screens deducts the equivalent of 10 IQ points from our performance (as debilitating as smoking weed, and presumably less pleasurable). In short, our clients, bosses, colleagues, employees, spouses, kids and pets are all competing for our attention and AI is winning!
Q. How has technology impinged upon the virtue of patience?
We optimise for speed because it creates the illusion of efficiency and productivity, while reducing the need to think. Patience requires self-control, mindfulness, and relaxation, all of which are rarely exercised, and when we are constantly running as fast as we can in no clear direction; it is unsettling to pause and reflect. The average adult in the world will spend 20 years online and 7 years on social media, refreshing their apps and platforms 50 times per hour, then you can add email, messages, WhatsApp, etc. Technophobia is an unfeasible antidote, but we should work on our patience to go back to thinking slow, reflecting, and prioritising.
Q. What does human intelligence need to do differently in the age of AI?
We need to use it! It doesn’t need to change or improve, but we must not forget that it is not just there, but our most important adaptational tool. It is, in fact, one of the key tools we used to create AI. And even if AI wins the IQ battle, we must remember there is more to human intelligence than IQ: Emotional intelligence, creativity, curiosity, etc.
Q. Are we becoming digital narcissists and egomaniacs? What can help us?
Yes, largely due to AI. The algorithms that fuel the social media platforms incentivise us to self-promote, show off, and engage in antisocial behaviours. In the real world, if you go around the office telling everybody how great you are, interrupting people, bragging, mansplaining, and telling everybody what your cat had for breakfast, all while desperately seeking approval, validation, and applause, you would be deemed quite obnoxious. But in the digital world, AI will turn you into an influencer. What we can do to mitigate this is to stop rewarding egomaniacs and narcissists online (as we do offline).
Q. How can we avoid becoming a product of the technologies we build?
This is a very clever and difficult question. I’d like to rephrase it a bit, namely: How can we benefit from being a product in the many businesses that rely on technology to exist. This is because there are many advantages, say, in having technology market and sell us to recruiters, brands, media and content producers, in the sense that we can do many things for free and improve many inefficient experiences with the world, including products and other people. Of course, we must not forget that even if we are technically a “product” within those business models, we are also still human. And living our lives with some joy, passion, ethics, and displaying the humane qualities that make us such a fascinating and impactful species, is what justifies the very short time we spend, almost as a cosmic accident of destiny, on this beautiful planet, which also needs protecting.
Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is the chief innovation officer at Manpower Group and professor of business psychology at Columbia University and University College, London. I, Human: AI, Automation, and the Quest to Reclaim What Makes Us Unique is his twelfth book.