Blog: On AI and coping with change
The fears around AI are not new. They have been with us since the dawn of tool usage. If we take a step back and look at only the last 200 some years, you will find that terms we are using today are sometimes the result of us coming to grips with tool based change to our reality. Sabotage is a word the industrial revolution gave us. Tech detox is something that entered our vocabulary as smartphones become the extension of your inbox and your social media life. This hasn’t changed that mechanical machinery is now one of the foundations of our economy, or that you are probably reading this sentence on a cell phone and not in print form. A thing we should take away from this is that there are ways we developed to help us get past the fear of the unknown impact on our lives.
What sets AI apart from other tools is the perceived potential of it to perform tasks we though required a human mind. There are plenty of predictions of what may happen from the serious-minded Yuval Noah Harari’s 21 lessons for the 21st century to the more light-hearted webcomics of SMBC and xkcd. My take on this is that AI will enhance/worse our lives, stress us or relax us, it’s up to how we decide to use it every day. Yes, every day. Again let’s take a step back and look at an example of how we have integrated disruptive technology into our lives.
email & calendar vs personal assistants
In the olden days, when our parents were youngish, people in senior functions had personal assistants. These personal assistants would take, type up and mail correspondences and organise the day of the person they supported. Depending on your outlook you may find this amusing, a remnant of better days. The reality is that these functions are now often performed by the once supported people themselves. What was the effect of this? It resulted in an increase in technical competences in all cases, but more often than not required that a person determined how much of their work time they have to dedicate to a task previously performed by somebody else for them. There are of course examples where this has enriched peoples lives or stressed then to the point where they need help managing the daily work. It also created an entire support economy. Doodle, google docs, MS Office, etc are tools which are now part of a lot of our daily lives as are approaches such as Inbox Zero, Getting Things Done, and Bullet Journals.
So what about AI?
Think of AI not as something that will replace you, but as something that will support, or if you let it interfere, with how you do things. Or rather like to do things. Like all technology, there is an element of choice and social/process obligation backed into it. Try to suddenly not use email for a week and see what the effects are your relationship with your co-workers and hierarchy. Try the same experiment outside of work and people may congratulate you for staying focused on “real” life.
My impression of AI is that it will evolve like iPhone Apps. In the early days, there are/will be a lot of nonsensical and comical things to look at (orange sheep classified as something else, etc) and examples of how immature the technology still is (eg image recognition equating people with apes). But as the technology matures I think we will be confronted with a question we can all start to think about now.
Which tasks are you comfortable handing off?
Drafting my daily work schedule, definitively. Reading my kids their night time story, definitively not. Helping me write better text, probably. Direct correspondence with friends and family, probably not.
This won’t change how this technology will enter your life, but it may help make it clearer what you consider enhancing your live and what takes away from it. By doing this you are on your way to determining how you can make AI support you vs run/ruin your day.
With this, I’d like to wish you a great day and hope that you will leave me a comment below (or on twitter).