Blog: To be human in the age of intelligent machines, remember More’s Law
Remember More’s Law. That’s not a typo. Yes, we’re all familiar with Moore’s Law, the rule of thumb credited to Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, which says that advances in microelectronics will double the computing power of microchips every 18 months. Thanks to Moore’s law, we have experienced a sweeping digital revolution over the past 30 years and we are now on the verge of something even bigger — when ordinary computers take on many tasks that used to require a human, such as recognizing patterns, analyzing data, drawing inferences, and learning.
This is where More’s law — Sir Thomas More’s law — becomes important. More was a 16th-century social philosopher, whose seminal work Utopia describes how an ideal imaginary state would work. The central message — More’s Law — is that we can shape the future. Indeed, More said we have a moral obligation to fix the future. This was a radical — and hopeful — counter-argument to the theory of predestination, a core tenet of the Reformation that was then disrupting European societies.
Five centuries later, intelligent technologies made possible by Gordon Moore’s law are disrupting how businesses operate, how people work, and the everyday lives of citizens. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, the internet of things, and other intelligent technologies are taking on all sorts of tasks that we thought would always require human intelligence. From robots that can work in a fast-food kitchen to AI systems that can diagnose disease, few jobs will be untouched.
This raises the profound question: when intelligence is no longer ours alone, what is it that makes us human? More would say that it is precisely our ability to shape the future that separates us from other species and even the most intelligent machines. And, today, this essential human capability is critically important. As business leaders, elected officials, citizens, and members of society, we are challenged to shape a future in which intelligent machines will be an increasing presence in our lives. How much judgment and decision-making will we cede to the machines? How will our work and leisure change? Will there be work for everyone?
As we ponder these questions, many of us feel disempowered — mere bystanders who have only a limited understanding of the ways in which intelligent technologies will change our world. So, the first challenge is to re-establish our sense of agency. This is the biggest challenge of all. How can we keep up with technology and make it serve our needs, rather than accept the inevitability of whatever Silicon Valley dreams up? Can we fix a future that we can barely comprehend?
Our answer is yes. We can imagine — and create — a future in which intelligent machines empower individuals and give them more agency. Intelligent machines can be used to augment human capabilities, deepen our empathy, and enrich our experiences.
This is not what technology has consistently produced in the recent past. Nor is it our current trajectory into the future. We were promised that social media and other online platforms would bring us together and provide new opportunities. If anything, they’ve driven us apart and made us complicit in a new “surveillance capitalism” that undermines our agency. We use digital platforms for free, but our individualism, our privacy, and our control over our world is compromised. Meanwhile, we have sacrificed civil conversation and exposed ourselves to fake news. And a future is rushing at us in which AI will change the nature of work. That puts much of how we define our labor and ourselves at stake.
Reversing the unwelcome effects of digitization and creating a future where technology amplifies our humanity is going to take moral leadership — in business, in government, and other institutions of our society. There is some good news: Despite the fears of a robot apocalypse, in which intelligent machines devour jobs, reinventing work for the age of AI may not be all about eliminating jobs.
A consensus is emerging that intelligent technologies should be used to augment human capabilities and free up humans to do higher-value work, rather than simply replace workers. Indeed, when intelligent machines take on the routine, repetitive tasks — and every business has access to roughly the same technology — companies will stand out by doing better at teaming humans and machines and tapping the uniquely human skills that are needed for creative problem-solving, innovation, and collaboration. These are the activities that help companies develop competitive products, services, and customer experiences. They are also ways for people to combine their skills and passions to find greater satisfaction in their work.
Of course, this benign view of the future of work will not just happen. Companies will need moral leaders, who are willing to make long-range bets. It will take investments in people: employees who have spent their lives doing what they’re told will need training to unlock their creativity and learn how to work in agile teams.
The greater challenge will be developing the moral leadership that is needed to seize control of the future and build a future society on human values. Facing a backlash over privacy, fake news, and other issues, tech companies are acknowledging the problems. But thoughtful regulation is also needed to make sure that consumers and citizens take back agency online. To promote equality, fairness, and a better quality of life in the era of intelligent machines, we need moral leadership in government — politicians with a strong vision of a more humane future and the ability to act. In the United States, we see much more reason to hope this can happen in city and state governments than in the federal government.
But we also see hope in the grassroots movements that have sprung up over issues such as gun safety. They remind us that we can organize around what makes us human and elevated: our ability to maintain hope, our ability to be compassionate, and caring, etc. These are the best tools we have for fixing the future — and carrying out More’s Law and fully leveraging the full benefits of Moore’s Law.
Dov Seidman is CEO and Founder of LRN Corp. and author of “How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything.” Andrew Keen is an entrepreneur and author of “How to Fix the Future,” published in 2018 by Atlantic Monthly Press.