Being Human in a Post-Human World – Info News
Amid the sweeping technological transformations of the last decades, described as the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, the hype around artificial intelligence (AI) has reached new heights. Whilst some see tremendous opportunity ahead, others, such as Stephen Hawkins, Bill Gates, Peter Thiel, and Elon Musk warn about a future in which AI will gain the upper hand, plunging humanity into a hopeless competition against machines. Unsurprisingly, the narrative about technology causing universal joblessness – John Maynard Keynes called it technological unemployment – has emerged yet again. Yuval Noah Harari, historian and author of “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow”, even foresees a new “useless class”, consisting of “people who are not just unemployed, but unemployable”.
Meanwhile, some look for the silver lining: Throughout history, tectonic technological advances unilaterally showed that human society is astonishingly adept to adapt. When raw muscle power was replaced by oxen, donkeys and horses, our dexterity gained importance. After the invention of advanced production machines, our intellectual abilities kept us relevant. In general, old jobs were replaced by new jobs. Is universal joblessness therefore nothing more than a figment?
As AI increasingly marginalises our intellect, Harari, and many others, believe that this time might be different. They paint a chilling picture of workplaces characterised by a ruthless competition between humans and machines. I believe this narrative is flawed, as it presumes that human cognition continues to be measured by the same cognitive dimensions as machines, in turn affecting how we design our jobs and workplaces.
Hence, this article calls for a different narrative on an AI-driven future of work. In what follows, I argue that we need to step back and recognise the potential of our innate and unique human abilities as social and emotional beings. I want to show that this will allow us to rethink our relationship with machines and our jobs towards a future in which humans excel in a collaborative, symbiotic relationship with intelligent machines that do not replace but complementand amplifyour abilities, and vice-versa. This in turn will not only make us economically indispensable but also fill our jobs with purpose, so that we will treat work no longer as a means to an end, but as an end in itself. I believe that this new narrative is pivotal for realising long-term opportunities of AI for the benefit of individuals, organisations, and our species.
A Bicycle for Our Mind: Rethinking Our Relationship with Machines
In the wake of the rising impact of AI on our jobs, many predict that the same trajectory towards a jobless future will continue. Even though primarily physical and lower-paying jobs in structured and predictable environments are threatened by AI and automation (about half of total United States employment), more jobs will inevitably follow.
This projection, however, presumes that humans and machines (i.e. computers) will continue to compete on the same cognitive dimensions as they have done so far: rational, process-intensive, rule-based thinking. It further assumes that we are creatures who calculate the world through a rational mindset, a paradigm that has been reinforced by modern economists. We established the rational mind as “the golden calf” that our culture “worships” and proclaimed it as one of the great achievements of Western civilisation. “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift”, recognised Albert Einstein. Thus, in a quest to empower human cognitive abilities, we invented machines to extend this faithful servant. Steve Jobs famously called these machines “the bicycles of the mind”, playing into the narrative of computers being a powerful extension of our rational mind.
Even though this was a compelling analogy for the human-machine relationship 37 years ago, computers are now on the verge of rendering the human mind redundant. What has formerly been perceived as an extension is now turning into a competitionon cost and efficiency factors. Thus, employers hire workers only if they are cheaper than machines.
And yet, during all these years, we have failed to realise that this competition does not harvest the full potential of human intellect. Storing and analysing data, recognising data patterns, recollecting and calculating vast amounts of information as quickly and efficiently as possible, conducting highly specialised and repetitive tasks in a structured environment: Machine-efficiency and raw processing power is not what makes us human. Rather, it is our understanding of culture, values, morals, intuition, empathy, creativity, and irrationality that makes us such beautiful creatures and has helped our species to thrive. Thus, despite being depicted as rational thinkers, we are – first and foremost – emotional and social creatures.
Recognising this helps us realise that humans and machines do not compete at all. Steve Jobs’ comparison is significant as he described a collaborative, complementary and amplifying human-machine relationship. Already today, human-machine collaboration proves increasingly successful. For example, Garry Kasparaov, chess grandmaster and world champion, claims to play better when collaborating with a computer. In Siemens’ factories, humans already work alongside intelligent machines – a setup that McKinsey & Company sees as key to future growth. Professor Philipp Theisohn, science fiction researcher and head of the Department of German Studies at University of Zurich, says that a fusion of humans and machines would finally complete us, as it could counterbalance our emotional thinking.
Thus, imagining the future of work, I believe that we would be ill-advised to fight back. Instead, we need to relearn to be more human. For that, it will be absolutely essential to create jobs that allow for this delicate interaction of humans and machines – harnessing the full potential of our species.
Jobs for Humans: Rethinking Our Work
The predicted rate of automation of lower-paying jobs will inevitably force us to think about the role of work in a broader context. If we recognise the aforementioned differences between human and machine intelligence and the resulting potential for mutual collaboration, completion, and amplification, I believe that a large part of society could regain the opportunity to do purposeful work.
“Treat humanity […] as an end and never simply as a means”, stated Kant, German philosopher, claiming our existence to be an end in itself. This raises the question whether work, accounting for a large part of our existence, is an end in itself as well. So far, however, “all cultures thought of work as a means to an end, not an end in itself”, as work has been a necessary means for survival.
Yet, intelligent machines will likely become powerful and capable enough to provide many, if not all the resources necessary for survival. Inevitably, work as we know it today, providing the means for our existence, will gradually cease to exist. Will we therefore become the “new” Athenians of a “post-work” world with computers as the new slaves? Quite the contrary: This post-work world will, arguably, provide the opportunity to rethink our workplaces to create new forms activitiesthat harness the true potential of our innate abilities. How could this play out in detail?
Article Prepared by Ollala Corp