The real danger of AI (and it is not new)

There are two words in the phrase “artificial intelligence”. And it is only one of them poses the real dangers we face…

I not sure I want to read another article about artificial intelligence. I’m not sure I want to write one, either.

But here I am, doing it anyway.

Before you give up on me, can I say one thing: this isn’t really about AI. It’s about people and what it is we need from life.

AI learning

The advent of AI has direct bearing on my livelihood, so I figure I should get to grips with it. To that end, I joined a Gen AI learning circle run by marketing guru Claire du Preez and much learning is being done.

The learning circle discussions are not technically oriented, but they are often centred on the gains and failures encountered in using AI tools to help people get their jobs done.

And sometimes, the talk turns philosophical.

In a recent session, a participant wondered aloud: Does using AI make us lazy, does it mean we are using our brains less?

In that same discussion, someone cited the example of using GPS maps on our phones. One person said she uses directions from maps every time she gets in her car, even if only to check traffic conditions.

We all smiled, and agreed – yep, who can do without those directions from our phones?

But what if it is not laziness?

Later that night, mulling it over, I wondered: perhaps it is not so much that AI makes us lazy; perhaps the issue is that it moves us away from reality.

Is it another stepping stone on the path on which digital technology separates us from the things that (I think) make us human?

Ask yourself:

  • Is Facebook now the primary way in which you interact with your friends?
  • Is Zoom now the main way you talk to your colleagues?
  • Is Google Maps now the main way you get from Point A to Point B?
  • Do you ever look up a recipe in a book, and see the notes you made to yourself about it years ago, along with split cake batter stains? Or are recipes something you get on your phone?
  • All those people on LinkedIn that you don’t in fact know in real life – are they now your network?

These things are all digital tools, and many of them are based on various forms of AI. They are all useful (and even life-saving, in the time of Covid-19). There’s no going back to a world in which we walk everywhere and write grocery lists in a notebook and keep a paper calendar hanging next to the one and only phone in the house.

I have always been an early tech adopter, and have loved the learning curve I’ve been on. I’m not about to stop now!

But, but, but…

Perhaps the danger of artificial intelligence in general is not that some machine-driven version of intelligence will take over the planet and imprison us all in its matrix.

Perhaps the danger lies in the other word – “artificial”.

Are we are missing (more than we know) a real relationship with the world, human interactions with people, birthday cakes in the office, discussion in the in the pub after work?

In her seminal article The Friendship Problem, Rosie Spinks says:

We are so burned out by the process of staying afloat in a globalized, connected world that we simply don’t have the energy for the kinds of in-person, easy interactions that might actually give us some energy and lifeforce back.

She writes that people have the illusion that “we can effectively eliminate any and all friction from our lives”, which creates a kind of “social atrophy” as Esther Perel calls it.

In all the times I’ve used ChatGPT and similar tools, that’s exactly what I’ve felt: a kind of unease generated by the lack of friction, by the sheer easiness of asking and receiving.

What to do?

I’ll be attending my Gen AI learning circle with interest and concentration, and I will never stop playing with tech.

But I am also trying to get out in the garden more, to talk to people in shops, to phone friends that I haven’t spoken to in a while.

I’m trying essentially to live in the present, while using the tech tools we have with attention and caution and thought.

And now I am off to phone a friend.


Why we love old recipe books

Being a creator in the AI swamp – a way forward

ChatGPT has killed content, and that’s a good thing

Main picture: Barbara Zandoval, Unsplash

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