How can we reclaim our humanity to display our most virtuous side and avoid being dehumanized by artificial intelligence? Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic explores this critical question in his book I, Human.
In this edition of Author Chat, Disrupt Your Career speaks with Tomas about his book, Human: AI, Automation, and the Quest to Reclaim What Makes Us Unique (Harvard Business School Press, February 2023). Tomas looks at what it means to be human in the age of AI and explains how AI has the potential to change our lives for better or for worse.
What inspired you to write the book? What audience did you have in mind when you were writing it?
The book was originally planned as a more existential look at what it means to be human in today’s world of work. I always tell people the story that we signed the contract on February 2020, so the pandemic was already starting in some parts of the world, but not quite unfolding in the western part. And then, I’ve written this book during the two-year period of isolation that most people experienced in lockdowns and confines and being quite detached from in person interactions with others, and under the heavy influence of the algorithms and AI. So then the book became, what it means to be human, or how to be human in the age of AI. And I wanted to take a look at the most neglected aspect of the AI age, which is humans. So it’s a book about how artificial intelligence is changing the way we live and work. The first half is a little bit gloomy and dark, because it talks about the negative influence that AI has had on us already, making us more boring, more predictable, more biased, more narcissistic, quite impulsive and more distracted. The second part is about how we can reclaim our humanity in an age in which we can expect technology to continue to upgrade itself, but we need to not downgrade ourselves. So just because we have generative AI doesn’t mean we have to degenerate ourselves or humanity.
What are the key messages and ways of thinking discussed in your book?
Yes, and you know, I reminded myself to show it because I have it here, and I think the main reason to buy it is that it’s actually not very long. It’s written for the AI age and knowing there is a whole chapter on destruction and lack of focus, knowing that people hardly read these days, especially if it’s very long. So it’s a very quick read and I would say the main messages are twofold. One, that we have spent the last 10 years or so worrying in a quite paranoid way about whether artificial intelligence would equal or even surpass human levels of intelligence. And in that process, where AI tried to become more human, like, we actually became more like machines and more robotic and more boring. So I’m trying to position this book as a mirror that I hold in front of the reader so that he or she can question their habits and recover some of the more fulfilling and flourishing or creative activities that were once more typical than they are today. That’s the first key message. And the second one is that, even though we have seen a lot of examples where AI has broken bots and algorithms have gone rogue in a way, actually, we may just maybe have invented something that has the potential to debias systems and organizations. So humans are biased by design, if you show me a human, I know there is a bias creature there. But maybe part of this extension of human intelligence, which is AI, has the ability to actually identify some of the hidden dynamics that underpin social relations and group relations at work. So imagine that this could be a tool that is like an X-ray machine that enables us to go into organizations and actually identify the gap between the value that people create, or what they deliver, and how successful or how rewarded they are in that organization. So I’m trying to raise awareness as to the opportunity to use this tool to debias systems and organizations, including, by the way, improving diversity and inclusion.
Is there any particular case study or story that stands out for you or something you hope your readers will do differently?
There’s one chapter about how we could use AI to debias us and make us more open minded. And I talk about not Open AI, which is obviously the company that made ChatGPT or generative AI famous, but open-minded AI. And I talk about a world in which all the algorithms that impact us – recommendation engines in Spotify, Netflix, Amazon, Tinder, even Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. – that create this very cushy filter bubble and that allow us to exist in this echo chamber where we are only exposed to the things that we want to hear and the things we want to see. Imagine that we retooled the algorithms to show us things we don’t like, but we should consider in order to become a more open-minded version of ourselves. So imagine you go on an online or mobile dating site, and it recommends you people who you will really dislike, but they might make you more open minded. Or imagine that your newsfeed is customized to give you all of the political views you dislike, and all the news of the world… So obviously, this would lead to a massive exodus or defection from these platforms onto other platforms that give us what we want to hear and see. The point I’m trying to make here is not AI, that is bias is humans that are biased and who love their biases, especially because we don’t recognize them as such. 95% of humans see themselves as open minded and typically, that leads to them hanging out with people who are exactly like them, and increasingly becoming more tribal and polarized. So I try to show how, as AI resembles us more and more, we dislike it more precisely because it augments or reflects our least desirable features.