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How Artificial Intelligence Can Make Us More Human

An increasing amount of our interaction with the world is digital: we talk to friends on WhatsApp, we get our news through Flipboard or Social Media, we share our memories on Instagram, shop online at Amazon, etc. Underlying the majority of these processes are significant amounts of data collection, which in turn feed into artificially intelligent algorithms, improving our day-to-day experience. Our news is curated to our interests, ads show us exactly what we were looking to buy, and social media helps us “meet” people with common interests that we would have never met in the real world. The more sophisticated iterations of these technologies improve the way we interact with the world more generally, automating our homes, making our cab-ride to work safer, our vacations easier to plan, and our work life more productive and efficient. As technology improves, and barriers to implementation decrease, the vast majority of our activities will involve interaction with technology of some sort. While science fiction has generally served to display a technological one as one where either we transcend humanity into some sort of cyborg species, or are subject to the whims of a superintelligent machine, the reality is likely to be one in which we have more opportunity to be human.

One of the fundamental facts of human existence is scarcity, that without a certain degree of labour, there are simply not enough resources to satisfy the endless needs and wants of the population at large. Scientific and technological advance, as well as favourable legal and economic arrangements, have worked to improve our ability to transform natural resources into goods and services that serve to satisfy our needs and wants. With each technological breakthrough we become more efficient and producing, which further incentivises development. This technological advance has historically alleviated burdens: no longer did we have to work an entire summer in blazing heat to reap the rewards of harvest, no longer did it take 20 years of practice in a craft to learn artisanal techniques and make a living, no longer did we have to risk perilous journeys across oceans to go somewhere new, etc. By taking away certain toils and risks, technology served to reallocate our time and self-investment, developing what was most needed to satisfy the continually developing needs and wants of societies. As we approach a world in which more and more of our productive activities can be done by machines, and better, we are left to reallocate our time to developing that which cannot be automated: our truly human aspects.

Of the things that people value, a few crucial aspects cannot be automated, at least at present, with some of these being impossible to automate even in theory. These include human creativity, critical thinking, empathy, emotional intelligence, personal relationships, and attractiveness. Though there are likely more aspects that cannot be accounted for, I would like to break the unautomatable aspects into three categories: intelligence, personality, and aesthetics. These human values cannot be replaced, and as a result a greater amount of our personal development will involve improving in these categories. Not only will we be able to, as more mundane tasks are taken away, but they will be essential in making a living and being successful in the future.

Let’s first define these categories in more depth, and then assess what it means to invest in them. Intelligence, properly defined, is not something that can be replicated by an algorithm, for the ability of a program to translate between languages, does not imply it knows the meanings of any of the words it is translating. It is more appropriate to refer to this ability as smartness; a smart person has read the works of Shakespeare and can quote them by heart, an intelligent person knows what those quotes mean. Intelligence then is being able to critically asses and analyse information, not simply the mechanisms by which the outcomes are produced. It’s the reason we reward managers and consultants: the abilities to direct, interpret, and bring novel insight is something difficult to develop. Creative intelligence, problem solving abilities, and critical thinking skills are therefore essential components of intelligence.

By personality I mean those aspects of an individual that make them likeable or sociable. Charisma, empathy, self-awareness, relationship management skills, humour, are all aspects that filter into what makes someone likeable. As skilled as a machine will become at doing tasks, it will never be able to create a human and emotional connection, and as a result, our focus when interacting with others will be less what they can offer in terms of accomplishing tasks, but more on the personal connections we can build with them. While a world in which lots of tasks require human labour, one’s sociability can be brushed over, a world in which much is automated, it becomes one of the most essential components to success.

Finally there is aesthetic, and despite the social taboo on discussing it, people value others based on their physical appearance. One of the more prominent theories in social psychology is that of the matching hypothesis, that people self-evaluate based on their own personal attractiveness, then seek partners and friends of equal attractiveness. In a world in which many of the criteria by which we use to evaluate ourselves become increasingly trivial (money becomes less important if things get more affordable, strength less important in a world where homes are made secure) the baseline importance of attractiveness becomes even more important. While the characteristics that factor into attractiveness are generally subjective, in the sense that a criterion list with numerical weights is hard to develop, there seems to be strong support that there are underlying psychological guidelines that effectively dictate what it means to be attractive. Mean rankings of facial beauty have strong cross-cultural correlations, though rating the attractiveness of bodies and dress have strong cultural correlations. This implies that given a world where we have less criteria of which to distinguish our interactions of individuals, the aesthetic characteristics of people such as their physical appearance, their body language, their mode of dress and presentation, figure more prominently in our relationships, both personal and professional. No matter how lifelike you make a 3-D printed android, there would be a biological need to take a human spouse, or interact with human friends, making the need for aesthetics essential.

Given these categories of human development, what exactly does it mean to develop them. Even in today’s world these categories are highly prized: we admire the intelligent, associate with the sociable, and desire the attractive. The proportion of people who lack any of these categories, however, is high, and those developed in all three, low. As emphasis on the human characteristics becomes more important, learning would be focussed more on how to be a better person in this regard, rather than learning a skill. A scholastic model of education would be necessary to replace the current pragmatist model, and lifelong personal development would require greater emphasis. One of the reasons in the current economic climate, people do not invest as much in personal development as in skills, is necessity. We are in a world where a significantly varied number of tasks are required to maintain the functioning of a complex society. To play our part in that society, and survive comfortably, personal development comes at the cost of essential skill development. This opportunity cost is derived from the fixed amount of hours in a day, and the time-bound lifespan people have. As more time is freed up, however, more effort on personal development can be invested, though this does not eliminate opportunity costs.

To develop all three categories means either that one is extremely skilled at personal development, or an inadequate amount of time was spent on any one, and all categories end up lacking. To be the median individual is not a marker of success, our time must be used in developing ourselves to be better than the average. This is accomplished in many ways, as there are many criteria amongst which one can exceed the median. If one picks only one category to improve themselves in, as to be either intelligent but not particularly sociable nor attractive, or sociable but not particularly attractive nor intelligent, then one has to far surpass the median level in that category such as to distinguish themselves. You have to be amongst the top 1% of creative intelligence for example, such that your investment is successful. If the decision is to invest in two categories, such as intelligence and sociability, the opportunity cost between investing one’s time is such that it is unlikely one becomes a master at both. However, being in the highest decile at both is such that the investment provides added value, and serves as a marker of success. A similar logic applies to developing all three, with their added opportunity costs, which would imply being in the highest quartile for example.

This decision matrix for personal development is not an exact science, as each individual will have their subjective measures of their own ranking and the accomplishments required to live a successful life. It simply serves as an outline of the increased emphasis on these qualities, and the opportunity costs that exist in personal development. It also presents an image of a world where doing less task-based activities emancipates us to become more human.

This post was originally published by the author on his personal blog:

About Ryan Khurana

Profile photo of Ryan Khurana
Ryan Khurana is a Research Fellow at the Consumer Choice Center. He has previously worked at the General Medical Council and the Institute of Economic Affairs. His work on UK Land Planning Regulation won the first annual Breakthrough Prize on Poverty Alleviation. His current interests are in the Economics of Technology, Health, and Welfare Policy.

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