“We will not only have to redefine work, we may even have to redefine what it means to be human” – surviving and thriving in the age of AI with Somi Arian
It’s a disruptive landscape, and one that asks profound and far-reaching questions – including how best to survive and thrive in it. With so many established ‘norms’ coming up against new technological ‘solutions’, we need a roadmap, says Arian, to decrease the fear and increase our participation as humans in a proactive way.
‘Work and career is a concept that has defined humanity's sense of purpose and meaning for hundreds of years. All of a sudden, we are losing that to algorithms because these algorithms are getting smarter and smarter and, as Moore's Law says, computer power is doubling every two years. In the next decade, a lot of people aren't going to have a job or a role as they know it currently. So there's this big shift in the very nature of work happening right now that will continue.’
That shift, Arian says, is not just about leaning in to the changing logistics of tasks or the automation of processing. It is about a radical mind shift and a ‘new way of being’. It’s one, she insists, will be led by the digital native millennials who, as the ‘link between the pre-digital and post-digital world’ are ‘the most important generation in human history for the future of humanity’.
Her work and research into the impact of disruptive digital technologies and AI on society aims to help companies prepare for the future. It looks at the ways in which we need to creatively partner with technology, rather than just focusing - often apocalyptically - on the fear that we may be replaced by it.
‘As humans, we essentially have three things that define us and help us survive – our physical, cognitive and emotional abilities. The Industrial Revolution disrupted our physical abilities with machines, and from the 1980s, when computers really came on to the market, we began to outsource our cognitive processing. Of these three abilities, the only area that hasn't yet been properly disrupted is the emotional realm.’
The keys to a bright new digital future, she says, are uniquely human and subjective ones - emotional intelligence, contextual creativity, critical thinking and mindfulness – all of which individuals and businesses should be heavily invested in developing as futureproofing.
‘You can’t think about doing away with this incoming technology, it's just not going to happen, so the future is about a partnership with AI,’ she says. ‘We need to be able to redefine our relationship with machines, because they have already started becoming an extension of us, so that we don't lose our humanity - and ultimately we become enhanced rather than replaced.’
Four ways to futureproof in the age of AI
Emotional intelligence - General intelligence vs narrow intelligence
‘AI can do many things better, faster and more efficiently than humans, except one thing. AI can’t put itself in another person’s shoes, it can’t empathise or understand their feelings, because it doesn’t have subjective experience, at least not yet.
‘Our ability to experience emotions subjectively, and understand other people’s feelings, is our biggest selling point in the workforce of the future. That ability is called emotional intelligence and is the foundation of all the other skills that can help us survive and thrive in the age of artificial intelligence.
‘Technology is moving so fast, and our emotional capability is not yet ready to cope with it. For centuries we have not taught these skills in our educational systems. We have always prioritised the teaching of maths and science over that of emotional skills. Now, we are arriving at a crossroads where those skills are going to become invaluable.’
Critical thinking – Why we’re thinking…what we’re thinking
‘Critical thinking is hugely important and will become more so, as we increasingly rely on machines to do our “thinking” for us. When we say something is ‘critical’ we mean it requires an important decision. Then we need to ask the question, ‘important to whom?’. Which goes back to our subjective experience.
‘Once again, AI can’t understand the importance of a given situation to a person or a group. So we can’t rely on AI to think critically on our behalf. However, just like emotional intelligence this isn’t a skill that we have been teaching at school.
‘Our decision making is full of biases and we can’t think statistically. When you learn to think critically, you can use the logical processing of computers to enhance your decision-making abilities and overcome those biases.’
Contextual creativity – Understanding other people’s context and using it to create value
‘Contextual creativity is about being able to understand other people's context, and then find creative ways to bring them value. Being able to understand other people’s context requires a higher level of general intelligence, which is something machines don't possess.
‘For example, as a filmmaker this informs the way we work with clients now. Production companies used to wait for the client to decide what kind of content they needed. We’ve changed that dynamic. We dig deep and learn the client’s content and they we advise them on what they should create.
‘One of our clients is in real estate and the first series of content that we did was around the CEO talking about the real estate industry. From there though, we moved them to talking about the bigger picture of the economy and then about the impact of AI on the future of property. We no longer just make videos, we are creating thought-leaders, now helping them to connect the dots and see the bigger picture.’
Mindfulness – Creating balance and overview
‘The nature of reality is one of disorder and we are constantly fighting against that disorder by creating order as human beings. But when we create order, we also paradoxically increase the disorder in our environments. As such, technology’s disruption is something we need to learn to feel comfortable with and flex with to redefine our place in the world. Mindfulness is a constant to remind ourselves that we want to create a balance - because creativity happens on the edge of order and disorder.
‘The umbrella to everything is mindfulness – it is the gateway to developing the ‘muscle’ to be able to put the other three skills into perspective, and have the mental stamina and flexibility to stay relevant in the age of technological disruptions. This is vital because we are at a point in human history where not only will we have to redefine work…we may even have to redefine what it means to be human.’