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Humans in the loop

Is there anyone reading this who has not heard of, played with or been exposed to gen AI? Everyone is talking about it: CEOs are excited, tech teams are buzzing with demands, and everyone other than most employees are super excited.

With all this AI hype, more specifically generative AI, and the array of possibilities it is expected to open up, leaving us wondering whether it’s friend or foe, let’s slow down for just a minute. Let us take a moment to remind ourselves why humans just like you and me remain a necessary, in fact, an essential part of the puzzle.

This consideration, however, requires that, as humans, we remember what it means to be human.

Reflecting

This week was my birthday, so I stole a few moments to reflect on all I have to be grateful for. I can tell you that it took longer than a few moments 🙂.

Yes, I truly am a blessed human. What I want to share, however, is that none of the things that made it into my gratitude moments had anything to do with technology. Funny that, given how much of my time and attention it takes.

No Insta, TikTok, AI, Teams, or ChatGPT made it, and although I am passionate about technology’s ability to enable, augment, and enhance human capabilities, I realized that most of the things I was grateful for were related to human gifts. Their time, love, and interest in me. Being encouraged to become the greatest version of myself, challenging me when I became complacent, lifting me when I had down moments, and reminding me that I mattered and was loved.

A hug from a friend and a kiss from my wife. That instant in which eyes connect across a room when you see a familiar face. A sincere word of thanks from a colleague and that moment of awe as you watch the sunrise over the magnificent ocean. That wild puppy jumping onto the bed and covering your face with warm, wet kisses (ok, the puppy thing is not a purely human quality, but you get what I mean, it has a heartbeat 😁).

A friend calling to ask how you are, and you can hear genuine interest and curiosity in their voice. Someone giving you their time and attention without wanting anything in return. Moments that make you smile because you know that a magical memory is being crafted with another human. A memory that will forever connect you across time and space.

Reality check

I also sadly realized that we are making fewer and fewer of these memories. We increasingly neglect being truly interested in our partners, children, friends, family, and colleagues. We are always rushing, permanently attached to a device, headset, or screen, falsely believing that we are ‘connected’ when, in fact, humans are increasingly fragmented and isolated. We are slowly outsourcing our humanity, and I wondered what people will be grateful for in 10, 20, or 50 years from now.

I have a feeling that the moments they may be most grateful for will be those when they are disconnected from all devices, screens, and technology in any form. Precious moments spent with other non-distracted, present, and interested humans.

Think about this

Meet Replika, an AI companion whose home page states, “an AI companion who cares, always here to listen and talk, always on your side.” I would strongly encourage you to look at the website and take note of the words humans use when sharing their experiences with their Replika.

I 100% believe that there is a time and place for a Replika and that this type of AI can play a key role in certain circumstances. However, it also shows us what people lack in many human connections. If we do not stop to remember what it means to be human, embrace our incredible qualities, and take time for each other, then perhaps the fear of being displaced by AI, algorithms, or robots is not an unfounded or irrational one.

Humans need to evolve as AI evolves so we can harness its potential while excelling in all the ways that make us truly human. The challenge we face as humans is that we either get lazier as AI evolves or elevate our thoughts, our behavior, our humanity. This is a powerful choice we get to make, and our futures will be framed by these choices, whether we make them consciously or not.

AI imitation

AI mimics humans’ language and emotions. It is entirely unaware of who it is, or the real world. It generates plausible scenarios and stories based on common sense and patterns. So, an AI companion could replace you because it notices, pays attention, and applies common sense. All responses and behaviors well within the human domain.

Ethan Mollick reminds us that GPT-4 has fed on vast stores of human knowledge and is deeply trained on human stories. It knows our archetypes, stories of jealous lovers, unfaithful spouses, and relationships gone bad. He goes further to say that AI does a good job of approximating empathy, creativity, and humanity. Finding things that AI definitely cannot do because they are uniquely human may ultimately be challenging. That does not mean, though, that we want AI to do all these things.

Take a moment

When last did you notice patterns in your child, partner, friend, or colleague’s behavior? When was the last time you genuinely saw them? Not that glimpse as you look at each other blankly above your screens.

What have you seen lately? What have you noticed? Nothing stays the same; humans are always in the process of becoming something. Are you aware of what those around you are becoming, or will it be a surprise when she packs her bags or resigns overnight? When your child surprisingly drops out of medical school or a colleague breaks down from stress-related issues.

How curious are you about those people who “matter” these days? Not about their homework, grades, or sports schedule. Not about what’s for dinner, who is taking out the trash, or paying this month’s bills. When last were you interested enough to dig deeper when your best friend or colleague said, “I am fine”?

A future to consider

AI is such a fascinating topic, and it has only just begun. I am excited about how this technology can contribute to business sustainability and allow humans the time to get involved in higher-value activities. I am intrigued by the emerging opportunities for humans to collaborate with AI, driving augmented and co-intelligence.

It is a time when generative AI has leaped from existing only in code to understanding and existing in words—previously the sole domain of humans. As AI becomes increasingly human by leveraging words’ creative and transformative power, are we becoming less human, forgetting the critical role words play in shaping our human experience?

I remain most passionate about human potential and the gifts we have to offer in an increasingly distanced and isolated world when we embrace what it means to be human.

Could it be time to again embrace the importance of connecting at a family dinner without devices? Genuine engagement using words in actual face-to-face situations without eyes nervously darting down to a device every few seconds? Not assumed connection using emojis and abbreviations. Time spent together, words used intentionally among humans whose hearts still beat for each other?

Will the unintentional outsourcing of our humanity, resulting in mediocrity personally and professionally be what makes humans increasingly irrelevant?

“AI should always be a tool in the service of humanity & our biggest challenge as humans is overcoming the normalization of mediocrity” – Ethan Mollick.

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