AI is forcing us to be more human – and that's a good thing
October 13, 2023
Disclaimer! Humans are not blank slates waiting to be filled with information – that’s what the computers and artificial intelligence (AI) are. Humans are creative beings who can use AI to release our imaginative energy and capacity as a function of the freedom from toil that AI offers. The Latin term, tabula rasa or blank slate, describes the tool (AI); it does not describe humanity. We are so much more than empty vessels waiting to be filled with information!
AI has raised our awareness about the very thing that distinguishes us from other species – our capacity for higher-order thinking, curiosity and creativity. While AI is truly a remarkable development, perhaps even an agent of an existential crisis for humanity, it is causing us to question our very essence of what we are and how we function as humans. However, this is not the first time that technology has created in us a sense of confusion, of fear, of inadequacy. Medieval monks who were quite content transcribing the Bible into Greek or Latin undoubtedly felt quite out of sorts with the arrival of the Gutenberg press and the mass production of the Bible (and other books) in many languages across Europe. The development and use of the atomic bomb made us all consider the possible of annihilation – the ultimate existential crisis – and fortunately forced us into using diplomatic alternatives instead of solving it by force. The computer age and the internet completely changed how we access and communicate information, Technology-automated activities that were actual hands-on toil before. I am typing this op-ed on my computer, not writing by hand – and please note it is not AI generated!
So where has technology brought us? We certainly have a higher quality of life – for the most part. Technology has also been the catalyst for major changes in behaviour and opportunity. Who would have thought we could visually communicate instantly with anyone in the world through small portable machines? Technology forces us to adapt. AI is no different. It is here, it will not be ‘put back in the bottle’.
I advocate we now embrace it – there is no other option. We embrace it and use it as a tool to advance our intellectual capacity, particularly our ability and potential to expand our creative mind. In many respects, AI is forcing us to be more human.
Where will the guidance come from to help us navigate the fear of losing our humanity to machines while achieving the greatest part of our humanity – our imagination and creativity? The realm of STEM (i.e., Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) has certainly been the driver of AI. However, it is the realm of the Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) that will guide us in using this technology. To study what it is to be human is the essence of HSS. STEM has, can, and will build the infrastructure of AI but it will not – by itself – build the “ethical user’s manual” for how we employ this wonderful tool for our betterment. It’s not just the ethical use of AI but also the social, economic, political, cultural, psychological, and philosophical impact that falls to the HSS to teach to research and to apply it for societal good.
For millennia, we have studied what it is to be human, how we should live a good life, and what is the nature of work. AI is simply the latest challenge that we take on with grit. Just because we have the intellectual capacity to do something doesn’t mean we have the ethical mandate to do it. Therefore, while we look to STEM for brilliant innovations in technology, we must look to HSS for the leadership in how to use them for the betterment of the individual and the society in which we live. I, for one, am excited to see the evolution of AI with the guidance of HSS.