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Posts tagged 21 Lessons for the 21st Century
Being H U M A N in the age of A I


It’s 2019. Shouldn’t we be blitzing around in flying cars with robots at our beck and call a là The Jetsons? I feel let down.

Just kidding because…life might become more Jetson-esque in the not-too-distant future.

As we know, technology is constantly evolving, and artificial intelligence (AI) is at the forefront of that. If you’re a techie, you’re probably current on the state of artificial intelligence. The brainiacs working on it have made some remarkable advances in the field. Projected timelines vary widely, buuut it’s safe to say our lives will become increasingly impacted. Virtually every aspect: the way we work, the way we shop, the way we move, the way we learn, the way we eat, the way we communicate.

While we’re still pre-AI takeover, it’s crucial for us as a society to address important questions, such as:

  • What does it mean to be human?

    • What will happen to people emotionally, psychologically, and economically when they no longer have jobs and don’t work to make a living?

      • There is much discussion regarding the how/when of professional displacement (eg some fields will be affected differently) but it’s a valid concern

      • Many people base their identity and sense of worth on their title/job role/professional contribution/productivity/ability to earn income

  • How much privacy should humans retain?

    • Specifically in an age where data is the new currency, and computers are already lapping up all the data we generate just by existing in the digital age, to continually fine-tune their algorithms and customize their influence on us (personalized ads, suggested purchases, even music based on data we (un)knowingly provided).

  • How do we program AI for moral dilemmas, eg. self-driving cars swerving, thereby sacrificing you to save a child pedestrian?


If left to its own devices, AI will also produce a global distribution of wealth that is not just more unequal, but hopelessly so. AI-poor countries will find themselves unable to get a grip on the ladder of economic development, related to permanent subservient status. AI-rich countries will amass great wealth but also witness the widespread monopolization of the economy and a labor market divided into economic castes.
— Kai-Fu Lee, author of AI Superpowers
  • The technology - and thereby the wealth - will be concentrated in the hands of a significant minority

    • China and the US are light years ahead of everyone else, and due to the nature of the technology, this gap will only widen and become un-bridgeable, leaving other countries in the dust (thereby wrecking their economies - resulting in significant financial, political, physical, and psychological repercussions).

      • Drilling down even deeper, the investors/engineers in China and the US will accrue almost all of the data and wealth, as part of a cycle that will continue separating them from the have-nots.

        • There are a few proposed remedies to this (redistributed wealth from high taxes on those elite few profiting off the technology, gov handouts, etc) that should be considered and hammered out before it’s “GO TIME”

        • There’s even concern those elites will have the resources to transform themselves into literal superhumans, by bio hacking the shiz out of themselves (eliminating all disease, extending their lives, etc). This will further divide them from us mere mortals. Not an ideal situation, yeah?


As Kai-Fu Lee (author of AI Superpowers) notes, the resulting turmoil will take on political, economic, and social dimensions, but will also be intensely p e r s o n a l. As a society, we’ve come to see our work not just as a means of survival or “gettin’ that bread” (my words, not his), but as a source of personal pride, identity, and real-life meaning. Severing these ties - or forcing people into downwardly-mobile careers - will damage much more than our bank accounts. It will directly assault our sense of identity and purpose. Cue rising levels of depression.

Sounds doomsday, right? Pretty freakin’ grim?

But hear me out…

Kai-Fu Lee is one cool dude and knows his stuff. He contributed to breakthroughs when AI was first emerging, and since then has had a wildly successful career (as president of Google China, as an executive at Microsoft, SGI, and Apple, as an author, as an educator, as a mentor, as a speaker, as a social media influencer, as chairman and CEO of Sinovation Ventures). He went from scientist, to engineer, to executive, to teacher, to…cancer patient.

Lymphoma knocked him for a loop. Suddenly motivated to reassess his life, he gleaned paradigm-shifting, life-changing wisdom via self reflection, and visiting a Buddhist monastery. This resulted in an epiphany and changed outlook on technology, its role in our lives, and what it means to be human.

Kai-Fu, humans aren’t meant to think this way. This constant calculating, this quantification of everything, it eats away at what’s really inside of us and what exists between us. It suffocates the one thing that gives us true life: love.

Many people understand it, but it’s much harder to live it. For that we must humble ourselves. We have to feel in our bones just how small we are, and we must recognize that there’s nothing greater or more valuable in this world than a simple act of sharing love with others. If we start from there, the rest will begin to fall into place. It’s the only way that we can truly become ourselves.
— Master Hsing Yun, Buddhist monk

As Kai-Fu came to realize, for all of AI’s stunning capabilities, the one thing that only humans can provide is actually also exactly what is most needed in our lives: love.

We are far from understanding the human heart - let alone replicating it - but we do know humans are uniquely able to love and be loved, that humans desire to be loved, and that loving and being loved make our lives worthwhile.

Kai-Fu advises this is the synthesis on which we must build our shared future: on AI’s ability to think, paired with humans’ ability to love. Creating this synergy will allow us to harness the undeniable power of AI to generate prosperity, while also embracing our essential humanity.

Kai-Fu proposes a social investment stipend: using the economic abundance of the AI age to allow displaced employees to invest their time and energy in activities that promote a kind, compassionate, and creative society. These would form the pillars of a new social contract, one that valued and rewarded socially beneficial activities the same way we currently reward economically productive activities. It would provide income to those choosing to invest in socially productive activities in three broad categories: community service, care work, and education. Cool, right?

In an age in which intelligence machines have supplanted us as the cogs and gears in the engine of our economy, I hope that we will value all of these pursuits - care, service, and personal cultivation - as part of our collective social project of building a more human society.
— Kau-Fu Lee


If you’re interested in learning more about the progressing impact of AI, I highly recommend not only Kai-Fu Lee’s AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order, but also Yuval Noah Harari’s 21 Lessons for the 21st Century.

xx,

-w-