Artificial intelligence (AI) has had a hugely beneficial impact on business and society, playing an important role, for example, in the rapid development and deployment of Covid-19 vaccines. Already ubiquitous in our lives, it is changing the way we live, work, and choose potential life partners.

The downside of AI is that it has been used as a distraction tool, making us lose focus, less patient, and unable to delay gratification. It has also narrowed our minds, amplified prejudices, normalized narcissism, and led to a decline in individualism and curiosity.

The need for greater self-awareness in a world where many of our decisions are made for us is the premise of a forthcoming book by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, chief talent scientist at Manpower Group and professor of business psychology at University College London and Columbia University.

AI is being used by retailers to predict and shape our shopping habits, by businesses to decide whether or not to hire us, and in extreme cases, it is being harnessed by nefarious actors to deliver fake news and influence policy. Scary stories about the power of AI abound.

However, the most important part of AI is not its ability to replicate or surpass, but its ability to impact human intelligence, the author notes in I, Human – AI, Automation and the Quest to Reclaim What Makes Us Human (HBR Press).

“Every time we spontaneously react to AI or one of its many manifestations, we do our bit to advance not only the predictive accuracy of AI, but also the sterilization of humanity, making our species more formulaic.

“The mere fact that you are not experiencing life in this Orwellian way highlights the immersive appeal of the system itself, which has managed to camouflage itself as a normal way of life, successfully turning us into a rich record of immortalized digital transactions for AI. posterity. A fish does not know what water is; The same goes for humans and the matrix,” she says.

AI is changing the very nature of our psychology, he claims, making us optimized for speed rather than precision. This causes us to make mistakes and affects our ability to spot them. While we are capable of adapting, if rhythm is rewarded instead of patience, impulsivity increases, ultimately making us more rigid, less flexible, and a slave to our habits.

Narcissism is also fueled by AI. It may not be its main cause, but the evidence points to a two-way link between narcissism and social media use. The more narcissistic you are, the more you use social media, powered by AI, which tends to make you more narcissistic.

Geraldine Magnier is co-founder of Dublin-based data analytics consultancy Idiro Analytics, which is the brainchild behind the Idiro AI Ethics Center, which focuses on developing standards and technology that can be used by industry and the government to ensure that its AI-related activities are trustworthy and free from bias.

Magnier agrees that people need to develop a greater awareness of the pervasive nature of AI in our lives. “Many people believe that AI is something that happens outside of them, in companies or at the government level. There’s a lack of recognition that they’re letting the AI ​​elements take over, rather than stopping and saying, ‘No, I’m making a decision for myself.’ The real problem is when we relinquish decision making to the AI.”

A key problem here, he points out, is that regulation has not caught up with the pace of technological development. The key piece of EU legislation on AI regulation, for example, remains in draft form and will take several years to come into force as industry leaders and policymakers come up with acceptable standards. .

At a meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Manpower Group predicted that learnability would be a key antidote to automation.

Magnier is less concerned with digital narcissism, noting that while narcissism has increased, there is an advantage and a disadvantage to this. “Society is changing here, in many ways for the better. Traditionally, the Irish were very good at hiding their light under a bushel basket. This was of no use to us. We ended up making a lot of people migrate to see themselves prosper in other places. Perhaps an element of narcissism, if we want to call it that, is necessary for people to progress.”

As for the role of AI in the workplace, Chamorro-Premuzic acknowledges that having algorithms that monitor, measure, and manage performance has many potential benefits, including greater accuracy, objectivity, consistency, and reduced bias and toxic behavior. However, there is also a distinctly dehumanizing side to being run by a machine, especially when it is, in turn, trying to turn us into a machine.

Ade McCormack, business transformation expert, author, and founder of think tank The Intelligent Leadership Hub (ILH), points out that the industrial-age factory model has focused on building intelligence into the system, at the expense of people. There are a handful of people who make the big decisions that the system can’t handle, generally known as leaders.

“The workforce is comprised of process operators and process operator managers. These individuals are actively discouraged from deviating from the operations manual for fear of upsetting the flow of the process. Thus their innate intelligence is suppressed. In governance terms, this is a waste of the organization’s cognitive capital,” he says.

“So perhaps it is ironic that the industrial-age model that has gone to great lengths to suppress human intelligence is falling so enamored with artificial intelligence. AI offers great benefits, including the ability to learn quickly and detect weak signals in large data sets. With the right hardware accessories, you can feel, decide, and act on behalf of your organization. There’s a lot to like.”

McCormack notes, however, that humans can outperform AI with regard to problem contextualization, pattern matching, thinking in concepts, and detecting weak signals in very small data sets. “We need to start thinking about unleashing our human intelligence and empowering it using AI, so that they are human and AI. But this requires a reinvention of the beloved process-focused factory model. Most organizations today are looking for a smarter factory, rather than something more like a living adaptive organism. For this to happen, we need smart leadership.”

One of the biggest concerns workers have had for many years is how AI could make their jobs redundant.

At a meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Manpower Group predicted that learnability would be a key antidote to automation. In other words, the more people are willing to learn and improve in new areas of expertise, the less likely they are to automate. Crucially, the reverse is also true. Those who are focused on optimizing their performance will find that their jobs will eventually consist of standardized, repetitive actions that a machine could do better.

Being less homogeneous could be a key strength in an increasingly standardized world. Maintaining our cultural identities in an increasingly globalized world could be part of this.

Chamorro-Premuzic points out, for example, that Italians have a reputation for being more outgoing and sociable than Finns, but this is less apparent when Italians and Finns use social media, which works as suppressors of cultural heritage and behavior. . Social media encourages everyone, including Finns, to share their unsolicited opinions, thoughts and likes with the rest of humanity, just like Italians, even if the result is that they all end up living their lives as introverted computer nerds.

The ability to circumvent algorithmic predictions remains a fundamental part of human creativity and freedom. Ultimately, humans need to maintain agency, as Chamorro-Premuzic points out: “We are the most difficult part of the world to change, but also the most important. We need to examine our actions and create new behavior patterns, reexamine our beliefs, and infuse a small dose of innovation into our lives. If we don’t, we’d better resign ourselves to being mere passengers or spectators in the world.”

I, Human – AI, Automation and the Quest to Reclaim What Makes Us Human, by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, is published in February by Harvard Business Review Press