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Man vs. Machine? Not if we want to survive

As I read Yuval Noah Harari’s book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century I was thrilled to learn of the Centaurs of the chess world, human/machine partners who worked together as a team. My dreams were soon dashed as I read that the machines continued to advance rapidly, evenutally making their human counterparts irrelevant.

The Centaurs went the way of their mythological namesake and I was left wondering what we humans have to offer when our machine learning counterparts leave us in the proverbial dust.

What do humans have to offer?

When you ask your Google Home what time it is and she responds with, “I’m not sure how to help with that…” it’s hard to imagine machine learning ever making us humans obsolete – but consider the human on that Centaur chess team whose machine partner began making moves that, at first, looked random, only to quickly dispatch their opponent, leaving all the humans involved bewildered.

Human Beings not Human Doings

Yes, it is disconcerting to consider machines doing things better than us humans. And I’m not talking about crunching numbers or outperforming us in strategy games like chess and Go. I am talking about machines composing music or creating art that other humans find objectively preferable. This is all coming and some of it is already here.

I mention this both to give you a heads up and to remind you that you are more than merely what you do. You are more than your job. To acknowledge this and begin to integrate this into your worldview requires a shift from the material to the spiritual.

I invite you to start thinking, as you go about your week, about what you have to offer when you strip away all of the accomplishments — especially considering that many of these may soon be bested by a machine.

Collaboration Outperforms Competition

I ascribe to a post-Darwinian school of thought, recognizing that while competition may win out in the short-term, both long-term and scalable success goes to the best collaborators.

I have the privilege of working with colleagues who employ Artificial Intelligence in their daily work. These professionals are creating content for themselves and their clients using a mixture of human and AI collaboration.

The projects I have been a part of do this collaborative work beautifully, generating a high-quality final product in a fraction of the time. In some cases, productivity has increased ten thousand percent. Note: I typed that number out so you wouldn’t think some of the zeros were accidental.

Beyond Collaboration

Beyond the realm of collaboration is what MIT economist Otto Scharmer calls co-creation. I also think this is where we humans can really shine.

I know it is easy to let our minds drift to that opening scene of Terminator, with AI-powered tanks driving over a mountain of human skulls. I also know that we are not victims here, we are actively programming the machines of the future. Even if we aren’t writing the code that brings them into being, we are programming them with our behavior.

Time to Take Responsibility

We are not the victims, we are the collaborators and, if we accept this role, we can be the co-creators of something transformative. The content of your internet searches, the words used in the “private” conversations you have next to your smart phone when you think no one is listening; all of these are recorded and are influencing our future.

As a human being it is time to stop with the fear and paranoia. It is instead time to be catalyzed by our inherent power. It is time to recognize that our every action has consequences that ripple beyond the world we see in front of us. We are important and it’s time for us to start acting that way. It is also time for us to stop just thinking about ourselves and start thinking about our fellow humans and the legacy that we will leave collectively.

We are not a victim of technology, we are an influencer and a co-creator of technology. We are also so much more than the actions I have just described. You, as a human, have an inherent worth that transcends what can be quantified by machines or described by words. You are special and you are part of something even more special.