If you read The Holy Bible or sacred books like it, what do you find?
People struggling away at whatever challenges the Almighty sends them. People like Noah, Moses, the Prophet Muhammad, Miriam, or Queen Esther, all having a heck of a time.
Sometimes physical, sometimes spiritual, but at its core – people struggling to be human. Fast forward a couple of millennia, and it looks like we’re still at it. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
Case in point: The British author, Ian Leslie recently wrote an article focused on our current struggle with AI, called, “The Struggle To Be Human.”
It was such an interesting take that Russ Roberts of the popular EconTalk podcast wanted to interview him about it.
Ian’s insight is that our problem isn’t that algorithms are becoming more like us, but that we are becoming more like the algorithms.
The algorithm seems to like formulas, so to make sure it’s discoverable by search engines, whatever we create has to be more formulaic. This is also why pop music is getting more bland and samey, and why student papers increasingly make for dull reading.
If the whole point of what we make is to please the robots, then of course, we please the robots. The algorithm must be obeyed.
But is that what we really want? What about Truth and Beauty? What about Mozart and Cezanne?
As Leslie says:
“Whether it’s music, movies, or politics, we seem to be creating a world more amenable to AI by erasing more and more of what makes us, us. Even if we think we have got the better of this deal up until now, we shouldn’t assume we always will. A little resistance is prudent. The bar for being human has just been raised; the first thing we should do is stop lowering it.”
Leslie’s argument isn’t just philosophical, it’s also practical.
If robots get increasingly good at making generic content, can you afford to be making generic content, as well? Can you afford to make dull writing, dull painting, dull anything when AI can do just as good a job at pennies on the dollar?
Our old friend, Seth Godin, had a brilliant insight twenty years ago when he realized that the era of “mass” was over (mass production, mass media, mass anything).
According to Seth, the way to be successful in the new era is not by competing against Wonder Bread (or Walmart, or Amazon, or General Motors, or McDonald’s), but by creating the Poilane bakery in Paris.
In other words, don’t create for scale, create to be remarkable. Create for meaning.
Like the Good Book says, the human condition has always been one of struggle. All this AI stuff is just the latest chapter.
Luckily we have people like Ian Leslie or the Poilane bakery to remind us of what really matters.
It is always a wonderful experience reading your piece. What gets me is the depth in its brevity and delivery