2. April 2023

The AI mindset

Powerful wave on the coast of the ocean

Gearing up to thrive in the brave new world: developing the right AI mindset will be crucial.


At Christmas, I hadn’t yet heard of ChatGPT. Artificial intelligence was of course a concept to me. But, in my mind, it was like some amorphous blob that would, in some iteration, come to affect my life in some way in the future. But not now. I’m not that much of a tech nerd, and to be honest I just wasn’t paying that much attention.

Then, all of a sudden, ChatGPT3 was all anybody was talking about. And now, GPT4 is all anyone’s talking about. This technology is developing at a frightening rate. The price of training a new AI system has fallen dramatically and the time needed to train it based on existing tools has dropped from years to just a matter of weeks, making it possible and affordable for more actors to create their own systems within a very short timeframe.

You have to be very naïve or wilfully ignorant not to realise that this technology is going to unleash profound change on every area of our lives. That this is all happening at a pace which outstrips our ability to truly grasp the implications and prepare for the change should make even the biggest AI enthusiasts pause for thought.

It’s easy for those who aren’t massive tech experts to get concerned and overwhelmed just thinking about what is about to happen. If you don’t fully understand something, it’s bound to seem ominous and threatening. When the real experts start to voice concerns about the pace of development — that’s another matter.

This week, an open letter published on the website of the “Future of Life Institute” gained huge publicity when Elon Musk signed it. The letter expressed concern for the speed at which AI was developing and called for a 6-month moratorium on its development so that we can better understand and prepare for the consequences.

AI is not seen as the enemy. The authors and signatories expressly greet the potential for AI in our world. However, it is crucial that we ensure that it is going to be used safely and for our benefit — not to our collective detriment.

Before taking a closer look at the signatory list, it is easy to assume that Musk has done this out of pure self-interest. A general moratorium on AI — either by all relevant actors acting together in concert voluntarily or imposed by law — would allow those who have fallen behind in the AI race to catch up somewhat. Those are some huge economic interests and many millions of dollars at play!

Yet, looking at the list in more detail revealed this is far more than a stunt by those who need to play catch-up. They include Noah Yuval Harari, author of the books Sapiens and Homo Deus, professors and other academics from elite universities and institutes. By no means do all of them hold an economic stake in the moratorium.

While I am convinced that AI poses serious risks to us, I am skeptical of whether placing a moratorium on its development is desirable — or even possible. If the US and Europe slam on the brakes, this does not mean that China, the world power in ascendancy, will join in. We’d be handing over a huge competitive advantage to them and ensure we are two steps away from the driving seat in this matter rather than sitting squarely in it. Is that really a good idea?

Perhaps, as the journalist Peter Franklin points out, it is better to try and ride the tiger than to get off it and ask it nicely not to eat us.

What does this all mean for us mere mortals? Essentially, we are standing on the beach, watching a tsunami coming at us. We cannot hide. Running is futile. It’s going to hit us and all we can do is to figure out in the time we have left how we are going to swim and keep afloat in the ensuing deluge.

We’re going to have to develop an “AI mindset” which embodies the concept of “going with the flow”. Just as you need to think quickly and alter your strategy from one moment to the next if you are trying to survive in floodwaters, an AI mindset means having to learn to think dynamically and on the hoof. Accepting that the jobs we are doing now may not exist just a year or two down the line. Avoiding holding onto these things too tightly and always looking out for what’s coming next.

How can you work and make long-term plans in these circumstances? Well, you can’t. In view of that, it would be so easy to get despondent and start to think that there’s no point in doing anything anymore if it’s going to be outdated before you even get the idea fleshed out and the new skills you need learned.

A lot of people are going to get sucked into this negative attitude and become despondent, lethargic or frustrated. Many more will lose their jobs as they are replaced by machines. How are our governments going to deal with so many scared, frustrated, angry people?

It is clear that to thrive in this unbelievably fast-paced environment of change, one is going to have to develop an AI mindset whereby you are able to hold seemingly contradictory thoughts in your head simultaneously.

On the one hand, you must be able to concentrate, and believe in the meaning and value of the idea that you are currently working on. You need to commit yourself to that idea, and, when you are working on it, crowd out any thought whatsoever that this could all very soon be devoid of value because the world has already moved on. You need to keep on truckin’ and have faith.

On the other hand, don’t get too far into that tunnel vision. Don’t get too attached to that idea. If you look away from the world for too long, you’ll miss the next great development and get left behind. And if you are too emotionally invested in your current idea, it might lead to selective blindness and an inability to let it go or see the truth, i.e. that it’s useless to go on with it now that technology has kicked it into the kerb.

As I mentioned, this state of mind is going to be very difficult to achieve and even harder to maintain as it is so contradictory. It’s valid to wonder what effect this is going to have on society and our collective mental health.

But we cannot resist. We just need to look this tsunami wave in the face and believe we can ride it.


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Photo: Yakov Oskanov on Envato Elements