Can We Stay Restless in the Age of AI?

daniil-kuzelev-293856Most days I’m excited about the future of AI, but occasionally I’m terrified.

Lately I’ve been thinking about what it will mean for our love of learning, our love of self-improvement. There’s an innocence inherent to the learning process, a feeling of limitless potential. We teach our kids that they can do anything, be anything. And we hope some of the same is true for ourselves. We believe we can always get better, and we work towards becoming the best.

So what happens if that feeling of limitless potential goes away?

Consider this example of a friend of mine who is an excellent golfer. Now, I myself am exceedingly mediocre, but I still love it so much. Because for me there is still so much potential. To get a new low score, to break 90. Suffice to say the room for improvement is limitless.

But talking to him one night about golf, he seemed deflated, like some of the joy was gone. He explained, these pros are so beyond the outer limits of what regular great golfers can do, and the courses they are playing on have been engineered so that they have become inaccessible to even great-but-not-pro golfers like him.

For him, the feeling of limitless potential was gone, because there are these superhuman athletes who have changed the game, moving its pinnacle beyond his reach.

So, what scares me about the future of AI is that we risk losing our passion to achieve our potential. If you know your potential has a limit—and is already exceeded by an AI—how motivated will you be to achieve it? Does it change our human desire to strive?

George Will’s recent column, Let America plunge toward our fast-unfolding future, frames it in the broader context of accelerated capitalism:

In the accelerated churning of today’s capitalism, changing tastes and expanding choices destroy some jobs and create others, with net gains in price and quality. But disruption is never restful, and the United States now faces a decision unique in its history: Is it tired — tired of the turmoil of creative destruction? If so, it had better be ready to do without creativity. And ready to stop being what it has always been: restless.

We’ve always been restless. Will AI change that?

Photo by Daniil Kuželev on Unsplash