Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Wisdom and the Rise of AI (Artificial Ignorance)!

Artificial Intelligence is already here, we just don't notice it yet. All around us, the invisible algorithms of social media and countless online platforms are shaping our buying habits, our values, and our beliefs. Should we be concerned?

The Power of The Algorithms


The algorithms exploit our cognitive baises and effectively hijack our minds without us even realizing it:

  • Our devices have the same conditioning effect as poker machines, keeping us hooked on content through Intermittent variable rewards.
  • FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) becomes an addiction to living moment to moment online.
  • Our social approval is primed by how many tags and likes we get. 
  • Our need to reciprocate social gestures is exploited to keep us on the platform for longer (looking at you LinkedIn).
  • Automatic feeds and autoplay are like consuming a bottomless bowl of soup - we will always consume more than we need.
  • Message interruptions are an effective way of capturing our attention since we're primed to notice something different or novel.
  • The algorithms want to convert our reasons for using the app into their reason, which is to maximize the time we spend consuming things.
  • It's always easier to subscribe than it is to unsubscribe, so most of us don't.
We tacitly buy into this because the benefits seem to outweigh the costs. The content streamed to us seems to happily coincide with our interests (cat videos, anyone). But the algorithms have a dark side. They steer us toward edgier content, a loop that results in more time spent on the app, and more advertising revenue for the company. Platform incentives polarize opinions, viewpoints, beliefs and ideologies. They nudge us toward a more strident version of our existing beliefs. 

It's unfair to blame the internet for this, but the algorithms behind the platforms inadvertently create and reinforce extremist beliefs. They become a place where people with hateful and violent beliefs can feed off one another. This is an emergent AI, but not some technological dream of a Utopian future. What we are breeding is Artificial Ignorance


AI (Artificial Ignorance)


As Margaret Wheatley observes in her 2017 book, Who Do We Choose To Be?"This is the age of retreat: from one another, from values that held us together, from ideas and practices that encouraged inclusion, from faith in leaders, from belief in basic human goodness".


Artificial Ignorance is everywhere: the lack of political courage, the building of walls against collaboration across national boundaries, self-interest and greed which supersedes compassion. We have seemingly lost the ability to solve the global problems of our time. 


But there is an antidote to ignorance, and the antidote is wisdom. So much is possible if we can step away from the addictive torrent of information and consciously and wisely choose who to be in this moment, and the next.


What we need is a WISE template for making more considerate decisions for ourselves, our communities, our businesses, our government and political institutions, and for the planet. Our survival may very well depend on it.


A Template for Making WISE Decisions


Use this template to guard against bias, assumptions, and fallacies in making critical decisions in times of uncertainty and complexity:

Widen your framework: 

  • Avoid "either/or" and "whether/or not" decisions. Think AND not OR.
  • Ask yourself, "what different outcomes or solutions could there be?" Generate a list of options.
  • Ask yourself, "could my opinion on the situation be incorrect?"
  • Find someone who has solved this problem before, or Google keywords related to the issue.
Interrogate reality:
  • If you think your best option is correct, consider, "in what ways might this be the wrong decision?"
  • Ask yourself disconfirming questions such as, "What's the biggest obstacle to this being the right decision?" "In what ways could I fail?"
  • Ask yourself, "what would have to be true for each of these options to be the best possible choice?"
  • Ask yourself, "can I accept that there may be information to which I do not have access?"
Sense what is emerging:
  • Ask yourself, "what do I notice when I put myself in the other person's shoes?" "What might be that person's perspective?"
  • Ask yourself, "What might other people think or feel if they were watching the situation?"
  • Retreat from the issue and allow time for stillness and reflection; let your awareness redirect itself; allow the inner knowing to emerge.
  • Ask yourself, "what is waiting to emerge into being through this decision?" 
Enact a way forward: 
  • Take the first step in the direction of the decision. Don't procrastinate or wait for more data or analysis, it may be too late.
  • Experiment and prototype, learn through action: "fail forward and fail fast".
  • With each action, ask yourself these four questions: "What just happened? Why do I think it happened?What can I learn from this? How will I apply these learnings?"
  • Take action from the predicted future state, as if you are already there.

We are immersed in a matrix of Artificial Ignorance and it's unlikely to get better. The best we can do is cultivate our own "islands of sanity" in Margaret Wheatley's words. A template for practicing wisdom and making wise decisions may be our best resource!