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BEING HUMAN IN THE AGE OF AI

By: Yannick Jacob • 3 months ago •

Nobody knows!

That is essentially the consensus among experts when asked about the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on the course of humanity.

It’s s exceptionally difficult to comprehend exponential development. 30 linear steps means 30 steps away. Try guessing the distance of 30 exponential steps (hint: think how many times around the globe). Median estimates of when the first computer will exceed the power of a human brain and develop artificial general intelligence (AGI) are at 2040, just 20 years from now. By 2060 it is likely that we will have created an artificial super intelligence (ASI).

Think of an ASI in its early stages as equally more advanced as we are to chimps. Now imagine trying to explain to a chimp how an iPhone works or the concept of a solar system. That’s how much we’ll be able to relate to AI and vice versa only a few decades from now.

Experts from Sam Harris to Elon Musk warn us that it will be impossible to control this sort of super intelligence and we’ll then be facing a scenario somewhere between the solutions to all of our problems (disease, poverty, lack of resources, global warming) and extinction (AI deciding to get rid of humans as we would get rid of a pest problem in our house). Nobody knows.

But that’s another story. Let’s focus on the more immediate impact of these technological advancements on the way we live, work and experience ourselves and the role coaches can play in this pivotal time of our history. As I see it, there are a number of issues relevant to the coaching industry.

Seismic Changes in the Job Market

An estimated 47% of jobs will have disappeared by 2034 due to automation according to Oxford researchers Fey & Osbourne. Manufacturing jobs are the first to go, followed by the most common jobs such as driving (self-driving cars), retail sales (Amazon in combination with automated ads and psych profiles fuelled by big data) and cashiers (self-checkout machines).

High-skilled jobs aren’t safe either. JP Morgan recently replaced 360.000 “man hours” with a few seconds of AI work. In 2016, eight out of the top-ten NYC hedge funds were either exclusively or mostly based on AI platforms and in the not-too distant future, anything from medicine to law will be out-performed by artificial intelligence.

The results are large-scale restructuring of the work force and never-seen-before rates of unemployment. Career coaches and trainers will have their doors run in until people realise that there simply aren’t enough jobs that would merit choosing a human being over an AI without jeopardizing money, safety or productivity.

A capitalist dream – a labour nightmare. Either way, a space to think, learn, understand, strategize and navigate into a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) future will be more valuable than ever.

The Big Meaning Crisis of the 21 st Century?

I believe the best-case scenario to the changes in the job market will be some form of universal basic income. Every human being will be unconditionally provided with the means to survive so that people won’t be dependent on having a job to make ends meet. While this will prevent major carnage, an array of new problems emerge.

Studies have linked unemployment to boredom, substance abuse and divorce. Our jobs are often directly related to our identity, social status and a sense of meaning and purpose in life. At best, someone who feels useless or discarded, ridden by uncertainty and with no real sense of contribution through their work and, perhaps even more significantly, without the distractions that a structured daily routine provides, will start contemplating a range of existential questions such as "Who am I without my job?” and "What am I going to do with my life in a world where my previously valuable skills are now obsolete?". It’s a difficult journey to adjust to radically new circumstances.

At worst, suicide is linked to many of the above symptoms and has recently become the 2 nd -biggest killer of those between 21-40 years of age (depending on which statistic you consult).

 Existential Coaching

It’s inevitable that technology will increasingly find its way into the human body. As more and more technologically altered and enhanced human beings emerge, what will it mean to be human? Soon we will witness shifts in the magnitude of the agricultural revolution, the invention of the book press, the steam engine or the internet at a nauseating rate - every few years, months or even days. In order to make sense of this we will need spaces where we can consider these questions, to slow down and reflect as to find our place in this crazy new world.

Existential coaching has and will continue to become increasingly popular as a means to discuss questions around meaning and existence for those who choose not to insert themselves into a “Matrix” style virtual reality in an effort to avoid the suffering of their human condition. Those who choose the “red pill” (not once, but daily) would rather experience life than finding solace in a virtual illusion and benefit greatly from coaches who are able to hold space and discuss philosophical questions as they relate to everyday experience of being human in a computerized world.

Existential Resilience

I believe that, rather than waiting, the smart thing is to explore such questions ahead of time and build what I call “existential resilience”.

From the early days of my MA in Existential Coaching and throughout my years as Programme Leader of the MSc Coaching Psychology at the University of East London and years of supervising coaches, the question where coaching ends and therapy begins has been a prevalent one.

I believe the answer is multi-faceted but in the light of what we’re facing in the near future, I’d say we’ll need all hands-on deck to help people integrate into their new realities.

Yannick is an existential coach (MA), positive psychologist (MSc), coach trainer & supervisor and FMR Programme Leader of the MSc Coaching Psychology at the University of East London.

His aim is to inspire those he meets and works with to think more deeply, live more courageously and develop existential resilience against the inevitable challenges of being human in a VUCA world. Yannick works with coaches, leaders and anybody who considers themselves to be in a “position of great responsibility” willing to face life with their eyes wide open and eager to experience the full spectrum of human experience as the pathway to happiness.

His book, An Introduction to Existential Coaching, will be published in May 2019 by Routledge.

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