Will AI suck our brains out?
Across all my social media I see lots of worry that reliance on AI is going to weaken the human mind, making us all dumber and less capable over time... and a common reply to this is that calculators, etc. haven't really made us collectively stupid but perhaps even more productive than ever. So what’s it going to be, is AI going to take away human agency or actually increase it?
I personally have a different line on this that I hope answers to both sides of that debate:
I suck at math. This is not because I have access to calculators and Alexa who can answer my math questions by voice. This is because I always sucked at math and I was never interested in changing that fact. It isn't just about being lazy, basic math was very challenging for me, and I decided to expend my energy on other things like reading advanced books, DIY fixing stuff, and yes, video games. Calculators or not, I was going to avoid a life of needing to regularly deal with math. And actually, I was pretty successful at arranging that..
On the flip side of this, I didn't pour my blood, sweat, and tears into a philosophy major because it was going to optimize my efficiency, make me a lot of easy money, or even make me famous... It was a serious and obscure challenge that I just happened to be very passionate about doing.
So I did it. To the fullest.
AI or not, humans are going to avoid doing what they don't want to do and throw themselves wholeheartedly into what they do want to do. Powerful tools like AI are simply likely to make it easier to do both.
And this isn't actually a new trend, we've come a long way from the tribal days where everyone needed to be good at lots of basic survival skills. Society's move towards diverse specializations has had a long history of walking hand in hand with technology... and it has always exponentially increased the breadth and depth of knowledge and capability rather than diminish it...
So if AI tools help you (or your children or your students) get through something you're not so good at or don't really enjoy doing, why not use them for that so you can focus on what you love and uniquely bring out into the world--
Like so many of you, I have recently been checking out the AI ChatGPT chatbots thing. It's fascinating. We are definitely in the early, curious and awkward stages of something that has many potential benefits and a wide field of potential problems. And there are a lot of very valid and important questions surrounding its development and use.
I studied both Philosophy and Literature, so I have a lot of thoughts about this stuff in general. But I don’t want to lay some esoteric essay on you here and bore you… especially since those chatbots can be so much more fun…
Instead, as a life coach and consultant, I want to focus practically on how the current generation of AI chatbots relates to the field of personal development and wellness. And what this might mean for you.
In particular, I have tried interacting with this Life Coach AI on the Character.AI site. This is a chatbot similar to ChatGPT but overlaid with a focused “personality” to specialize in giving life guidance. And wow! I was very surprised by the naturalness of its responses. I ran it through a very common scenario of wanting to change jobs but not really sure what to do... (Yes, I was sort of "catfishing" the chatbot, sorry!)
I expected to receive some very general, commonsense advice, which is what I got. But what I didn't expect was how it actually asked me clarifying questions and then gave me specific and detailed lists of things to consider and actions to take. And this was all with a naturalness of tone and conversationalism that made me wonder if there might have been a real human back there catfishing me under the guise of an AI...
You can read a full transcript of the conversation here.
One of my friends told me about a similar experience they had talking about a real relationship issue with this Psychologist AI on the same site.
So what's the hot take to take away here? Could this revolutionize the wellness industry, make counseling more accessible, and put me out of work?
I definitely think this could make basic counseling more accessible to people. And I think that’s a good thing. Even if (when) this free honeymoon period ends and we all have to start paying for it, the cost will still likely be quite low. It’s available anytime, responds asynchronously at your pace, and feels very anonymous. That creates a very low barrier entry for people to try their first experience of receiving some kind of counseling.
And it’s pretty easy to imagine someone playing around with this as a curiosity and then end up actually asking about their real problems…
As for the quality of chatbot counseling, I would characterize it like this:
if you want a distillation of common wisdom on the issue you are working on but don't want to spend hours searching and reading blog posts, this would be very efficient and helpful. And it comes to you in the engaging form of an interactive conversation.
For some people that’s all they really need to get them going on their way themselves. Yay! Score a point for the ease and efficiency of AI--
For others, this could be their first step onto the path of getting the quality help they really need to deal with deeper, more intense issues: an easily accessible gateway to future wellness…
And that’s exactly where professionals like myself come in. We do spend hours researching, reading and writing blog posts and books on psychology, neuroscience, physiology, productivity, spirituality, etc. We study and create a variety of specialized and useful techniques that are not common knowledge and require skill and experience to implement effectively (such as hypnotherapy). And if this is what you end up needing to go deeper and farther in your journey of personal development and wellness, we are here for you.
So I actually encourage you to go ahead and give chatbot consulting a try-- lightly, gently. See if its conversational distillation of internet knowledge gives you some keys to open the right doors to wherever you need to be--
I say to try it lightly and gently for a reason. And this is important. Because in their current iteration, GPT-based chatbots are not sentient, conscious AI with general intelligence. They are actually just predictive text algorithms (like your smartphone’s autocomplete function) that have been leveled up in sophistication and statistically trained on a massive dataset of written stuff (basically everything on the internet in the year 2021)... So they don’t have any real intention behind their output. And because of that, they sometimes innocently but confidently spout nonsense or inaccuracies. And there is always the chance that something very inappropriate and hurtful can slip through their internal filters onto your screen. So please don’t take them too seriously, no matter how natural and helpful they might sound. And if you are suicidal, I would recommend skipping them entirely and going directly to a human you can trust...