Authentic Intelligence is the New AI: A Review of The Human Advantage
There is nothing new under the sun. Ecclesiastes 1:9
In the early 1980s I had an interest in early stage medical device companies. One intriguing prototype would automatically administer a drug at a change in a patient’s blood pressure. Physicians killed the project, claiming the simple device was “too close to artificial intelligence.”
Doctors didn’t want to be out of the loop. The machine would be a disruption to the practice of medicine. Luddites and philosophers teamed up to slow progress for almost a decade.
Dr. Jay Richards tells us that little has changed in the Fallen Nature of the human condition. In his new book The Human Advantage: The Future of American Work In An Age of Smart Machines, Dr. Richards gives us a readable reminder that thinking machines are coming. He warns us to get ready. But it’s not how you think.
The problem is not bad robots, but bad philosophy.
I settled into Richards’ Human Advantage expecting an update on Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics and how to deal with a dark future. I was looking for weaponry to kill the Terminator. Instead of armaments I got a winsome argument for an optimistic tomorrow. (Full disclosure: Dr. Richards is my editor at The Stream.)
The Advantage of Virtue
It is popular among the smart set to lecture on a dystopian future. These Nietzscheans don’t like happy endings. Something was always going to get us: nuclear war, nuclear winter, killer bees, Ebola, global warming or bubonic plague. (Okay, maybe they were right on the last one.)
Today it’s technology. Killer apps are job killers, right? Richards, a professor at The Catholic University of America, pushes us beyond this “fatalistic myth.”
Our current generation of pessimists — Chicken Littles with PhDs — tell us our new machine overlords are right around the corner and advancing fast.
In a calmer voice, Richards tells the story of the human condition. We have early examples of ingenuity, imagination, and originality in the coming age of mass disruption. The New Economy, he argues, will demand more of our humanity — not less. How?
The habit of Virtue. That is the, “freely chosen action … that you can change yourself … making you more kind, helpful, courageous, diligent, careful and truthful.” But we can only attain the good of virtue “through focus and hard work,” where, in addition, “The American Dream has always called for a willingness to leave behind the known for a risky, unknown future.”
This is America the Exceptional. The Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville in the 1830s wrote of the USA’s “self-interest rightly understood.” That is, “do good” and provide goods as a virtuous service. In the coming disruption, Richards says, we will find new ways to serve others and earn a living.
But not everyone agrees. Can every displaced farmer or personal fitness trainer transition to make a living doing YouTube videos? Probably not.
However, Richards’ case studies remind us of creativity and resourcefulness with timeless biblical underpinnings. He hints at Proverbs 16:26, where The appetite of laborers works for them; their hunger drives them on.
Richards is careful with his Bible thumping. He is a gentleman making a winsome argument who offends with logic that dystopians cannot reject.
So how does our Advantage playout? Spoiler Alert: Virtue wins — as it usually has for America.
Humanity is fallen. But we can get up.
The competitive advantage of nations over other nations is an accepted business cliché — but now we should appreciate the competitive advantage of man over machine. The Advantage predicts that we will create businesses as yet undreamed and hire employees to provide even greater services, if not products to other people.
Business guru Peter Drucker would have approved of Richards’ argument. “Because the purpose of business is to create a customer,” wrote Drucker, “the business enterprise has two — and only two — basic functions: marketing and innovation.” In the coming age of automation-everywhere The Human Advantage will be the human touch. For example, intangibles such as business development, personal care givers, hospitality services and show business are not easily automated.
(Richards wisely does not cite the Pet Rocks craze, circa 1975. It was an eye-roller even then. But this “entertainment service” created employment. And over four million little boxes of rocks were sold at four bucks a toss. “Find a need and fill it” could be an expanded definition of empathy in our uncertain times.)
Medical practitioners are embracing new technologies and new medicine. The demand for clinicians is greater than ever. This is authentic intelligence. This is the human advantage.
It is almost as if the writer of the book of Hebrews knew about hardware and soulless software. We should not fear cloud computing.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us… Hebrews 12:1
Jack Yoest is an Assistant Professor of Management at The Catholic University of America in The Busch School of Business and Economics, in Washington, DC. He is the author of The Memo: How the Classified Military Document That Helped the U.S. Win WWII Can Help You Succeed in Business.