From fear to Utopia: A positive vision of AI’s potential

With each technological leap, our innate fear of change emerges. AI, the latest in a long line of
disruptive breakthroughs, follows a pattern seen in history. The invention of the printing press
sparked fears that religious teachings would be undermined, with condemnation of the new books
as ‘the Devil’s work’.

Even the invention of the telephone caused a moral panic that it would bring down society by
removing the need for people to meet face-to-face. Today’s AI debate echoes this fear. The
headlines from last year’s landmark Bletchley Park conference screamed about ‘killer robots’, and
‘existential threats to humanity’.

However I’m hopeful the opposite is the case. AI has the power to do something quite profound and
support the flourishing of humanity. Paradoxically freeing us from many of the bonds of the most
recent wave of attention-sapping digital technology. So how do we get there?

The age of technology distraction

Perhaps the last few years have boosted the arguments of the technophobes. The advent of ‘social’
media having a negative impact on our social functioning and flourishing. The more digitally
connected we are, the less real-world human contact we are experiencing.

So much technology is designed to capture our attention and keep us on a platform for as long as
possible. To help these companies gather data and/or display advertising to drive their revenue for

But it is vital for our wellbeing to spend time with each other, and crucial that we have time to think
and dream without distraction to solve problems. After all, as Robert Waldinger writes about in The
Good Life, humans evolved to be connected to other humans.

The decline of real time

This information loaded, hyper-connected world has left us with little time to just exist. Time to
daydream, to contemplate, to think creatively and solve problems which are right in front of us. This
is leading to reduced innovation, stress and burnout.

It is also making us feel isolated. A 2018 study by the University of Chicago found that people who
use social media frequently are more likely to feel isolated and less satisfied with their lives.
While some fear that AI, as the next big technological breakthrough, may enslave us further, it also
has the potential to help us reclaim our time and mental space as a species.

Dramatically improving productivity

At the most basic level, AI can automate and optimise low value, but high time intensity tasks, to
free up time for real world experiences and reflection. The recent evidence indicates that AI can save
employees an impressive amount of time.

One study on the impact of generative AI on highly skilled workers finds that when artificial
intelligence is used within the boundary of its capabilities, it can improve a worker’s performance by
as much as 40% compared with workers who don’t use it. This potential for productivity improvement would be unmatched since the Industrial revolution. This would bolster economic performance and provide people with more freedom and time.

Nurturing creativity and connection

Unlike social media platforms designed to distract you from other aspects of life, AI can be ‘additive’
to real life and connection. AI can help humans generate new ideas and explore possibilities by
providing the accumulated knowledge of humanity at the click of a button. And that is worth noting.

AI is not something alien or somehow anti-human, it is in fact all of humanity’s knowledge, vectorised and summarised. This democratising technology enables us all to stand on the shoulder of giants to support new ideas, creativity and innovation.

Realising the Utopian promise of technology

Ultimately these gains could emancipate humans and offer the Utopian dream technology always
was always supposed to offer. To reduce our working time, and spend more time doing the things
that provide meaning and with the people we love.

Indeed despite fears, technological breakthroughs have often facilitated human creativity and
interaction. The birth of the Arts was caused by the beginning of the Industrial revolution as we
shifted from an agricultural society working round the clock to a 9-5 existence. This freed up the
most precious commodity of all time.

With the additional hours in our day, we now had time to engage in passions and hobbies. This is the
human flourishing we should be aiming for as AI develops.

The solution to humanity’s biggest challenges in sight

The promise of AI and humanity’s accumulated wisdom also means the biggest challenges we face
could be within our grasp. Not as Elon Musk fears to support environmental extensionists but to
manage humanity’s transition to net zero, discovering effective methods at scale for alleviating
poverty and finally curing cancer.

Already there have been remarkable breakthroughs with Ground-breaking artificial intelligence
helping clinicians diagnose lung cancer quickly and accurately being rolled out in NHS hospitals. But
we are only at the beginning of this journey.

While much of technology takes us away from our roots and nature, we now have the potential for
increased interaction with nature. AI can offer the potential for holistic impact on mental health and
social well-being, steering society towards a more balanced and fulfilling existence.
If we don’t fully appreciate and aim for these benefits how can we hope to bring the best from AI?
Let’s ensure this next big leap in human technology helps create a better world through better
health, stronger bonds between people and a life filled with dreams and innovation.

What do we need to watch out for and how do we make it a reality?

Of course it would be naïve to suggest AI doesn’t require guardrails. There are five key areas that can
help ensure we shape AI in a positive direction to help us realise these goals and minimise the risks.

Ethical guidelines and regulation

Guidelines and regulation can help to ensure AI is used ethically for good, not bad and that we are
able to tackle rogue players. Navigating the ethical landscape of artificial intelligence involves
grappling with the challenge of establishing universally agreed-upon ethical guidelines and

Human-centric design

Looking into the heart of AI’s impact on humanity, the concept of human-centric design is a critical
consideration. It addresses the fundamental question of the role of humans in the age of AI. If it is
going to replace existing jobs, how is it going to otherwise benefit us and support our life or mental

Defining outcomes aligned with human values and creating a vision that preserves human-centric
goals are pivotal. Of course these need to be balanced with the requirements of the planet.Public education and awareness

The success of AI integration hinges on the public’s understanding and acceptance of its goals and
outcomes. The journey toward widespread comprehension is fraught with challenges, as diverse
perspectives may lead to resistance. Education and awareness thus become key elements in
mitigating potential conflicts.

A tough prospect in today’s divided world. This divide is influenced by a failure to fully educate
people on the impact of social media platforms on debate and discourse. Let’s not make the same
mistake again.

Economics and global collaboration

As AI’s capabilities render certain jobs obsolete and alter the landscape of work, reimagining
economic structures becomes imperative.

The prospect of universal income and the potential reshaping of consumer-driven economies loom
large. Addressing these challenges on a global scale is paramount, as attempting to change economic
systems in isolation risks unintended consequences in an interconnected world.

Mental health and social well being

Beyond the economic and regulatory realms, the transformative power of AI extends to the very
fabric of human existence. The societal shift needed to prioritise mental health and wellbeing aligns
with the broader theme of human-centric AI. The newfound time afforded by AI will make us
consider how we can fill our lives with meaningful activities.

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