Hitting the Books: AI Lets People Think Faster, Not Smarter

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Jthere’s too much of the internet and our attempts to keep up with the frenetic pace of, well, everything these days – it’s breaking our brains. Analyzing the deluge of inundated information raised by algorithmic systems designed to maximize engagement has trained us as Pavlovian slave dogs to rely on snap judgments and gut feelings in our decision-making and opinion-forming. rather than deliberation and introspection. Which is fine when you’re deciding between Italian and Indian for dinner or hesitating over a new paint color for the hallway, but not when we’re basing existential life choices here on friggin’ vibes.

In his latest book, ME, HUMAN: AI, automation and the quest to reclaim what makes us unique, Professor of Business Psychology and Director of Innovation at ManpowerGroup, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic explores the myriad ways AI systems now govern our daily lives and interactions. Whether it’s finding love, finding gainful employment, or knowing the score of yesterday’s match, AI has simplified the process of gathering information. But, as Chamorro-Premuzic argues in the excerpt below, this information revolution is actively changing our behavior, and not always for the better.

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Harvard Business Review Press

Reprinted with permission from Harvard Business Review Press. Extract of ME, HUMAN: AI, automation and the quest to reclaim what makes us unique by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic. Copyright 2023 Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic. All rights reserved.

Our brain on speed

If the age of AI demands that our brains always be alert to minor changes and react quickly, optimizing for speed over accuracy and operating in what behavioral economists have called System 1 mode (impulsive decision-making , intuitive, automatic, and unconscious), then it shouldn’t surprise us that we’re becoming a less patient version of ourselves.

Of course, sometimes it’s best to react quickly or trust our guts. The real problem arises when quick stupidity is our primary mode of decision-making. This causes us to make mistakes and impairs our ability to detect errors. More often than not, quick decisions are made out of ignorance.

Intuition can be great, but it has to be hard earned. Experts, for example, are able to think on their feet because they have invested thousands of hours in learning and practice: their intuition has become data-driven. Only then are they able to act quickly in accordance with their internalized expertise and evidence-based experience. Alas, most people are not experts, although they often think they are. Most of us, especially when interacting with others on Twitter, act with the speed, poise and conviction of an expert, offering a wide range of opinions on epidemiology and global crises. , without the substance of the knowledge that underlies them. And thanks to AI, which ensures that our messages are delivered to an audience more inclined to believe them, our delusions of expertise can be reinforced by our personal filter bubble. We have an interesting tendency to find people more open-minded, rational, and sensible when they think like us. Our digital impulsiveness and general impatience impair our ability to grow intellectually, develop expertise, and acquire knowledge.

Consider how little perseverance and meticulousness with which we consume actual information. And I say consume rather than inspecting, analyzing or verifying. An academic study estimated that the top 10% of digital rumors (many of which are fake news) account for up to 36% of retweets, and that this effect is best explained in terms of what is called the chamber echo, in which retweets are based on clickbait that matches the opinions, beliefs, and ideology of the retweeter to the point that any discrepancies between those beliefs and the actual content of the underlying article may go unnoticed. Patience would mean spending time determining if something is real or fake news, or if there are serious reasons to believe someone’s point of view, especially when we agree with them. It is not the absence of fact-checking algorithms in presidential debates that dissuades us from voting for incompetent or dishonest politicians, but rather our intuition. Two factors mainly predict whether someone will win a presidential bid in the United States: the height of the candidate and whether we would like to have a beer with him.

Although AI-based internet platforms are a relatively new type of technology, their impact on human behavior is consistent with previous evidence regarding the impact of other forms of mass media, such as television or video games, which tend to fuel ADHD-like behaviors. symptoms, such as impulsivity, attention deficits and restless hyperactivity. As the world becomes more complex and access to knowledge expands, we avoid slowing down to pause, ponder and ponder, instead behaving like mindless automatons. Research indicates that faster information gathering online, for example, through instant Google searches for pressing questions, impairs long-term knowledge acquisition as well as the ability to remember where our facts and information come from.

Unfortunately, it is not so easy to fight our impulsive behaviors or contain our impatience. The brain is a highly malleable organ, capable of intertwining with the objects and tools it uses. Some of these adaptations may seem pathological in some contexts or cultures, but they are essential survival tools in others: restless impatience and quick impulsiveness are no exception.

Although we have the power to shape our default habits and behaviors to suit our habitat, if pace rather than patience is rewarded, then our impulsiveness will be rewarded more than our patience. And if an adaptation is too rewarded, it becomes a trivialized and overused force, making us more rigid, less flexible and enslaved to our own habits, as well as less able to display the opposite type of behavior. The downside of our adaptive nature is that we quickly become an exaggerated version of ourselves: we mold ourselves into the very objects of our experience, amplifying the patterns that provide fit. When this happens, our behaviors become harder to shift or change.

When I first returned to my hometown in Argentina after spending a full year in London, my childhood friends wondered why my pace was so needlessly accelerated: “Why are you in such a rush? Fifteen years later, I experienced the same speed disconnect returning from New York to London, where the pace is noticeably faster. Still, most New Yorkers seem sluggish by relative Hong Kong standards, a place where the button to close the elevator doors (two inward-facing arrows facing each other) is generally worn, and the Automatic taxi doors open and close while the taxis are still driving. Repeat, and you really lose.

There may be limited benefits to increasing our patience as the world moves faster and faster. The right level of patience is always the one that matches the environmental requirements and best suits the problems you need to solve. Patience is not always a virtue. If you wait longer than expected, you are wasting your time. When patience breeds complacency or a false sense of optimism, or when it breeds inaction and passivity, then it may not be the most desirable state of mind and more of a character responsibility. than a mental muscle. Along the same lines, it’s easy to think of real-life problems that result from having too much patience or, if you prefer, would benefit from a little impatience: for example, asking for a promotion is usually a faster way to get it than patiently waiting for one; refraining from giving someone (eg, a date, colleague, client, or former employer) a second chance can help you avoid foreseeable disappointments; and patiently waiting for an important email that never arrives can hurt your ability to make better alternative choices. In short, a strategic sense of urgency, which is the opposite of patience, can be quite advantageous.

There are also many times when patience, and its deeper psychological catalyst of self-control, can be a much-needed adaptation. If the age of AI seems disinterested in our ability to wait and delay gratification, and patience somehow becomes a lost virtue, we risk becoming a narrower, shallower version of ourselves.

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