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The Fascinating Questions of a 100 Year AI Life

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I just picked up the London Business School’s quarterly journal, with lots of articles talking about Artificial Intelligence (AI).

There are two in particular that stand out, with some interesting views. The first is by Julian Birkinshaw, Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship, who argues that people will be integral to the future of business, just in a different way.

The key point: deciding where to invest energy and resources requires lateral thinking, intuition and creativity – areas where humans trump machines … As AI takes over more and more internal functions within the organisation, business managers will have to devote an increasing amount of their time and energy to exploiting their creativity and intuition. In short, they will have to concentrate on what AI cannot do …

And consider this. If I’m a fund manager and I have a piece of software that indicates when a stock is cheap or expensive, it’s inevitable that I won’t be the only fund manager using the software.

Thousands of my competitors will be doing the same. If that’s the case, any potential profit from following the software’s advice is likely to disappear in an instant. The only way to show an above-average return will be by being a contrarian and taking investment decisions that go against the AI grain. As Terry Pratchett said, “Real stupidity beats AI every time.”

Stupidity beats intelligence? Well, I guess in today’s world of reality television, he just might be right. Certainly, the idea that humans can do things machines will never be able to do is an interesting dialogue. In the article, Julian claims that a machine could never do things humans can do, such as things based upon lateral thinking. I am not so sure, and certainly the idea that a machine could never create art, music, or other creative areas is fanciful, as the machines already are.

I therefore wonder whether ten or twenty years from now, we will look back at all these essays on AI replacing humans or augmenting humans with amazement at their naivety. For example, back in 1969, The Industrial Research survey asked 1,000 experts for predictions of the biggest changes forecast ahead for the next ten years. Not twenty or thirty. Just the next decade. The top ten predictions had fanciful ideas of landing on Mars and Venus, nuclear powered aircraft and levitating vehicles, but not one bet big on the computer.

There is then another lengthy essay in the LBS journal on the 100-year life. The predictions today is that the average child will live a century and some maybe even a century and a half. What does that mean for work, life, savings and retirement?

The essay is by Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice, and Andrew Scott, Professor of Economics. These two professors have written a book called The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity.

Two things, at least, are already clear. The first is that the main story is not the machine – it’s people. Most of those writing about the fourth (or sometimes fifth) industrial revolution assume that it’s essentially a hardware story in which ever more perfected technology eats up the world, leaving less and less space for weak, fickle, messy humans.

This has prompted many – including luminaries such as Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking – to warn of a turning point when humanity risks losing control of the technology it has created, generating problems rather than solutions, and a longer life leading to years of impoverishment and misery rather than fulfillment and opportunity. While taking these dangers seriously – “we’re not Pollyannas” – Scott and Gratton are convinced that this is the wrong way round. The real agenda, they argue, is about being human and what that means.

What do we need to live as long, humanly and healthily as possible, and in a way that is as fulfilling, meaningful and economically secure as possible? How can we change our social and economic practices so as to benefit from the gifts of better technology and longer lives?

So, the second starting point for this new research is that, given our new endowments of extraordinary technology and longer life, the starting point that everything is terrible can’t be right. The question is, how can we leverage these things to live a better and more human life?”

They then proceed to make an interesting analysis of how our lives are changing already.

For roughly a century, life in the advanced economies has followed a standard predefined pattern: a linear, three-stage progression from education to work to retirement.

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It was a process both passive and paternalistic/patriarchal: education built around conformity and rote learning suited to subsequent full-time employment in hierarchically organised mass-production units. A regular pay packet enabled workers to consume goods and services from other manufacturers. Other institutions, such as education, health services, social security, housing and retirement arrangements were bit by bit put in place to support what became a stable techno-economic model. Management and trade unions grew up alongside.

This is the model, together with supporting norms and regulations, that is now collapsing as fast as you can say “internet”. The sedate life story with its predictable beginning, middle and end is going the way of the Victorian novel, replaced by a jagged post-modern mosaic of contrasting gigs, time-outs, reframings, relearnings and full and part-time employment as technology rudely unbundles and reassembles our ways of relating to loved ones, colleagues and paid work.

In other words, our lives are being transformed with technology and digitalisation. We will live to an average age of 100 compared to our grandfathers who were lucky to make it to 50. My lifespan could be around 80 years, and these changes fundamentally impact our work, savings, relationships, retirement and more. In fact, it is a revolution of life on earth for humans, as I outlined in-depth in Digital Human.

We are living in amazing times, and it is something that makes me wake up every day with a smile on my face and a dance in my step. How are you doing?

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