TThere’s just too much internet out there and trying to keep up with the breakneck pace of everything these days — it’s breaking our minds. Sifting through the deluge of information generated by algorithmic systems built to maximize engagement has trained us as Pavlovian dogs to rely on snap judgments and gut feelings in decision making and opinion formation rather than thought and introspection . That’s fine when you’re deciding between Italian and Indian for dinner or getting a new paint color for the hallway, but not when we’re out here basing our friggin’ existential life choices vibes.
In his latest book, I, HUMAN: AI, automation and the quest to reclaim what makes us unique, Professor of business psychology and Chief Innovation Officer at ManpowerGroup, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic explores the myriad ways in which artificial intelligence systems now govern our daily lives and interactions. From finding love to finding gainful employment to finding out the score of yesterday’s game, AI has streamlined the information gathering process. But, as Chamorro-Premuzic argues in the excerpt below, the information revolution is actively changing our behavior, and not always for the better.
Reprinted with permission of Harvard Business Review Press. Excerpt from I, 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 minds on speed
If the era of artificial intelligence requires our brains to be always alert to small changes and react quickly, optimizing speed rather than accuracy and operating according to what behavioral economists have labeled System 1 mode (impulsive, intuitive , automatic and unconscious decision-making), then it shouldn’t surprise us that we’re turning into a less patient version of ourselves.
Of course, sometimes it is optimal to react quickly or trust our gut. The real problem comes when quick carelessness is the main mode of decision making. It makes us make mistakes and reduces our ability to detect mistakes. Most of the time, snap decisions are made out of ignorance.
Intuition can be wonderful, but it should 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 on their internalized expertise and evidence-based expertise. Unfortunately, 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, assertiveness and conviction of experts, offering a wide range of opinions on epidemiology and global crises without the substance of knowledge to back it up. And thanks to artificial intelligence, which ensures that our messages are delivered to an audience most likely to believe them, our delusions of expertise can be enhanced by our own personal filter bubble. We have an interesting tendency to find people more open-minded, reasonable and reasonable when they think like us. Our digital impulsiveness and general impatience is harming our ability to grow intellectually, develop expertise and gain knowledge.
Consider the little persistence and thoroughness with which we consume factual information. And I say consume instead of inspection, analysis or vet. One academic study estimated that digital rumors (many of them fake news) account for up to 36 percent of retweets, and that this effect is best explained in terms of the so-called echo chamber, where retweets are based on clickbait that matches the views, beliefs and ideology of the retweeter, to the point that any discrepancy between those beliefs and the actual content of the underlying article may go unnoticed. Patience would mean spending time to determine whether something is true or false news, or whether there are good reasons to believe someone’s point of view, especially when we agree with it. It is not the absence of fact-checking algorithms during presidential debates that prevents us from voting for incompetent or dishonest politicians, but rather our intuition. Two factors primarily predict whether someone will win a presidential nomination in the United States—the candidate’s height and whether we’d like to have a beer with them.
While internet platforms based on artificial intelligence are a relatively recent type of technology, their impact on human behavior is consistent with previous evidence on the impact of other forms of mass media, such as television or video games, which show a tendency to fuel ADHD symptoms such as impulsivity, attention deficits, and restless hyperactivity. As the world increases in complexity and access to knowledge expands, we avoid slowing down to stop, think, and reflect, behaving instead like mindless automatons. Research shows that gathering information faster online, for example by immediately searching for pressing questions on Google, harms long-term knowledge acquisition as well as the ability to recall where our facts and information come from.
Unfortunately, it is not so easy to fight against our impulsive behavior or to keep our impatience in check. The brain is an extremely malleable organ, with the ability to become intertwined with the objects and tools it uses. Some of these adaptations may seem pathological in some contexts or cultures, but are necessary survival tools in others: restless impatience and quick impulsiveness are no exception.
Although we have the power to shape our habits and default patterns of behavior to fit our habitat, if pace is rewarded rather than patience, then our impulsiveness will be rewarded more than our patience. And if there is any adjustment excessively rewarded, it becomes a commoditized and overused force, making us more rigid, less flexible, and slaves to our own habits, and less able to exhibit 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, reinforcing the patterns that ensure fit. When this happens, then our behaviors become harder to shift or change.
When I first returned to my native Argentina after spending an entire year in London, my childhood friends wondered why my pace had picked up so needlessly — “Why are you in such a hurry?” Fifteen years later, I experienced the same disconnect in speed when I returned to London from New York, where the pace is significantly faster. However, most New Yorkers seem slow by the relative standards of Hong Kong, a place where the button to close the elevator doors (two inward-facing arrows opposite each other) is usually worn and the automatic doors of taxis open and close while the taxis are still moving. Procrastinate, and you really lose.
There may be limited advantages in strengthening our patience when the world is moving faster and faster. The right level of patience is always the one that aligns with the environmental requirements and best suits the problems you need to solve. Patience is not always a virtue. If you wait longer than you should, then you are wasting your time. When patience breeds complacency or a false sense of optimism, or when it feeds inertia and passivity, then it may not be the most desirable state of mind and more of a liability than a mental muscle. Similarly, it’s easy to think of real-life problems that arise from being too patient, or if you prefer, would benefit from a little impatience: for example, asking for a promotion is usually a quicker way to get one than waiting patiently. one. Refraining from giving someone (eg, a date, colleague, client, or previous employer) a second chance can help you avoid predictable disappointments. and waiting patiently 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 rather beneficial.
There are also many times when patience, and its deeper psychological factor of self-control, can be a necessary adjustment. If the age of artificial intelligence seems unconcerned with our ability to wait and delay gratification, and patience becomes somewhat of a lost virtue, we risk becoming a narrower and shallower version of ourselves.
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