In the early days of search engines, we Googled our own names, eager to see what information the vast digital expanse held about us. Now, in the era of advanced generative AI, we’re testing the waters again—this time to see if tools like ChatGPT and Dall-E can replicate, or even outperform, us at our jobs.
Among graphic designers, copywriters, and software developers, the rise of AI has stoked an existential anxiety for the workaday creative class: Will these tools streamline our tasks and make our working lives more efficient, or make us as obsolete as the craftsmen left behind in the Industrial Revolution?
In this moment of intense technological change, it seemed appropriate to check in with someone who could cut through the hyperbole. Dr. Eric Solomon has the background to do just that. Before taking marketing leadership positions at some of the top brands in the world including YouTube, Spotify, Google, and Instagram, Solomon earned his Ph.D. in cognitive psychology, with a focus on AI and ML, studying the computational structures behind language.
“I wanted to find out what it takes for us, as humans, to produce language that we could use as a model to train early LLMs to produce language in a similar way our human brain does with deep learning and neural networks,” Solomon said.
So, what does a business and human psychology expert think of the rising tide of generative AI? Solomon has watched closely over the last two decades as AI got better at automating routine tasks and making inroads into creative domains—areas we once believed were safe from robotic intervention. The explosion of generative AI in the last year is, according to Solomon, just the tip of the iceberg. He anticipates a future where AI's artistic prowess will skyrocket, making it increasingly hard to distinguish between human and machine-made creations.
Worried? Not Solomon. He's convinced that there are three essential human traits that AI can never master. Those who focus on nurturing these unique qualities, he argues, will find a way to thrive, regardless of how advanced and disruptive AI becomes.
OK, let’s start with the easy stuff: In the age of AI, what makes us human? What, if anything, does it tell us about ourselves?
It’s a great provocation. The race between humans and emerging technology is not a new race. Plato was anti-literacy because he thought the oral tradition might die, that people would forget how to recite poetry. TV was going to be the death of humanity—after the radio, of course. But what always happens is that it requires humans to adopt a new mindset and a new set of skills.
The thing about Generative AI is that we’re seeing exponential learning. In the next year or two, we will experience a very fast acceleration. What’s the new skill we need to learn? I believe that skill is figuring out who we are as human beings. What’s crucial in an age of quality vs. an era of growth, of quantity?
I believe the first is the ability to unlearn. We can unlearn bad habits and pick up new ones. An AI can’t do that.
The second I’ll call introspection or sense-making. Here’s how I understand my place in the world and what I need to make of it.
And the third is meaning and purpose. Without a corporeal body, an AI will never feel like they have to have a central purpose.
When people talk about being human, it’s these skills—unlearning, sense-making, finding meaning and purpose—those are the skills that will be meaningful in the future, not coding skills.
What can we do uniquely as humans? AI can’t help you figure out what motivates you at the deepest level—that takes years of hardships, learning, and perhaps, unlearning.
Do we, as a community, care that art can be produced where we can’t tell whether it was a human or an AI that created it? I’d argue that we’re already there. I think AI is poised for baseline creativity. We’re already at a point where if you ask a particular system to create a work of art that surpasses Basquiat, it can do it in a way where you wouldn’t know the difference.
We can unlearn bad habits and pick up new ones. An AI can’t do that.
Really? Do you think so?
Not with paint.
But does it matter if the end result can convince you? Do we get to a point where it’s like, I don’t care if a robot made that song if I like it? Maybe I like that song better than Ed Sheeran.
Whose songs already sometimes sound like a robot made it?
Exactly. What’s the difference? If I can’t tell the difference, who cares?
Well, let’s talk about where that leads to—a place where creativity is devalued.
That’s where I push back. True creative and critical thinking derives from the fact we’ve had separate paths and perspectives. An AI will never have subjective experience. Can an AI convincingly create a pretty good book? Maybe. Can it struggle and, as a result, bring its subjective experience to the work? I don’t think so.
What do you think Generative AI means for knowledge workers, short-term and long-term? What does it mean for how we work and build companies?
Machines are good at being fast at low-level, repetitive tasks requiring low cognitive load. What can we do in a system where AI can handle those things, and free us up to better, more strategic work? I don’t think people get laid off and replaced en masse by machines. I believe intelligent organizations will get completely reorganized with human beings at the center and technology as support to the human worker. I don’t think creative agencies need to worry about copywriters being replaced. It doesn’t mean people get fired.
Intelligent organizations will get completely reorganized with human beings at the center and technology as support to the human worker.
Instead, everyone gets a free intern?
Or a million interns! Helping you with the bullshit you don’t want to do so you can focus on the bullshit you do want to do. That’s the positive side. The dark side—I wonder about jobs with low cognitive load, where it’s more about repetition. What is the future of places like McDonald’s? Do you need cashiers? Do you need people cooking in the back when machines do the cooking? What are the roles that humans play when machines do the work? But this isn’t a new question. It’s the question every time a new technology arrives.
What do you tell the companies that you consult about AI?
I remind them that this is the time to double down on humanity. Now is the time to understand that if you think this is going to be the holy grail and solve all your problems, that you’re not going to need a dedicated, energetic, and loyal workforce, you’ve got another thing coming.
Without the community of people, without the array of subjective experiences you bring, what have you got? Success doesn’t come from focusing on growth at all costs. It comes from fostering your community and caring about this business’s purpose. Your most valuable commodity is the people working within an organization. You can focus on AI, you can focus on technology, but that’s the wrong focus. There will always be an emerging technology—the shiny new thing. What will stay is our ability to make sense of the world—to find our common purpose.
Dr. Eric Solomon serves as the Founder and CEO of The Human OS, aiming to optimize teams and leaders for modern challenges, and is a member of A.Team’s CxO Network.
Solomon will be speaking at A.Team’s AI x Future of Work Summit on Nov 30. RSVP to save your spot here. Space is limited.