How to Cope with AInxiety

Human: Hey Siri, what’s the weather outside? Siri: It’s currently clear and 69 degrees. 

Human: Hey Google, play my music. Google Assistant: Now shuffling all songs in your library. 

Artificial Intelligence (AI) jumped into the headlines of late, but in reality, it’s not that new.   Few people initially worried about the voice commands that allowed us to complete common tasks with minimal effort. Then we started getting ads touting products or services eerily similar to topics we were discussing near our smart devices.  Then popular culture jumped into the AI world with movies like Ex Machina. 

The premise of Ex Machina is following a programmer who is invited by his CEO to administer the Turing test to an intelligent humanoid robot. In the movie, the programmer starts to fall in love with the humanoid robot. The CEO and programmer are surprised to see human characteristics shown in an AI. In the film, the robot turns the CEO and programmer against each other to show how technology could interfere with humans. This part of the film scared viewers into thinking What if robots can turn humans against each other? and ultimately that is one of several questions a lot of people have.  

Is AI a positive or a negative? Will AI take over? Is AI smarter than the humans that created and supposedly manage it? What is AI capable of? Even the inventors and executives leading the AI charge will tell you they don’t know the answers to these questions.   And for sure there are plenty of people out there with fears on the subject.  But for the purposes of this blog, let’s take a look at some productive ways to think about AI.   

Dr. Sanae Okamoto is a psychologist and behavioral scientist with the United Nations University.  She wrote an excellent article entitled:  How to Cope With Anxiety About AI. In it, she provides tips on how we should think about and deal with AI.   

Recognize that AI is Here and It’s Going to Become More Common 

Okamoto says the first step is to realize AI is already here. Siri, Alexa, Google Maps, Spotify are all examples of early AI.  Today’s more powerful tools include things ChatGPT, Perplexity AI, Jasper, and many more. You’ve probably also noticed chatbots that are popping up on many websites and mobile apps. They usually say something like “Hi I’m [AI Name]. Anything I can help you find today?” and then either you can minimize the AI atbot window or respond. There are other AIs like Amazon Alexa that have been accused of knowing what you’re talking about and then showing topics being talked about in your feed. But their creators have also shown how to turn those settings off. Bottom line:  AI is here to stay and will become more commonplace.   

Prepare for AI Work 

Okamoto’s second step is to prepare for careers in the AI world. This applies to both individuals and society in its entirety.  Wholesale changes in the workforce have been occurring since the industrial revolution and continued with technology automation.  The Planet Money podcast has a great episode about AI that discusses how telephone operators was one of the fastest growing professions in the United States in the 1910s and 1920s.  But almost as quickly phone switching technology changes cut that profession from nearly 250K operators to fewer than 5K.       

A 2020 report by the World Economic Forum predicted that 85 million jobs would be replaced by AI and automation by 2025.  But the same report predicted that 97 million new jobs would be created by the same factors.  So one key to not losing your job is to become more tech savvy or develop skills in the areas of data management.  Many experts also point out that social intelligence skills such as communications and resilience will become even more important in world of AI.   

Take Advantage of Technology But Also Take Breaks from It 

Okamoto’s third tip is to use technology but don’t let it overwhelm you.  This can be harder for younger workers who have grown up with technology from birth.  We’ve all been surrounded by technology, but smart technology can limit our “real” relationships.  Being born in 2000 I feel I had a bit of pre-technology in my childhood. We still ran around outside, made lemonade stands, and even walked over to a friend’s house to visually know if they were home. You don’t see many kids running around at parks these days, and sadly, lemonade stands need permits. And everyone has a phone now, so you don’t get up to go see if your friend is home instead you just text them. Inevitably, due to all these changes you sit and wait… a lot. So when you sit and wait, you play games on your phone, or you watch TV, or you do something that has to do with technology and you never put down your device 

Okamoto, like many experts, says we all need to take a break and get some fresh air. The world will still be on your device when you come back, but we’re so engrained to be attached to everyone at all times, that we rarely take a second for ourselves. I keep my iPhone on Do Not Disturb all day and night otherwise it’s non-stop notifications. And when I walk my dog, I don’t take my phone with me because otherwise I and others like me have this habit to just check it every two seconds. Not taking my AI Siri with me allows me to be alone and embrace the world around me for what it is without smart technology. So put yourself first at some points of the day without your AI, and you will find a nice daily reset that allows you to breathe.  You also might consider practicing some of the resilience and mindfulness techniques taught in TRACOM’s Adaptive Mindset training classes.   

Do Your Own Research 

Okamoto’s final tip was a bit of a surprise to me.  She encourages people to read up on regulation. Some people aren’t that worried about AI, while others think robots could take over the world at any moment. Read. Read. Read. The EU even just approved a draft law, the AI Act, to regulate the use of AI in society. So instead of believing the first thing you see on the internet, do your own research. And certainly consider advocating for you believe are proper uses and misuses.   

Remember, while AI seems new and scary, it’s really just another step down the technology path.  Don’t let your Negativity Bias take over your thinking.  Be resilient, not AInxious.