Dr Jon Finn is the best-selling author of ‘The Habit Mechanic’ and founder of Tougher Minds. Dr Finn coaches leaders & coaches to be Certified ‘Habit Mechanics’. Here, Dr Finn explains how people can stop AI taking your job by changing your habits and optimising your brain states.
Civilisation is at a crossroads. The machines will make us their slaves. One international news organisation reports 300 million jobs are at risk. These are just some of the dire warnings about the growth of artificial intelligence (AI). And there are demands for an immediate halt to its development.
Tesla founder Elon Musk and Sapiens author Yuval Nohah Harari have added their voices. Governments are reportedly considering legislation to limit AI, and last April, the man who arguably started the AI revolution revealed he is worried. Computer scientist Geoffrey Hinton told CNN that AI could develop greater capacity than human brains. He said it might be capable of manipulating us. Hinton has not yet identified a solution.
We don’t know if these warnings will become reality, but it seems we can be certain that AI’s growth is already having significant consequences. Bloomberg reported it replacing human marketeers. There is clearly an immediate challenge.
What can be done? Leaving aside issues that can only be tackled by nation states, I believe we have practical responses available that mitigate potential harms. We must start by recognising how we ‘operate’ as people and, specifically, how our brains work. We can apply these insights so our human output is not totally eclipsed.
Human work versus AI work
I use an extended metaphor to understand our daily work:
- Freezing ice cubes is fairly mindless, familiar work (e.g. routine tasks)
- Building ice sculptures is creative, mentally challenging, high-impact work (e.g. new ideas, reports and products)
Also, Neuroscience shows the human brain is like a battery with three operating ‘states’:
- Recharge – sleeping, relaxing, and some forms of exercise
- Medium charge (for freezing ice cubes)
- High charge (for building ice sculptures)
‘Ice cube freezing’ work is increasingly becoming fully or semi-automated by AI, but high-charge work cannot be easily automated, so humans are needed.
Personally, to optimise productivity, creativity, and problem-solving, I need to strike the right balance in my brain states. I need to:
- spend about 12 hours in recharge (sleeping, relaxing, exercising, eating, etc.)
- spend approximately seven to eight hours in medium-charge, both personal and work related
- spend the least amount of time (four to five hours) in high-charge
This allows me to do valuable ‘ice sculpture building’ five or six days a week (my goal is to do 25 hours of this type of work per week – hence the 25 Hour brain). I also aim to have at least one day with no high-charge. But, people procrastinate on mentally challenging work because it burns a lot of energy without immediate reward.
We all have what I call Horribly Unhelpful Emotions (HUE) which means we don’t like demanding work without immediate reward. HUE encourages us to quit. We’re wired to prioritise instant gratification.
That makes it hard to keep pace with an AI system which never quits, but by implementing five strategies we can learn how to be the best we can and show we can’t be completely replaced in the workplace.
#1: Understand Why!
Machines are never unmotivated. So, as people, we need strong levels of personal motivation to at least keep pace with their perpetual progress. To maintain motivation, we need to connect our long term-goals to our daily and weekly actions. The lesson is that it’s crucial to know why we are taking action. Linking our major objectives in the future to the smaller tasks and habits we want to improve in the short-term is essential.
Machines rarely make errors. Humans do make some, but we can vastly reduce our mistake rate, and increase the quality of our work, by ensuring we don’t indulge in destructive multi-tasking. This leads to constant distraction, more mistakes and means we fail to focus on any one thing. Worse still, one study showed each time we get distracted, it takes longer to refocus. This quickly adds up, so focus all your attention onto one task at a time.
#3: Focus Words and Pictures
If we do lose focus, there are tools to help us get back on track. We’ll never react as fast as AI systems, but we can minimise delays. World-class athletes use Focus and Words and Pictures to help them. In an interview with the BBC, gold medal winning cyclist Sir Bradley Wiggins explained how he overcame gruelling physical and mental challenges by controlling what he said to himself and what he saw in his mind’s eye. He hinted he pictured crossing the finish line and repeated to himself, “Keep thinking about the endpoint,”. You can use these techniques to supercharge your focus.
#4: Optimise Brain States
Bots never get tired. Of course, humans do, and crucially so do our brains, but we can recharge our brains with optimal diet, exercise and sleep (DES). We can also do complex, challenging work at times when we have maximum ‘brain power’. One technique for this is to label different tasks on our to-do list as being only suitable for when our brain is in the medium-charge or high-charge state.
#5: Light Lunching
Fuel is one area where we have something in common with AI systems. They need electric power, and we need food, but all food is not the same. Personally, my biggest dietary challenge came immediately after lunch. I often felt drowsy after eating. This was not helping productivity, so I chose to eat less carbs. If I attended business lunches, I made sure to arrive not too hungry. I looked at the menu online and planned to order a light dish. I also walked to and from the restaurant and wrote a list of tasks for the afternoon, so I knew exactly what I needed to accomplish.
These five strategies can help supercharge our productivity and focus so we are not eclipsed by AI and make a better contribution in our workplaces. We can prove our unique value as people.
And finally, my advice is ‘start small’. Begin by thinking of one thing you can change to be more productive.
To find out more about Dr Jon Finn, click here, or contact our team at firstname.lastname@example.org.