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Cultivating curiosity and creativity: The answer to living in harmony with AI?

by Amy Drummond

The topic of Artificial Intelligence and the impact it has on jobs is something we read and discuss a lot in our office, whether that is in direct relation to our clients that work in the field, or just as part of our general interest in the topic. It’s certainly a topic that comes up every day in our monitoring of the technology and business news, the books we read and the films we watch.

It seems the jury is out in terms of the impact that automation and AI will have on the workforce and society as a whole, but the debate is certainly growing. There are numerous conflicting reports and it’s certainly a subject that attracts passionate views.

I’ve recently read some interesting takes on how we can become more resilient to the impact that AI and automation could have on our own roles. In his book, Curious, which I thoroughly recommend reading, Ian Leslie says “In a world where technology is rapidly replacing humans even in white collar jobs, it’s no longer enough to be merely smart. Computers are smart. But no computer, however sophisticated, can yet be said to be curious.”

Leslie outlines the differences between diversive curiosity – the attraction to everything novel – and epistemic curiosity. The latter is “the deepening of a simple seeking of newness into a directed attempt to build understanding. It’s what happens when diversive curiosity grows up.”

Leslie explains how curious learners are the ones whose jobs are least likely to be taken by intelligent machines. A significant section of the book examines how to nurture epistemic curiosity from the cradle to the grave, and the role that society should play in supporting this endeavour. Epistemic curiosity is not just useful to our career development, but can be fundamental to our own wellbeing and happiness too.

In Talking to My Daughter, Yanis Varoufakis makes the point that “as long as highly skilled human labour remains necessary to design the machines that build other machines, full automation of the production process will not happen.”

Varoufakis also raises the important economical point that “Employing humans always comes with the advantage that workers, unlike machines, recycle their wages, however small they may be, helping to ensure there is a market for the T-shirts and other products they assist in producing”

Of course, automation is not something new – and neither is this debate. The industrial revolution and subsequent automation of many processes did of course make the worker redundant in many instances, but it also created new jobs and industries. New technologies have always posed a threat to jobs but have also ushered in new roles, directly or indirectly.

In Alan Johnson’s second memoir, Please Mr Postman, he explains “The need for large numbers of telephonists to route calls had been melting away rapidly since the introduction ten years earlier of Standard Trunk Dialling (STD), which enabled callers to dial direct. It was said then that if STD hadn’t been developed, every working woman in Britain would have had to become a telephonist to cope with demand.”

While Standard Trunk Dialling ultimately killed off this particular type of telephonist role, the ability to dial a number directly drove commerce, which ultimately created more jobs. Imagine if this type of technology had never been invented, the implication that would have had on commerce and employment.

From a communications perspective, while no one can accurately predict the long-term impact of AI and associated technologies, one thing we do know is that companies and governments must be attuned to the public’s concerns about the technologies, not in order to pay lip service to them, but to potentially change their own vision and values in light of them. It makes ethical and economical sense.

Next month we are hosting a panel debate; vision, values and communications in the age of the techlash. This follows on from our Feedback Loop report last year. With public trust in technology seemingly at an all-time low, the debate will focus on how tech companies can use PR and communications to not only articulate their vision and values, but also shape them in a way that contributes to both share value and wider societal good.

Please contact andrew.newton@aprilsixproof.com if you are interested in receiving more information about the event.