Could the unthinkable happen. AI versus humanity

Artificial intelligence versus humanity
Posted on: Tuesday 23, May 2017
Category: Thought Leadership

Could the unthinkable happen! Could the sheer brute force of artificial intelligence (AI) beat emotional intelligence and the human touch?

Just over 20 years ago, in New York, Garry Kasparov played chess against a computer programme called Deep Blue (May 11th, 1997). People believed that human intuition would always mean that we would play better chess than computers. It turned out this was wrong. The result was that raw cold number crunching, playing the ‘shear brute force of ugly chess’ lead the way!

The rise of the robots - a threat to our jobs

You can be forgiven for thinking that the world is about to be taken over by the machines. Hardly a day passes without a new story featuring terms like robots, augmented and virtual reality, deep learning, or most frequently artificial intelligence (AI).  There is a drive to replace a range of human-to-human interactions with, what might euphemistically describe as human-to-human-like interactions.

For example, the Cult of Mac Magazine recently suggested that the number of AI assistants by 2021 will outnumber the current world population – yikes! 

I asked a CIO and technologist friend of mine his opinion whether artificial intelligence can replicate intuitive human thought, rapport and emotional responses?

His view is that we humans are essentially highly advanced biological machines. And all that we are and do is because of our physical and neurochemical processes. Replicating this by machines is already being done. Examples of which are chatbots, speech and facial recognition, digital assistants such as Siri, self-driving cars like Tesla and future (scary) banking technologies like Blockchain. The list gets ever longer each passing year.

He went on to say that, ’over the next 10 to 20 years many jobs will disappear. For instance, call centres will be completely automated, smart decision making in banks and other areas will be done entirely by machines.’

He concluded by saying, ‘Today, artificial Intelligence can’t read human emotions well – not yet. But, it is only a matter of time! The question for humanity then is - 'what do we do when artificial intelligence will do so many of our jobs better than we do today?'

All sounds a bit like watching Terminator or The Matrix, doesn’t it? – All hideous and Orwellian. But, it doesn’t have to end up this way - read on to find out more.

As a former IT person and a bit of a tech geek, I can see the positive side of utilising AI technologies such as natural language processing, speech recognition and deep learning.  If we demand 24/7 levels of service from our organisations then perhaps AI-enabled tools like chatbots are a logical way to meet our needs.

Hmm, choices, choices

What I find most interesting about the debate is the sense that advances in AI don’t correspond in a greater understanding of what it means to be human, the human spirit, what makes us tick and having that human touch.

Daniel Pink in his book, To Sell is Human, suggests that selling and buying is a human activity. It’s an emotional exchange between buyer and seller that triggers many emotions from fear to joy. I agree with Daniel that this is part of our humanity.

Hands up who prefers to speak with a ‘real person when calling a support desk?’ I certainly do. But the irony here is that AI will eventually pass the Turing test with flying colours, and we will not be able to tell the difference – harrumph!

That got me thinking, what differentiates how computers and humans operate? Is there a way for people to master AI for our mutual benefit? Is there a ‘get out of the matrix card’ for humanity?

The human touch

Humans are capable of the same logical processing of data as computers - only far slower. But, that only represents a small part of our existence. I would suggest that for most of us, everyday life is a bit of a roller-coaster ride of dealing with both what's going on inside our heads and relating to all the other people we meet.

Surely our imperfections and flaws, our highs and lows and vast diversity of human life are what ultimately makes our shared humanity - for good and bad, for truth and choice! Without these truly human characteristics, then life and existence as we know it will cease to be original. Instead, we will become controlled by cold computation, a calculated numbers game, a facsimile, ruthlessly efficient and in the end become a sheer brute force and very ‘ugly.’

Yes, I know life is unfair for some and very messy for all of us at times too. Our judgements are wonky, people can do horrible things to each other, and we certainly get a lot wrong (human error). But, isn’t this the real gift and even the purpose of life? No matter how messy, isn’t the hope of working towards a better humanity and a better future for all what should be driving us?

The rise of emotional intelligence and expertise

Emotional Intelligence and similar qualities of compassion, trust, generosity, peace, empathy, freedom, the pursuit of what is right, the fight against evil and the complexity and richness of our interpersonal relationships are our advanced human mental functions. I believe these virtues are where our future evolution lies. They will help us to perform at our very highest levels and to conduct our very best work. 

Furthermore, as mentioned already, more and more of our transactional jobs will be done by AI as the next couple of decades unfold. However, perhaps this is not all bad news. This will most likely free us up to develop higher skills around know-how and expertise instead. Expertise and knowledge, when combined with emotional intelligence, will help us to get the most from sharing our lives and give us purpose.

Surely, these aren’t aspects to be mimicked and replicated by algorithms?

Get out of 'the matrix' card

I propose that mastering these skills and virtues make up the highest essence of human beings transforming themselves. The human spirit is enduring and will never go away. Moreover, as a human race, we must learn to put aside its differences and use our expertise to collaborate more. Thereby we can adequately prepare to embrace and take advantage of the certain new AI age.

That must be a far better choice than our daily lives being controlled or replaced by machines – would it not?

Some people have the gift of empathy or, intuition or, leadership which makes them natural communicators.  However, we all can learn to develop a broad range of emotionally intelligent skills to help us to more effectively tune-in to those around us and shape both our method of communication and our content to achieve the best outcomes in the future.

My experience in leadership development and effective team building is that enhancing emotional intelligence is the fastest way to achieve high performance.  As we improve the emotional acuity of individuals, we reduce the barriers to develop trust, team spirit and shared aspirations. That's the topic of my upcoming book (see below).

Finally, I have no doubt that AI will be able to mimic and read some aspects of our emotional intelligence capabilities - I suppose the ability to monitor heart rate or pupil dilation already exists.  Will computers replicate what it’s like to be truly human (warts and all)? I sincerely hope not.


[1175 words]

Clip from, The Matrix Reloaded - The Architect Scene

In honour of:

I dedicate this blog to honour the victims of hatred, outrage and extremism in all its ugly forms in all cultures that perpetrate around the world. We must all stand up and fight for human freedom, equality, justice and democracy to make the world a better place for everyone everywhere through mutual understanding, celebrate diversity, collaboration and compassion.

My services

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I am a skilled leadership and team facilitator and development consultant. Please contact me today to discuss how you and your organisation can benefit from developing your team in emotional intelligence development or high performance team programmes. Call 07795 182 860 or email to arrange an informal discussion.

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Further reading and resources

Frederic Laloux and Ken Wilber - Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness

The New Leadership Paradigm. Barrett, Richard - Routledge 2013

(My first book - helps you create personal change and how to overcome your conditioning to reach your true authentic self.)

Download my detailed FREE questionnaire too. It measures where you are on an authenticity scale. It includes tips on advancing towards your authentic self. 

Other Leadership Blogs

High Performance Teams Fact or Fantasy - Blog Post

Leadership - Who is Pulling Your Strings -Leadership development blog from Andrew Jenkins Leadership Development Consultant and Coach

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Graphics used in the article

Header, Robot and teamwork -

Red and Blue pill -

Book Reference

PINK, Daniel, To sell is human (2013), Canongagte Books 


Thanks to Tom King and Tim Rance for their wisdom around the future of AI and technology. Thanks too to Gareth Edwards for his ongoing encouragement to aim to write blogs that make a difference.


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Add New Comment

Clive Maloney

Great post and I love the dedication at the end, Andrew. It\'s fascinating to see the advances in technology and how they are mimicking human behaviour, yet alone assisting in major functions in our lives these days. And for the record, I\'d go with the red pill every time.

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