Augmented Humanity

Satya Nadella’s “Hit Refresh” has been a great read. This is the first of two posts inspired by it.

I’ve been equal parts anxious and excited about the promise of AI. I knew that Satya Nadella would have a very balanced view, so after being thrilled by his description of quantum computing, I was eager to hear how he saw this new frontier playing out.

One of the healthiest suggestions he has for a society grappling with the Rise of the Machines is that we get over our false “utopia/dystopia dichotomy.” It’s not either HAL or WALL-E. Most importantly, the place in the middle that we land is completely up to us. Instead of fretting over the future, Nadella entreats us, we need to spend more time inventing it.

Augmented Humanity, first realized by Lee Majors and Lindsay Wagner

In the midst of this discussion, he provides a description of the three core principles that are driving the AI efforts at Microsoft. The first resonated with me because I’d just come to the same conclusion hours before in an interchange with my Tweeps:

Amy Cane Dolzine reminds us that authentic voices are still needed amid the synthetic ones. Ben (@ideocial) expresses some healthy cynicism about the ability to encode true empathy. As I read their exchange, for some reason I thought about how much I preferred the applications I’ve seen of Augmented Reality (AR) to those of Virtual Reality (VR), and then wondered if it wouldn’t help AI’s reputation to get a re-brand: Augmented Humanity.

Hours later, I read in “Hit Refresh” about the first of Microsoft’s AI principles: “…we want to build intelligence that augments human abilities and experiences. Rather than thinking in terms of human vs. machine, we want to focus on how human gifts such as creativity, empathy, emotion, physicality, and insight can be mixed with powerful AI computation…” (p. 201)

Yes! This is a great description of the true promise of AI. Not to usurp us, and not to lull us into an intellectual slumber, but to provide us with the extra “juice” to enhance those things that are truly, uniquely human. Satya goes on to talk about AI being the “third run time,” and my rebranding made even more sense.

Technology has been mediating, and enhancing, our performance for decades. The first “run time” was the PC, and it made interacting with data much more effective and dynamic.

The second “run time” was the web. This platform took our relationship with data to a new level, but it also enhanced our interaction with others. Of course, because of the impact of social media, whether it’s been an enhancement or a degradation is a subject of debate, and I’ll come back to that.

The third “run time” is AI. It holds the promise of taking over much of the interaction we were having to do in the data arena, allowing us to focus on the further enhancements it can also make in our human interactions.

I think the possibility of an Augmented Humanity through this next-level computing is exciting, but here comes a caution for those still struggling with that second run-time. If you haven’t figured out how to make the most of the “social” wave — how to use the tech now available to maximize the power of your inner- and outer-loops — then the multiplying power of AI will provide a much smaller return for you and your work.

If you are using collaboration techniques that aren’t growing your human network, and aren’t encoding those relationships digitally, then AI’s neural network will have less “raw material” to work with in enhancing those relationships. Think about the tools you use not only in terms of how they will help you get today’s job done more efficiently, but about how they will multiply your ability to get tomorrow’s job done.