What AI Can Teach Us About NI

With the rapid emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) platforms like ChatGPT and Google Bard, the promises and risks of AI have moved from the realm of philosophers and futurist thinkers to our mainstream conversations.

We can learn important lessons from this discussion by drawing parallels between our experience with artificial intelligence and our natural intelligence (NI) – our brains.

The Rise of AI

If you haven’t had a chance to experiment with ChatGPT or Google Bard yet, I recommend you do so to gain a basic understanding of the technology. Through a chat interface, you ask questions, and it responds with intelligent answers. For example, I asked Google Bard what the top five uses of the technology are:*

  1. Writing and editing.
  2. Brainstorming and ideation.
  3. Research and analysis.
  4. Customer service.
  5. Tech troubleshooting.

A few months ago, I used ChatGPT to help me overcome a challenge many of us face – promoting ourselves. Feeding ChatGPT my background and client testimonials and letting it write a recommendation on my behalf was liberating.

These technologies are helping us better understand how powerful computers have become. So many of the things we used to do manually are automated by computers. This provides extraordinary convenience. It allows us to free up our brains for more critical tasks, offloading repetitive tasks to technology. However, there is great concern that if left unchecked, we could lose control of our creation, and our world would be run by computers, not the humans that created it.

As this technology has swept the globe, it has prompted debate about the risks of AI. Companies and countries have begun to put in place safeguards around the ethical use of AI.**

In summary, AI (and computers in general) enables us to automate increasingly higher-level tasks. We are at a stage where the amount of control we are giving up to technology is spurring action to ensure we manage that control and develop the technology responsibly.

Parallels Between AI and NI

Let’s look at the parallels between our experience of AI and the natural intelligence of our brains.

Our brains represent intelligence that far surpasses the most advanced computers today. Like those computers, our brains have built their own programming and algorithms throughout our lives. For example, our bodily functions, like the beating of our heart, digestion, and breathing, are automated by our brains. They occur with little to no awareness on our part.

Just as we worry that as the programming behind AI gets more sophisticated, we will lose control, we must acknowledge that with our brains, this is more than a worry. This is reality.

The programming of our brains is a network of billions of neurons. As we learn and grow, our brains are constantly building new neural connections for things it wants to remember and pruning away neural connections for things it decides are no longer relevant. This process is called neuroplasticity. The more we repeat a habit, the stronger the neural connections become. Eventually, that habit becomes essentially automated. 

For example:

  • Cross your arms.
  • Notice which arm is on top.
  • Now switch so the other arm is on top.
  • Notice how unnatural this feels.

Your brain has automated the process of crossing your arms. You do it with no conscious thought. You can change this through neuroplasticity, but it will take regular effort and conscious thought to retrain your brain.

Think about the times when your brain has run on autopilot and done something you wish it hadn’t:

  • An angry outburst with a friend or partner you wish hadn’t occurred.
  • That second bowl of ice cream last night when you were trying to lose weight.
  • Clicking “Next Episode” while watching TV when you know you should be going to bed.

Often with our brains, it feels like the brain is driving, and we’re stuck in the back seat giving directions that are being ignored.

Getting Back In The Driver’s Seat

How do we get back in the driver’s seat if we feel like our brain’s automation has taken over?

To begin with, we need to understand that we are not our thoughts. Because we can observe our thoughts, we are separate and distinct from them.

Rene Descartes famously said:

I think, therefore I am.

I’ll take this one step further and offer another statement (which is not an original thought, however, I cannot find anyone to attribute it to):

I am aware that I think, therefore I am conscious.

When we observe and evaluate our thoughts, we separate ourselves from those thoughts. We remind ourselves that our brain produces thoughts, and we, as conscious humans, can choose whether or not to act upon those thoughts. Just as we are putting safeguards in place to promote the responsible use of AI, we can put safeguards in place to govern our brains.

This is one of the fundamental goals of ontological coaching. When we recognize that our current thoughts and way of being are no longer serving us, an ontological coach can be a great thought partner to help us shift our perspective and identify new possibilities. This fosters neuroplasticity.

Here are a few of my favorite techniques to help shift your perspective when you want to disrupt the automated programming in your brain:

  • Meditate. Practicing meditation will help you create space between thinking and acting. Over time, you will become more adept at recognizing the thought, pausing, and choosing an intentional action rather than letting your brain run on autopilot.
  • Foster a Growth Mindset. A fixed mindset is the enemy of neuroplasticity. When we take a fixed mindset statement, such as “I am not strategic,” and add “yet” to the end, we shift to a growth mindset that disrupts our thoughts.
  • Build Resilience. Developing our ability to return to a centered state quickly allows us to identify unwanted thoughts more rapidly and head them off before we take action.
  • Build Emotional Awareness. The better we get at identifying our emotional state, the easier it is for us to recognize when our emotions are influencing our actions and make changes.

Putting It Into Practice

Hopefully, you have started your Journal of Awareness.

  • Journal those moments when you felt like your brain was in the driver’s seat.
  • What thoughts and actions did your brain run on autopilot that you’d like to disrupt?
  • What practice can you implement to help you disrupt that programming and encourage neuroplasticity?
  • If you’d like a thought partner for this exercise, schedule time with Josh.

Want to comment? Join the conversation on LinkedIn.

* For those who are curious, here’s the complete response from Google Bard:

  1. Writing and editing: Bard can help you write and edit documents, emails, and other text-based content. It can generate text, translate languages, and write different kinds of creative content. It can also help you to improve your writing by providing feedback on grammar, style, and clarity.
  2. Brainstorming and ideation: Bard can help you to brainstorm ideas, come up with new concepts, and solve problems. It can generate different creative text formats, like poems, code, scripts, musical pieces, email, letters, etc. It can also help you to organize your thoughts and ideas by creating outlines and mind maps.
  3. Research and analysis: Bard can help you to research topics and gather information. It can access and process information from the real world through Google Search and keep its response consistent with search results. It can also help you to analyze data and identify trends.
  4. Customer service: Bard can be used to provide customer service by answering questions, resolving issues, and providing support. It can be used to interact with customers through chat, email, or phone.
  5. Tech troubleshooting: Bard can be used to troubleshoot technical issues. It can help you to identify the source of the problem and provide step-by-step instructions on how to fix it.

** For those who are curious, I asked Google Bard to give me a single paragraph explaining how companies and countries are working to put safeguards around AI:

Companies and countries are working to put safeguards around AI in a number of ways. Some of these safeguards include:

  • Developing ethical guidelines for the development and use of AI. These guidelines typically focus on issues such as fairness, bias, privacy, and transparency.
  • Establishing regulatory frameworks for AI. These frameworks can help to ensure that AI systems are developed and used in a safe and responsible manner.

The development of safeguards around AI is an ongoing process. As AI technology continues to evolve, it is important to ensure that these safeguards are updated to reflect the latest risks and challenges.

Here are some specific examples of how companies and countries are working to put safeguards around AI:

  • The European Union has adopted the Artificial Intelligence Act, which sets out a number of requirements for AI systems. These requirements include ensuring that AI systems are designed in a way that respects human rights and fundamental freedoms, and that they are transparent and accountable.
  • The United States government has released a set of principles for the responsible development of artificial intelligence. These principles emphasize the importance of fairness, non-discrimination, privacy, and transparency in the development and use of AI.
  • A number of companies have developed their own AI ethics guidelines. These guidelines typically focus on issues such as fairness, bias, privacy, and transparency. For example, Google’s AI Principles state that AI should be used for good and that it should be developed and used in a way that is fair, unbiased, and accountable.