June 7, 2024

Mo Gawdat: AI can make us much happier, or much lonelier

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Mo Gawdat – former Chief Business Officer of Google X and author of numerous books on how to live happier and more stress-free – joined us recently to discuss the impact AI will have on our happiness.

Will we shift focus away from work accomplishments and back to art and philosophy? Will AI make it harder for us to feel awe? Is it feeding a social media monster that will make us all more depressed? Here’s what he said.

What is happiness, anyway?

According to Mo, happiness is an algorithm we can solve for:

Our life events – Our expectations of what life will be = Happiness

He says rain is not inherently a good or bad experience, for example – we love it if it happens on our ex’s wedding day but hate it if we were planning to go to the beach. It comes down to our expectations and how closely they’re met.

“If you're on the AI company side, you're setting amazing expectations that we're going to build a utopia where everything will be solved,” Mo says. “If you're on the scared side, you're setting an expectation of terminators walking the streets and an existential crisis. Either way, it’s going to be so massively disruptive.”

1. It could redesign human relationships

AI has a real chance of making human interactions more disappointing. Where real human relationships require resilience and effort to work well, an AI partner won’t push back or argue. They don’t need to be tended to and they’re available on your timetable. So we run the risk of seeing human interactions as a downgrade.

“The machines are enticing us to move further and further away from human connection,” Mo says. “They create illusions of what a connection should look like that cannot be met by a human.”

This is on purpose, by the way. There’s an entire entertainment industry built on boredom alone.

“Sadly our emotions are being exploited by the tech giants in ways that basically imprison us.”

2. AI has the potential to redefine purpose

Mo says that we currently get meaning and purpose all wrong. It doesn’t just need to be tied to achievement and money – and it hasn’t always been. There used to be more feats that we could be glorified for – strength, fairness, seniority.

“If artificial intelligence takes over the complexities of life, solves all the horrendous mistakes that we've made so far, and takes our jobs away, maybe we will go back to a life where we can actually have the luxury of connecting with each other, and understanding interesting philosophies, and looking at art and appreciating beauty,” he says.

There’s a quote that’s been circulating on social media from Joanna Maciejewsko – “I want AI to do my laundry and dishes so that I can do art and writing, not for AI to do my art and writing so that I can do my laundry and dishes.”

“Is that too idealistic? Is it a dream?” Mo asks. “No, it's not. It's an actual possibility. It's just at odds with the current system.”

3. It will cause us to rethink legality and ethics

AI’s worst contribution is more likely to be how it impacts social algorithms rather than the job market.

“The real issue in our world today is that we disconnected power from responsibility."

In essence: Not everything that’s legal is ethical. Social media has been proven to cause depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem – but there are no legal repercussions for that. In fact, the burden has always been placed on the user to abstain. Mo argues that’s no longer fair – the world is not designed to allow you to opt out, and algorithms are designed to pull you back in.

“There have been many implementations of AI … but the one thing we spent the last 12-14 years heavily investing in is how to manipulate human emotions,” Mo says. “The addictiveness of social media and swiping is not a coincidence.”

What this means for our happiness today

  1. We’re set for a lot of awe going forward – if we’re interested in seeing it. Mo says we’re too quick to discount AI’s ability. An LLM makes one mistake and we call it primitive. But when you focus on what it can do, it’s actually pretty amazing. Look for awe in the simple and you’ll find it.

  2. But we don’t need more awe – we need calm and peace. We’re all looking for awe because it generates dopamine. But serotonin and oxytocin are ultimately more valuable hormones for our survival, and are achieved by being with others.

  3. The rise of AI should not affect our self-worth. Someone asked Mo, “What will happen when we’re no longer the smartest beings on the planet?” Mo responded that we’re already not. There are so many other forms of intelligence that we ignore – such as nature’s ability to create. So our existential panic may be undeserved.

The big takeaway: AI should help us experience more of the world and spend more time in community… if we can push past Big Tech’s attempts to suck us in (a big if).

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Greg Shove
Section Staff