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What Can’t A.I. Do? Quite a Lot, Actually

NYT columnist David Brooks makes a list of uniquely human skills that students should develop in college

In an increasingly artificial world, how are we to remain human? New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote an opinion article this week seeking to answer that question. Brooks notes some of the benefits of “machine learning,” but also lists some of the characteristics artificial intelligence will forever fail to embody. “A.I. will probably give us fantastic tools that will help us outsource a lot of our current mental work,” he writes. “At the same time, A.I. will force us humans to double down on those talents and skills that only humans possess.”

Uniquely Human Traits

What are some of these “talents and skills” that people should intentionally develop in the age of A.I.? Brooks says an incoming college student should focus on six (at least). Among them is a “distinct personal voice.” Since A.I. tends to generate impersonal, bureaucratic text, students should take classes in which they explore various idiosyncratic voices in literature. Exploring the voices of history’s great authors can inspire students to develop and mature their own creativity.

Brooks goes on to mention the benefit of studying literature, drama, and other subjects in the humanities to learn empathy, another uniquely human attribute. He writes,

Machine thinking is great for understanding the behavioral patterns across populations. It is not great for understanding the unique individual right in front of you. If you want to be able to do this, good humanities classes are really useful. By studying literature, drama, biography and history, you learn about what goes on in the minds of other people. If you can understand another person’s perspective, you have a more valuable skill than the skill possessed by some machine vacuuming up vast masses of data about no one in particular.”

-David Brooks, Opinion | In the Age of A.I., Major in Being Human – The New York Times (nytimes.com)

A.I., despite how anthropomorphized it might become in the future, will never be able to emotionally connect with you. The best kind of writing is communicative and personal.

The Difference Between the Two

Another big one on the list is situational awareness, the ability to attend to a certain context and respond accordingly. People can read situations, adjust to their errors, and use humor to lighten the tension, while A.I. can only obey its algorithm, blindly.

Brooks hopes that A.I. will force us to thoughtfully distinguish between mechanical and uniquely human capacities and warns against assuming the two are interchangeable.

Peter Biles

Writer and Editor, Center for Science & Culture
Peter Biles graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois and went on to receive a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. He is the author of Hillbilly Hymn and Keep and Other Stories and has also written stories and essays for a variety of publications. He was born and raised in Ada, Oklahoma and serves as Managing Editor of Mind Matters.

What Can’t A.I. Do? Quite a Lot, Actually