Earlier this month I was booked to deliver a (relatively new) keynote, titled: “Artificially Intelligent”. This is a bit of a tongue-in-cheek reference to the deluge of artificially intelligent influencers we now have promulgating the virtues of Artificial Intelligence (AI).
My intent with this keynote, as ever, is to inspire higher orders of thinking—beyond the obvious, immediate and default.
This is not to say that ‘AI is bad’ <— this is too simplistic. I enjoy having an AI as an apprentice research assistant that I don’t fully trust. But, in aggregate, the exponential development of artificial intelligence is a force-multiplier for catastrophic risk. This is not about the AI singularity triggering a ‘robot uprising’—rather: the exponential rise of AI is an accelerant to an already flawed and omnicidal system.
As a society we are ‘drawing down the bank account’ of fossil fuels and non-renewable inputs like cobalt, copper, water aquifers, topsoil—millions of times faster than they were sequestered. If everyone lived like Australians do, we’d need 4.5 planet’s worth of resources.
But will AI make us more efficient at using such limited resources? Undoubtedly. But will this mean we use fewer resources? Unlikely. This is Jevon’s Paradox: as the efficiency in which we use a resource increases, the demand for that resource increases. Thus AI will save us time and energy—resulting in us collectively having less time and energy. All whilst accelerating the growth of a system that is consuming the substrate we depend upon for life, and that is already exceeds planetary limits. Faster, and more efficiently.
Well—not necessarily so! But this may be our fate if we don’t keep our wits about us.
To have ‘wit’ is to have associative knowledge. But in the distraction economy it is increasingly difficult for wisdom and complexity to compete with that which is salient, simplistic, profitable and affirming. We are being corralled and hoodwinked.
“The war between good and evil is in reality an imposition of stupidity and simplicity over wisdom and complexity.”
Yes, AI enables many great things. But we must keep our wits about us—and rise to meet the complexity of our times.
Anyway, back to the point of my story. I was worried that, as a closing keynote, the feeling-tone of the keynote might be a bit, uh, ‘grim’. Conference organisers usually look for speakers that instil a sense of jolly ‘can-do’ optimism and ‘hope’. You can do it; believe and you will achieve. Don’t let your dreams be dreams, etcetera. Indeed, I’ve played this role many a time.
But my client said ‘go for it’—and, well: it went tremendously well.
“It seems there are many people who now speak on Artificial Intelligence—but we wanted someone who could bring insight beyond the obvious. That’s why we hired Dr. Jason Fox.
Jason brought the lens of complexity science to the emerging field of AI, helping our audience to think deeper (and further) about the confluence of intersecting trends accelerated by this new technology. With much-needed scepticism, humour and warmth, Dr. Fox encouraged our audience to ‘keep their wits’ about them and ‘become connoisseurs of quality thinking’ as we attempt to find meaningful progress in this exponential age.
Many have said that this was the most impactful session from the whole event.”
—Jenny Katrivesis, Conference Director, Chilli IQ
Increasingly, I am finding that the jadedness I half-heartedly try to conceal is actually something that resonates with many experienced leaders in the field. Folk who tire of the default pantomime, yet need some trickster energy come to refresh our collective ways of seeing. And so, that’s what I do: serving to bring ideological optionality into the heart of Enterprise Land, driving a narrative wedge with subversive questions like: what is meaningful progress? And where might we be perpetuating a rich delusion of progress?