The growing importance of the interpersonal in an AI-driven world 11 January 2022

Roland Rust, a Distinguished Professor of Marketing at the University of Maryland, has just released his book “The Feeling Economy”. You might be wondering what that is, exactly. Efma’s Boris Plantier spoke with Mr. Rust to learn a bit more about this futuristic term and what AI portends for our world. 

Generally speaking, artificial intelligence seems to scare people. Does it scare you?

What I observe is that the more people know about AI, the more scared they are. Thus, top-level technologists such as Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Stephen Hawking have sounded the alarm. The advances in intelligence are exponential, and people have difficulty extrapolating exponential trends. As I see it, AI will be smarter than humans in pretty much every way in the next few decades, and that will be an existential threat to humanity.

What is the Feeling economy? 

The Feeling Economy is what emerges as AI takes over more of the thinking tasks. With physical tasks and thinking tasks both automated, humans will need to focus on the area in which they have a differential advantage over AI. For a while, humans will still have an advantage in common sense, creativity, and holistic reasoning, but soon those advantages will dissipate. At that point, focusing on feeling tasks, such as interpersonal relationships, will be what people need to do. Based on our calculations, feeling will be more important than thinking (for humans) by 2035 or so. US government data show that this shift is already underway.

If people focus more on feelings and less on thinking, is this a danger or is it rather positive?

The danger is that people will be less rational. We already see ample evidence of this in the political world, with the focus on the "big lie" about the 2020 election, and Trump's "alternative facts". Social media are already ruled primarily by emotion (mostly negative emotion), and there is increasing skepticism about science and "elite" intellectualism.

Let's have fun imagining the future like in a science fiction movie. What do you think a world with more advanced artificial intelligence would look like? 

We're used to thinking that we're "in charge" of AI, but as AI develops further, that is unlikely to still be the case. Already, there are AI solutions that humans can't understand easily. I think it's more accurate to think of AI as already doing many things independently. Now advance a few decades, and imagine that all organizations function better when they replace their human parts with AI parts. At that point, the AI-driven world may not see humans as valuable. It is hard to see humans winning in such an environment. Most movies and books that imagine such an apocalyptic environment imagine robots being in charge. But there is no reason why AI should be anthropomorphic in this way. AI functions best as one big network, like the internet. 

In other words, future of AI will mostly be embedded, rather than embodied. Some thinkers (e.g., Ray Kurzweil) think that humans will succeed in that world by being cyborgs. I believe that is too optimistic. Any cyborg would find it optimal to replace the human part of the cyborg with AI. And even AI-driven robots are not optimal until they are networked. Bottom line is that I see a future that is AI-dominated, and humans won't have much of a role, if we survive at all.

Is a crossbreeding of human and artificial intelligence that would transform the human possible? 

I doubt there will be crossbreeding (although there is already sex between humans and robots). The combinations of humans and AI are likely to involve AI-augmentation of humans, such as we already see in exoskeletons and brain implants. Unfortunately, as argued above, it will eventually be difficult for the human parts to compete.

A very powerful chapter in your book is "The Era of Women" or the replacement of men by robots. Could you elaborate on that? 

In the Feeling Economy, feeling intelligence and people skills become the most marketable skills, and those are strong points for women, given the evolutionary effects of adapting to the nurturing of children. In the Physical Economy, men were on top, because of their greater size and strength. In the Thinking Economy, women largely drew even, because their physical disadvantages were no longer so important. During this period (largely the 20th century), women made huge advances in leadership and power. As the Feeling Economy emerges, women are likely to have the upper hand. I believe this will be an era in which women will eventually hold the most powerful roles.

Learn more about The Feeling Economy on Springer website

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