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AI Feels Terrifying: Three Steps To Turn Fear Into Opportunity

In a podcast recently with one of the leading HR consulting firms, our host shared that AI is creating increasing anxiety for many people. Many are afraid of losing their job or losing relevance. And many of us feel overwhelmed—the technology feels too new, too fast, too incomprehensible. What could the research from our book, The Upside of Uncertainty, do to help each of us feel less stressed? Could there even be an "Upside" to the uncertainty of AI?

AI feels terrifying: 3 steps to find opportunity

First, it is normal that you feel stressed. The media—taken in aggregate—is hyping that AI can do everything, will do everything, and will replace every one. Of course, no single article makes such a claim. Each article posits that this or that type of job will be replaced, or that AI can do X or Y better than humans. But taken together the picture can feel immensely stressful, and for good reason, because this aggregate portrait violates the number one rule of facing uncertainty with courage: reframe the situation in terms of the opportunity, not just the uncertainty. By writing articles in terms of the threat, the authors get lots of clicks (and therefore revenue) but they also trigger our evolutionary "loss-aversion" wiring which in turn increases anxiety and creates a negative reaction—it leads one to tuck their head and hide when instead they should explore. Thus the most important step is to reframe the rise of AI as an opportunity, not just an uncertainty, thereby triggering your evolutionary "gain-seeking" wiring which unleashes curiosity and engagement. But that's hard to do when everything feels uncertain and threatening, so, how can get to the opportunity?

A second tool we call "reality check" involves unpacking the knowns vs unknowns of any uncertain situation. Seeing the "knowns" gives you a platform of certainty to stand on and hopefully, a bit of courage to face the unknowns. So let's start. What do we "know" about AI? It is essentially a statistical tool to understand large amounts of data. It's not magic. It's not general intelligence. It can do what humans struggle to do, that is, make sense of huge quantities of data. There are many things it cannot do. Moreover, how the algorithms that drive it are hard to understand—what their creators call a black box—meaning that if you feel confused, so do many other people, including their creators. No one has some unbeatable edge over you.

Third, refocus on what you are uniquely positioned to do that AI cannot do—your competitive advantage so to speak. AI fails at many things, especially the things at which we humans excel. For example, IBM spent $100 million on a project to create AI tutors. The project failed miserably because it cannot do what a human tutor can do, such as, see the confusion in a student's face and step back to explain, lead the student along a personalized trail of insight, and create curiosity and engagement. In other words, like all technology tools that have gone before, there is a complementarity between what technology can do and what we as humans are uniquely positioned to do. If you focus on what you do as a human that an algorithm struggles to do and see AI as yet another tool to help you do better work, then the opportunity becomes clear.

Now it becomes easy to reframe in terms of the possibility. Exploring what AI can do and cannot do becomes curious and interesting, and you will discover that it may help with some tasks but will not help with others. This will reassure you that you are on the right track and not going to be replaced. You can adapt, as needed, to the activities where you uniquely add value. Stress goes down and productive responses go up. This is how we face the unknown and transform it into a possibility by practicing a critical but missing skill called "Uncertainty Ability," which is desperately needed in our dynamic world. The great news? We can all practice this and get better at it.


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