The world seems to be changing very fast. Reid Hoffman, the legendary Silicon Valley entrepreneur and Founder of LinkedIn, wrote a book about AI called Impromptu: Amplifying our Humanity through AI. It is remarkable how Hoffman, with the help of GPT-4, created and published this book in a few short months and released the pdf version free and the Kindle Edition nearly free ($0.99). We are not talking about some careless collection of GPT-generated content. The book is actually quite good! This is the power of exponential technologies, and publishing companies should be paying attention.
What makes the book stand out is not the GPT-generated content, even though the answers given to Hoffman’s prompts and the ongoing exchange with him were insightful. The quality of the book is due to Hoffman’s ability to connect the dots, to create compelling arguments, to tell a cohesive story, and to show with practical examples how generative AI can be used as a collaborative tool to increase productivity and improve our work. The key takeaway is that to make GPT an extraordinary tool for producing great content we still need the human touch.
Hoffman captures the impact AI will have in the world of work and our lives in general in the following sentence:
“Much of what we do as modern people—at work and beyond—is to process information and generate action. GPT-4 will massively speed your ability to do these things, and with greater breadth and scope.”
At the beginning of the book, Hoffman reveals that he hesitated to write a book about AI since this domain is changing so fast, which could make it obsolete quickly:
“Even with GPT-4 on board, though, I still had reservations. Because, really, an AI book? When things are moving so quickly? Even with a helpful AI on hand to speed the process, any such book would be obsolete before we started to write it—that’s how fast the industry is moving.”
I had the same hesitation when writing my book Soulful: You in the Future of Artificial Intelligence. How could I possibly write a book about AI when a new announcement comes out every few weeks obsoleting what had just been written? Mind you, I did not use Generative AI—ChatGPT only became available to the general public in late 2022—to write my book. I have been on the traditional track, which can take a couple of years from ideation to publication. Two years in the world of AI is an eternity.
But then I had an insight. My book is not just about AI. It is about humans, our condition, and how we need to adapt to the new world immersed with intelligent machines. I do reference AI technologies in the book, and some parts of the book will certainly become obsolete as AI continues to change at vast speeds. However, humans change very slowly. And one could argue that the fundamentals of who we are don’t change at all. So the most important messages in my book will stay current indefinitely. Almost everything is changing very fast, but not everything.
Interestingly, Hoffman refers to the “soul” of a new machine. He recognizes that machines don’t have souls—the key argument of my book—but he makes the point that AI is becoming increasingly similar to humans:
“GPT-4 doesn’t have the equivalent of a human mind. It’s still helpful to think in terms of its ‘perspective,’ anthropomorphizing it a bit, because using language like ‘perspective’ helps convey that GPT-4 does in fact operate in ways that are not entirely fixed, consistent, or predictable. In this way, it actually is like a human. It makes mistakes. It changes its ‘mind.’ It can be fairly arbitrary.”
In Soulful, I make a point of differentiating human intelligence from machine intelligence. I point out the dangers of our anthropomorphizing tendencies. Anthropomorphizing for the purposes outlined by Hoffman (notice how he uses the qualifier “a bit”) may be ok. Still, we need to be careful not to cross the line into the danger zone described in the following excerpt:
AIs with sophisticated language capabilities and an intellect that is refined and intriguing could lead adults to develop an affinity for them. Whether people will develop romantic feelings towards AIs, such as in the movie Her, is unknown. However, it is essential to remember that despite the incredible advances made so far with language capabilities using a model like GPT-4, the machines don’t share an appreciation for art, beauty, or love. They don’t know what it is like to feel lonely or depressed. They can mimic and respond to our emotions, but they can’t develop genuine empathy towards people because they miss the key ingredients of the soul.
The human soul defines who we are and this will not change. I express this sentiment in the following excerpt:
This is where the machines can’t reach. It is our true differentiator. It is the one thing that can’t be simulated, mimicked, translated, digitized, replaced, outsourced, automated, or taken away from us. In a world surrounded by machines, we must focus on taking care of our souls.
We live in a world where everything seems to be changing extremely fast due to incredible technological advances. But we can rest assured that at least a few things—like our need for identity and purpose—will remain the same. Some things change very fast, others change slowly, and yet others don’t change at all.