Some Thoughts on Humility: The Most Vital Human Competency in The Age of AI

Otto Acuna explains how human humility is an important step toward accepting the reality that artificial intelligence (AI) is here to help us and here to stay.

AI humility

We are being flooded with a tsunami of changes that are happening really fast in this digital age. The time of being surprised by a new app, program, or website appearing in the market is long gone. Artificial Intelligence (AI) has arrived and is here to stay, for a very long time.

Amid this technological development, we, as humans, along with our respective organizations, need to re-think what our role is in this environment, judging how to best position ourselves to take advantage of the changes that are already knocking hard on our front door.

I’ve written in the past about the difficulty that many companies face as they roll out new capabilities in their organizations, as well as the employees that do not use them – it’s as if they resist change and refuse to use the tools and capabilities that will undoubtedly help them improve their work and be more successful in whatever it is that they do.

But why is this happening?

One answer is: “Well… it’s human nature…. We resist change!”

That might be true, but I believe there is a reason, perhaps less apparent, that is impeding our progress into digital at a higher pace.

A lack of humility.

Up until now, education systems around the world are based on two main competencies: the capacity to easily absorb and retrieve large quantities of information, and the act of perfuming calculations accurately and quickly.

All our tests evaluate whether or not you read, learned, and retrieved information from books, videos, or experiences, and whether or not you can perform algebraic, arithmetic, or other types of complexities.

Of course, critical thinking, problem solving, analysis, clear communication, and other competencies are also tested as we raise the educational level, but they are heavily influenced by the fact that things have to be memorized and calculated in your head.

Also, our culture praises our “smartness” if we know things or can calculate things, which is also true in business, but what happens to all that praise now that AI exists?

Now, we have a machine or a piece of software that can memorize and retrieve information faster than any human, or calculate things better than any genius, and as it develops at a rapid pace, AI’s capacity to ‘understand’ and adapt is also improving.

We need to learn to be humble and promote humility, allowing the AI to do what it does best and seizing those capacities to enhance our own capabilities.

Here’s a quick example of something that has helped me internalize this topic. Navigation app Waze has mapped the world’s streets all to tell us how to get from A to B in the most efficient way. It also acts as a ‘social network’ that feeds from the information of that network, giving users visibility of road blockages, slow traffic, police presence, and other things related to your trip. This information is updated in real time as users send feedback on their trips.

How many times you have disregarded what Waze told you, because “you know better” or because “I don’t understand why it is taking me this way”?

The roads where I live in Central America have more vehicles using them than they were designed for, resulting in very high traffic and jams – moving just five miles can take well over an hour sometimes.

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So, if Waze has all this information, all this processing power, and all these algorithms to tell me what the best route is, why do we still resist against the AI’s advice sometimes?

I have learned the hard way that my “I know best” attitude has often led to 25 extra minutes of traffic jams over Waze’s route.

I know what you’re thinking: how do we re-frame this example into our organizations and their processes?

AI represents a challenge, but, beyond the technology, the challenge is to humbly accept that “the machine knows best” in some respects, and explore, extract, guide, interact, collaborate, and seize all of its capacity for our own purposes.

An analogy for this challenge, and for the tsunami of capabilities that are now available, is that we should be the guy/gal on the surfboard, riding the wave in the best possible manner rather than being the dike constructor who is trying to avoid getting wet.

The challenge is to humbly accept that “the machine knows best” in some respects, and explore, extract, guide, interact, collaborate, and seize all of its capacity for our own purposes.

The takeaway here is that humility is one of the key competencies that we need to have: humility to accept these new capacities and focus on the competencies that can enhance what AI is capable of.

Humility opens the door to other competencies such as teamwork, empathy, and collaboration: all things that are sorely needed as we move headfirst into this new reality.