As we consider AI, are we already acting like robots?

Seems so, more often than not.

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image courtesy of PR for the People

It’s ironic how robots are often characterized as stiff and mechanical, but many human beings also fit this description. At least in their social interactions and most especially on social media. As we consider AI, are humans already acting like robots? 

That’s how I see it, anyway. As a coach, I witness people letting their guard down all the time and achieving respite from the daily monotony of performance among peers and colleagues–maybe even family and friends! It’s always a bittersweet experience for me. While I’m so grateful to be present for it, to play a small part or role in them achieving authentic self-expression and self-embodiment, I always feel sad that it can only happen in such small glimpses. 

Due to socialization and subsequent fear of social rejection, many people operate on auto-pilot throughout their whole lives, consciously or unconsciously playing a part or being the character of who they think they are or should be. 

From a need for social survival, we all end up acting like robots instead of freely expressing our unique, authentic selves.

Throughout my life, I’ve always been the weird one, the intense one, the authentic one. For this reason, I often stand out in the lives of those I know. 

I often wonder why, given the innate need for authentic interaction we all share as humans. If we all crave it, what has most of us walking around life zombies starved for the life force that comes with really being seen and heard and valued? How can we achieve this connection when low self-esteem and the need for validation and acceptance, more rampant and real than most are able to admit, drive us to show a facade in place of our real face?

Everyone thinks everyone else has it all together. No one else believes that each person belies an insecure wounded inner child, dying for comfort and reassurance. As a coach, I know this is the rule rather than the rare exception. Every person strives to be liked, accepted, wanted, needed and valued. In fact, according to social psychologists like Roy Baumeister, it motivates most of human behavior.

But in the absence of self-acceptance and reciprocal authentic relationships with others, it’s robots we actually already are, interacting with each other in stunted, terse rituals of performance as Erving Goffman described in his work.

We merely go through the motions at work as an extension of our lives. We duck and dodge the opportunities to reveal our real selves or create that space for others when they try. We keep it light, simple, superficial. Despite our innate need for connection and a body that produces tears as an empathetic response to suffering and a brain that can process fear and nerve endings that provide pain and pleasure and a mind that can imagine transcendence and communion, we are actually, more often than not, anything but real.

So perhaps robots would be an improvement to the current model of the inept human machine. They could perhaps be programmed to utilize the tools and technology they’ve been given to actualize their potential. Their supercomputer brains could sense and detect a threat just like ours but override with more accuracy, precision and speed. They would truly manifest what we mean when we say emotional intelligence.

But would this mechanized mindfulness render joy obsolete? What about that feeling of elation or subtle equanimity that floods us once we overcome suffering and adversity? Could or would they feel the clarity of close communion without first encountering the suffocation of isolation?

Perhaps the struggle and purpose of being human is to emerge from a “robotic” existence, imposed upon us by socialization and culture, to a more responsive, adept and interactive version. 

An upgraded, new-and-improved prototype for humanity.

Might we actually become the robots we need now in our not-so-distant future?

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