Thus far, we have looked at previous generations and their cultural impact. Next, we surveyed millennials on self-views and now we turn our attention to the future that the human race will encounter. What will be the impact on millennials? Most importantly, how are millennials being prepped to deal with it? The “it” we are referring to is artificial intelligence (AI).

Most of us have a tangential awareness of the coming of artificial intelligence (AI). Few have delved into the implications of the change that is rushing toward us, though we may have responded emotionally to what we vaguely sense. The irritation that some feel toward the young person who is wedded to his device may cover our fear that the very nature of what it means to be human is changing. The preference for interacting with a device rather than communicating face-to-face may feel to us like a preference for AI over human relationship or perhaps an acceptable substitution for it. We have reason to be concerned.

The speed of the change that confronts us may soon overwhelm our human capacity for change.  From its slow beginnings in the mid-twentieth century to the “second coming of AI” that we see now, the change has been rapid indeed. This second coming embodies the realization that to be sturdy, AI must learn intuitively. One expert explained it this way, “When a snake senses danger, he doesn’t stop to think, “Now if I go four feet this way and two feet that way (old AI process), I will be safe. No, the snake will intuitively “bolt for his hole.” Machines are being taught to intuitively “bolt for their hole.” There are too many incarnations of this machine-learning to cite here, but some of them have special emotional resonance. Think of the robot whose looks and especially whose voice, matched by an ability to respond to unplanned communication will be, in many respects, indistinguishable from humans. One such android has already run for office in Japan and came in third!

Another example is Jamie Dupree, American journalist and radio personality. Best known for being a Washington-based political correspondent, Dupree lost his voice in 2016 when he was diagnosed with a form of dystonia, a neurological condition that causes people to lose control over their tongues making speech almost impossible. Thanks to AI, the tech company Cereproc built him a voice using 30 years of broadcast tapes. Dupree is back on the air after a two-year hiatus. He types his commentaries into an apparatus that converts them into audio using the announcer’s original voice. Albeit somewhat robotic, the analyst is back at work!

So maybe, just maybe, the millennials’ ability to and preference for, dealing with brief concentration on their device will be an advantage! Their willingness to deal with technology as practically an extension of themselves, may make the future of neural implants (to improve the plasticity of the human brain) more acceptable. Technology is advancing at such a phenomenal rate, that some experts think that implants are the only way humans can keep pace with machine learning.

To get a picture of how technology and human cooperation must work in tandem, we need only look at China, our largest competitor. Initially, we tend to think only of its autocratic rule and vast number of human rights abuses. Frequently ignored is the fact that China has moved from a pure communist economy to one that provides more commercial goods and a higher standard of living than ever before. What makes them different from us is their focus on collective effort as opposed to our capitalistic culture of competitiveness and rugged individualism. Add AI to the mixture, and we see the importance of millennials learning to relate one to another and to work together. If they don’t China may well advance beyond us in these days of AI! In fact, China anticipates taking the lead in AI development by the year 2025.

Finally, if ever there were a need for human values and ethics it will be in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. Already we are seeing the impact of technology on the provision of mental health services. Telemedicine is here to stay already and telemental health must follow. A co-worker had a swollen wrist and didn’t have time to leave the office to visit the doctor. So instead, she contacted the doctor via a Skype-like format that allowed her to hold her wrist up to the screen for the doctor to see and diagnose. Many mental health services are already providing services by such remote means. Older generations may be somewhat uncomfortable with these “new and improved methods” of obtaining medical and mental health services, but they are considered to be progress.

Technology makes it easy for those who are in charge of it to misuse it. Think of the possibilities of abuse with the implantation of devices in the human brain. Social work, rooted as it is, in the care and protection of the individual, families and communities is perfectly positioned to provide the ethical imperative that will be so needed in the future.

The culture of rugged individualism has been the basis of the American ethos. However, millennials experience individualism as being removed from others and connected to technology. Our success will require them to default to the previous definition. No time in history has evidenced a greater need for character, human compassion, and the ability to work together than now.

If millennials are to steer humanity in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, it will require them to combine the best of the past (rugged individualism) with embracing the future (technology). They will have to become “culturally bi-lingual” meaning exhibiting the strengths of old-fashioned human communication, cooperation and ethics, coupled with a mastery of technology.

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