A simple experiment reveals the limits of artificial intelligence (AI) and the limitless potential of the human mind.
I asked Siri, Apple’s digital assistant, the following question: Who is Alexander Hamilton?
“Alexander Hamilton was an American statesman and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States,” Siri responded.
I asked Alexa, Amazon’s digital assistant, the same question.
Alexander Hamilton was an American statesman and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States,” Alexa responded.
Now, turn to the lyrics of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony-award winning musical, “Hamilton” to see how the composer describes the American statesman. Miranda’s Hamilton is: The ten-dollar Founding Father without a father. Got a lot farther by working a lot harder. By being a lot smarter. By being a self-starter . . . young, scrappy and hungry.
If intelligence is defined as retrieving information faster, humans have no chance of keeping up with artificially intelligent systems. Fortunately, humans have an edge to outsmart smart machines. Siri and Alexa are good at what they’re made to do—use voice recognition to predict the best answer to your queries. Miranda’s job is different. His job is to make us feel. By combining words and ideas in a novel way, Miranda succeeds at a task no algorithm can replicate—igniting the human spirit.
If Miranda had written an essay analyzed by the Todai robot, it would have given him a failing grade. Todai was created by the Japanese mathematician Noriko Arai. Powered by artificial intelligence, Todai outperformed 80 percent of Japan’s high-school students in a college-entrance exam. It substantially outperformed humans in math and science and did considerably better at writing a 600-word essay.
Todai has one glaring limitation, however. It failed to beat 20 percent of high-school students who stood out for tackling the essay in a novel, unusual way. In other words, AI is remarkable at retrieving information that it has seen before, but AI has no imagination. Noriko, a leading AI-scientist, says humans have skills that computers can’t replace—humans collaborate, communicate and dream of a better world.
At no time in history have interpersonal communication skills been as important as they are today. In the Agrarian Age, a farmer who ploughed the field a little better than their neighbor could not acquire significantly more wealth. In the Industrial Age, a factory worker who assembled widgets a little faster than the person next to them could not acquire significantly more wealth. Today, anyone, anywhere in the world, who is a little better at expressing their ideas can see a sudden, massive increase in wealth that is unprecedented in human history.
Great communicators are inspiring, irresistible, and irreplaceable. Great communicators built the modern world.
In 1776, Thomas Paine published a pamphlet called “Common Sense” to persuade colonists to fight for independence from Great Britain. The pamphlet was meant to be read out loud on street corners, in taverns and meeting halls. While it made sophisticated political arguments, its simple language, rhythm, cadence and metaphors stirred people’s imagination.
In 1856, Florence Nightingale was a British nurse treating soldiers in the Crimean War. She made a stunning discovery—more British soldiers were dying from infections, not battle wounds. She convinced Parliament to improve sanitary conditions at hospitals with a series of graphics depicting the data she assembled to prove her theory. One hundred and fifty years before infographics began to fill our Instagram feeds, Nightingale pioneered data visualization to persuade the medical community their behavior.
In 1960, John F. Kennedy convinced a skeptical science community that America could put a person on the moon by the end of the decade. Recently, scholars have studied thousands of speeches, transcripts and letters in the NASA files, They conclude that Kennedy’s words inspired people to find a way to achieve the goal. Scientists and citizens were moved to action because John F. Kennedy was a poet-leader. He combined logical arguments and powerful storytelling to inspire people to dream bigger than they ever imagined.
In the age of AI, it’s not enough to have a good idea, you have to advocate for it, champion it, and convince others to act on it. Machines are fast; humans are creative. Machines glean insights from data; humans shed light on what the data means. Machines retrieve facts about the past; humans use their imagination to build the future. Our future rests on your ideas. Make sure your ideas get the recognition they deserve. Communication is no longer a ‘soft skill.’ It is the fundamental skill to gain a competitive edge in the age of AI.