Artificial intelligence can write straight-A college term papers, press releases, programming code and, effectively, pink slips. Hopefully someone else's, right?
It's an old story. People adapt. AI will have near-term winners and losers. Long-term, hopefully most of us win.
AI will also have unintended consequences, including positive ones: I believe AI is inadvertently not pushing us, but shoving us toward inner peace.
Understanding what AI can do prompts us to consider what it can’t do that we can. It points us to the ineffable sanctity of life, plus a powerful clue and simple technique to experience inner peace.
Simply put, AI doesn’t know “what it’s like.” What it’s like to write a term paper or programming code – let alone what it’s like to be kissed, feel warmth, smell an apple pie baking or rock a newborn to sleep.
One of humankind’s greatest unsolved mysteries is that no one has any idea where experience comes from; how molecules comprised of inanimate elements create something that, say, thinks the Cabernet is exquisite or the Wifi is too slow, or that snaring a tennis ball mid-air is a blast (dogs are conscious, too). This has been called "The Hardest Problem of Consciousness."
In 2016, a robot (robots are of course AI) scored a hole-in-one on just its fourth try at a Phoenix Open exhibition.
An average golfer might savor that experience over beers on the sun-drenched clubhouse veranda with their playing partners as they would savor few other experiences in life. They would "bask in the glow" for some time, and maybe remember it on their death bed.
For the robot, a hole-in-one is a non-event. Events are experiences. It can hit a hole-in-one, but has no idea what it’s like to hit a hole-in-one.
Hypothetically, if AI were capable of experiencing one emotion – envy – can you imagine how it would yearn to know what it’s like to taste an orange, behold a rainbow, feel loved or have a beer on the sun-drenched clubhouse veranda after a hole-in-one?
AI is not conscious. The ability to experience anything is a function of consciousness. I prefer the word awareness because it highlights how ever-present and simple it is.
In mindfulness, meditation and yoga, awareness is rightly recognized as the source of lasting peace and happiness and the essence of who we are.
But we don’t regard awareness as sanctified. We take it for granted, as a function in the background to be “used.”
But when we “reverse our attention," we find it’s inherently peaceful. It never judges or chatters. Never changes or ages. It’s flawless.
Above all, it knows what it’s like.
While you don’t look forward to feeling sad, anxious or angry, aren’t you glad you at least know what it’s like? to experience to them? They're on the full spectrum of human experience.
Fortunately, you can short-circuit these emotions.
While awareness knows what it’s like to be sad, anxious or angry, it never gets sad, anxious or angry. It’s always just fine.
For however long you pay attention to what knows what it's like - eyes open, alone, in any situation or state of mind – you’ll feel just fine, too.
When you're experiencing a painful emotion, silently ask yourself, “What is it that knows what this experience is like?” Obviously, you're not looking for a word, but where the question takes you.
I did mindfulness, meditation and yoga on and off for 25 years, largely paying attention to what I was aware of - the present moment, body energy, memories, images, etc. I believed I could attain lasting peace happiness if I just practiced long enough and well enough.
It helped a lot. But something was missing.
One day, someone simply pointed out that I was aware of my experience – that I know what it's like to do anything. They recommended I pay as much attention as possible to what is aware vs. what I was aware of. This is the basis of the simplest and most contrarian Yogic wisdom tradition.
It was so obvious that I wanted to cry: If you want lasting peace and happiness, pay attention to and explore the source of it, instead everything else 100% of the time!
It was a giant leap that got me where I wanted to be. Soon, I started teaching Reverse Mindfulness for Lasting Happiness.
If nothing else, AI is disruptive. As so much changes externally, there’s never been a better time to examine the one thing that doesn’t change and is always at peace.