Human Intelligence provides the best of power skills

25th April 2023

I am excited by AI, but for a change let’s focus on human intelligence (HI) instead of artificial intelligence (AI).

The cognitive-educational psychologist Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences used eight criteria to isolate different intelligences. The criteria include the ability being associated with a particular region in the brain, being measurable, and offering cases of prodigies who excel in that intelligence only. The intelligences include verbal-linguistic and logical-mathematical, both of which we would expect in any IQ test, and that computers are learning to do better than we can. But he also found musical-rhythmic, visual-spatial, and bodily-kinesthetic intelligences, and interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences – what we now call emotional intelligence. After publishing his book Frames of Mind he added an eighth, naturalistic intelligence – understanding flora and fauna holistically in farming or ecology. And he considered an existential intelligence, that others might call spiritual intelligence.

There are several there that are not currently replicable by machines.

Of course for business the exciting side of AI is finding new opportunities to increase productivity and even create products and services that don’t yet exist. But how about creating businesses that focus on HI by drawing on what we do so much better than machines? Let’s recognise our strengths as a human species and optimise them.

What are the implications for business?  Apart from using AI, monitoring it and learning all we can about it, we should equip ourselves and our teams with the very best of human capacities. Some of the “hard” skills currently in training curricula may become redundant, which gives us the opportunity to improve the so-called “soft” skills (increasingly being referred to as “power” skills) of personal and interpersonal effectiveness, together with strategic awareness and ethical judgement.

Coaching, mentoring, and training can all be enhanced by AI, but the best still require human mediation. Creative problem solving and consulting are mostly human activities. Sport, entertainment and the creative arts are ours – Siri can tell a joke, but we don’t want an iPhone to be the stand-up comedian at our next show.

Then there are things we can do, but need to do much better for the human species to thrive. Focusing on HI might help. We exercise moral judgement – sometimes. Put us together in large numbers and between us we have very fine judgement, if only we could listen to each other. We have an extraordinary capacity for empathy when others are in extreme danger or discomfort.

What is the essence of being human? A Down’s Syndrome child teaches us that it may have nothing to do with the intelligence of machines. We are capable of great love. We have a talent for worship and an appreciation of the arts. We can use tools and machines to extend our abilities, and teams to multiply our wisdom, and so become far greater than we imagined.

One fear about AI is that a rogue computer may develop autonomous motivation and decide to enslave or destroy the human species.

But the more immediate threat is from humans using AI for nefarious purposes. We don’t know whether or not a rogue machine is a realistic threat to humanity, but we do know human nature well enough to be sure that rogue humans will use it at every opportunity for greed and to grab power.

Imagine Donald Trump, Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, not to mention well-resourced businesspeople like Elon Musk, each with access to uncontrolled AI. Never has temptation been so great, nor world leadership seemed so immature.

So we should certainly look for ways to defend against a future AI threat, but let’s also focus on positive HI to counter the human threat and build the potential HI has for the human species.

Jonathan Cook, a counselling psychologist, chairs the African Management Institute. If you’d like to read previous columns in this series or ask Jonathan a question please visit http://www.africanmanagers.org/jonathan-cook

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