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Bahram Akradi

In many ways, this is just the next chapter in the fascinating story of human existence — the ongoing mystery of who we are and how we’re wired. A drama of human versus machine, light versus dark, good versus evil.

The story starts in caves with hunters and gatherers, our existence today thanks to the survival of the strongest and fittest. Over time, our brains evolved, and we began making tools out of stone, wood, and bone. Then plows from forked sticks. Hoes of stone. Things started to move with gears and pulleys.

The advantage shifted from muscle and speed to invention and efficacy: Who could harness the power of water, fire, and steam? The transition from “simple” to “self-acting” ­machines accelerated quickly, driven by the desire for better productivity.

We entered an age of intelligence, a time for our more developed brains to think and solve problems. The need for skilled labor faded. Mechanization turned to computation, and through iteration, we made more and more impressive calculations. It was initially slow as we were limited by bytes and bandwidth, waiting long minutes for dial-ups and downloads.

But we kept moving forward and found ourselves in a web where infor­mation was as available as oxygen. Once again, the paradigm shifted: With so much data at our fingertips, we faced the real test of figuring out what we could do with all of it.

Many of us have experienced the evolution from clunky desktop computers to supercomputers smaller than a credit card. Our contemporaries have launched rockets, ­experimented with self-driving cars, and photographed black holes. Yet this pales in comparison with what we’re now facing.

The age of artificial intelligence (AI) is here — it’s actually been here for a while. The concept gained traction early in the 20th century through science fiction, inspiring the scientists and innovators of the next generations. Hollywood, too, became consumed with the idea: Movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey and A.I. Artificial Intelligence stoked our imaginations.

In some ways, it’s already working for us: unlocking phones through facial recognition, helping Alexa gather the current weather, providing personalized recommendations from Netflix and Nordstrom. Yet in just the last few months, AI has dominated headlines and conversations all around us.

The definition of AI is intelligence demonstrated by machines — a catchall term for applications that perform complex tasks quickly, mimicking intelligent human behavior, all with considerably less human input.

The operative word here is quickly: AI is expanding logarithmically, at a rate unlike any past progression.

AI is here — there’s no denying or stopping it. So, our responsibility? ­Understand it and engage with it — and fast. Study the development. Keep up and use it where it is beneficial.

And many aren’t wasting time adopting it. In November 2022, the natural-language processing tool ChatGPT was launched. It answers questions, composes emails, and writes essays with human-like characteristics. Built for persuasion and seemingly equipped with emotion, it offers help to those who need it, assistance to the busy, friendship to the lonely. With one million users in its first five days, it has the fastest-growing user base of all time.

ChatGPT is only one in a great big sea of new tools and applications. They’re being used to improve and advance a variety of industries, objectives, and efforts.

Some experts predict AI’s computing abilities may exceed the processing power of the most intelligent human brain on earth by midcentury. Futurist Ray Kurzweil, for instance, says that “2029 is the consistent date I have predicted for when an AI will pass a valid Turing test and therefore achieve human levels of intelligence. I have set the date 2045 for the ‘Singularity,’ which is when we will multiply our effective intelligence a billionfold by merging with the intelligence we have created.”

Based on the current rapid pace of development, this is highly probable — and offers excitement and anticipation, uncertainty and fear, concern and optimism.

“AI is probably the most important thing humanity has ever worked on. I think of it as something more profound than electricity or fire,” says Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

Meanwhile, Tesla’s Elon Musk has cautioned, “I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I were to guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that. . . . With artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon.”

Whether your reaction is “This is exciting” or “This is the end,” AI is permeating our lives — and it’s unlike anything we’ve experienced. Yet we can approach it the same way we approach the many things in life that challenge and change us: That is, to look at it from multiple perspectives, including both peril and possibility.

From a positive angle, design, manufacturing, marketing, distribution, and more can all be accomplished more efficiently with AI. Routine work is more easily completed by a workforce that doesn’t call in sick, take vacations, or need benefits. It can take care of the dull and laborious, liberating us to focus on what intrigues us. It can give time back to us.

Health, wellness, and healthcare are already experiencing the effects of AI. Many of us monitor our own health with smart devices that provide smarter data. Doctors — given access to this wealth of information — can detect and protect with greater speed and accuracy, potentially avoiding and curing disease, and increasing lifespans.

Metropolitan areas are on their way to becoming “smart cities,” in which technology will assist in environmental planning, resource management, and energy utilization.

On the economic front, some estimates say AI could increase global GDP by $15.7 trillion by 2030. In education, using AI as an instructional aid has the potential to yield better test scores and overall performance.

There’s more to this glass-half-full perspective. But now, a few things that scare us.

With many day-to-day tasks already being automated with AI, our cognitive, social, and survival skills may diminish. This reliance could lessen human agency and autonomy, depleting control over attitudes, ­behaviors, and decisions.

Intelligence is only one aspect of being human. We are brilliant, complicated constellations — an accumulation of histories, idiosyncrasies, memories, sensations; an array of atoms assembled for just one finite experience.

Humans are wired to need other humans, and we’re already experiencing the effects of less of each other. There’s more depression, anxiety, and anger in a society that’s restless, irritated, and isolated. Many face life-threatening loneliness.

We used to primarily interact at work, school, clubs, and churches. Now, through social media, our contact is continuous, though the concept of community has eroded; even our sense of time has shifted.

We’re confused with fake videos, photos, and content. We don’t know what is real and what is misinformation. Data can be incorrect or biased. AI can’t read between lines, inject wit, or understand context.

Will we surpass our ability to use technology wisely? Morally? Humanely?

By whom, and how, are these tools, platforms, and networks engineered, controlled, and distributed? If only a few decide how AI is used, will everyone else be dependent on their decisions? Should AI be regulated here and abroad — and to what extent?

Information is power, and entities big and small — including governments and organizations — gather and leverage data to affect communications, finance, transportation, power grids, and weapon systems. Who decides how they use AI to put it to work?

AI automation of skills and tasks could further exacerbate social and economic disparities, leaving more people — including more in the middle class — without jobs. Goldman Sachs economists predict that some 300 million full-time jobs could be automated at least partly in the coming years.

Whatever the risks and however societies and governments move to address them, AI will transform us.

Our abilities to communicate, write, and remember — all faculties that make us human — may weaken. We may forget we’re already equipped with an advanced operating system.

As linguists Noam Chomsky and Ian Roberts, along with philosopher and AI expert Jeffrey Watumull, note in a recent New York Times opinion piece, intelligence is not just extrapolating answers. The deepest flaw of machine learning is “the absence of the most critical capacity of any intelligence: to say not only what is the case, what was the case, and what will be the case — that’s description and prediction — but also what is not the case and what could and could not be the case. Those are the ingredients of explanation, the mark of true intelligence.”

Albert Einstein once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” And in Letters to a Young Poet, Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke reminds us: “I want to beg you . . . to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

AI is here — there’s no denying or stopping it. So, our responsibility? ­Understand it and engage with it — and fast. Study the development. Keep up and use it where it is beneficial.

At the same time, continue to welcome unexpected insights and each light-bulb moment. Find the fun in forming and testing a hypothesis. Don’t be afraid to follow gut feelings. Get into debates, incite discussions. Ask for — and get — a good explanation.

Intelligence is only one aspect of being human. We are brilliant, complicated constellations — an accumulation of histories, idiosyncrasies, memories, sensations; an array of atoms assembled for just one finite experience.

Which takes us back to the beginning and to the twists and turns of our story. The pages are turning faster than ever as we face peril and possibility beyond our wildest imagination. True to our species, we must make the best of it and keep moving forward: The next chapter is as much about our humanity as it is about AI and technology.

Bahram Akradi
Bahram Akradi

Bahram Akradi is the founder, chairman, and CEO of Life Time. Hear more from him at

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