|With all the hype that ChatGPT created, I read up on the topics of AI and its value. Some lead me to predictable pathways, like Henry Kissinger and Co, overly enthused about AI’s potential. Some went straight to ‘how to avoid dystopia’, like Eva Paus’s collection of academic works. Dutch author Huib Modderkolk unexpectedly engaged me with a spy thriller worth of James Bond, with the terrifying caveat that it was based on real-life events.
Apart from food for thought and anxiety about what the future would AI might bring, I also thought to myself – will ChatGPT (or any AI tools) can help us achieve actual happiness?
There is no question that some of the technologies were indeed life-changing and increased our well-being. I read that recent women’s liberation movements only started with inventions of the kitchen appliances like dishwashers. Not having to do so much housework, women started participating more in society, going to work, or enjoying themselves more. There is also no question that travel has expanded our horizons beyond anything previous generations dreamed of. We live longer and healthier partly because we take care of our bodies better and pain medication is a blessing to anyone with chronic or acute diseases.
I certainly love my technology. In the past, I kept buying Kindle despite mostly using the library. I love my little speakers I can take anywhere and not being able to travel made me feel very constrained during lockdowns. Even if the side effects of technology are concerning, for our jobs as well as our well-being, technology itself can bring good as much as evil.
My contemplation on ChatGPT was more fundamental. Even if ChatGPT is as amazing as we expect – can the ability to access external information be truly ‘life-changing` in terms of our happiness?
Even if we have the best answers in an easier, more accessible, incredibly fast way, isn’t it just, well.. information about the external world?
For one, information is not knowledge per se – rarely it is enough to make better decisions or enhance our lives. Only combining different types of information and putting it into a context gets us to knowledge. And only by combining information with knowledge of ourselves, of humanity, of culture, and the society around us, we can arrive at wisdom.
We also as a rule overvalue ‘technical’ knowledge over ‘soft knowledge’. Social sciences are not only underfunded but perceptions in the cultural sphere – like jokes in the Big Bang Theory about the irrelevance of such sciences – clearly demonstrate the attitude of the society. This undervaluing reflects in workplaces, where people’s ability to perform their important tasks is often reduced to the ‘outputs per hour’, not paying attention that creativity, productivity, and ideas come in non-linear ways, and can be impacted massively by lack of sleep, whether the person better works in the morning or at night and disregards any personal life factors, despite them having a huge impact on those ‘outputs’.
Above all, we often overvalue external information and undervalue internal one. Information about what is relevant to our bodies (whether we are thirsty or something hurts), minds (whether we just heard something that disturbed us) and personal circumstances (e.g. about how this social situation is progressing) are constantly feeding us with information about our well-being.
This internal information is crucially important to our well-being and yet not only we often chose to ignore it, but we also take pride in doing so. The facts of the world, like whether Bogota is the capital of Colombia, seem to be much more valued in the world than how we feel about something, even though it has no immediate impact on our lives while how we feel does. Scrawling google search for answers to questions or going down the rabbit hole of Youtube videos was a favorite past time even before ChatGPT, while trying to unknot that feeling of anxiety in our stomach or reflecting on why this person always makes us feel bad wouldn’t even cross our mind. And yet it is the latter that defines the quality of our day, and by extension, life.
So while the rest of the world is buzzing with the ‘potential’ of ChatGPT – and it might as well have a great one – I might instead hold on to my knowledge on whether I am enjoying my coffee as I write this, whether my body can handle another one before I get too jumpy and reflect on the results from the longest happiness study ever made. When the study director Robert Waldinger was interviewed on the study results about what eventually made people the happiest, he said:
The people who were happiest, who stayed healthiest as they grew old, and who lived the longest were the people who had the warmest connections with other people.