What does it be to be human? (in the digital era)

by | Dec 21, 2022 | Change, ICT4D, Identity |


In the digital era and the world of evergrowing artificial intelligence, I’ve been pondering what it is that makes us human. I blame ChatGPT for it all. There are likely few, if any, tasks or jobs that artificial intelligence (AI) will not be able to do 30 years from now. Whether that is writing poems, picking up the children from school, making meals, planting seeds, building rockets, operating on people, responding to disasters, or whatever tasks you find yourself doing in a day. Aspects of AI are already present in our lives, but perhaps we call it something different. Like a phone or anything ‘smart’ or a search engine.

AI is part of our lives already. It has been for decades. And it will only grow in the future. And so, if AI enabled ‘things’ can or will be able to do the tasks humans do, what does it mean to be human?

ChatGPT has helped us see that AI can write stories, poems, letters that make us laugh and feel emotions like human writers. Other forms of AI can ‘read’ or pick up on emotions in humans and respond accordingly. And so, I wonder again, what does it mean to be human?

At a deep philosophical level, my most honest answer is ‘I don’t know anymore.’ However, I have begun to wonder if being human has nothing to do with the tasks we can do – from washing the dishes to building a latrine to flying to the moon. I wonder if it is being human is about the ability to feel, to experience emotion. Particularly to experience wonder, awe, love and delight. But also shame, guilt, and pain. Perhaps being human is the ability to be overcome with emotion – that deep sense of ‘I feel like I am going to explode’ type of emotion.

On our property, we have a garden in which we grow flowers, trees, and vegetables. There are thousands of machines, some super sophisticated that could plant seeds for us. There are AI robots which could as well. Frankly, these ‘things’ could likely plant and nuture seeds better than I. But I am not aware that, currently, a combine harvester or robot feels any sense of utter joy when they harvest a crop. I often marvel at flowers, experience unimaginable joy picking flowers with my daughter or strawberries with my son. And every single year the first harvest of french dwarf beans reminds me of my Mom and I am overcome with a flood of emotion.

Perhaps this is what it means to be human. Perhaps it’s not a competition about who is unique or who can do it better. But perhaps, being human is about embracing the emotions within us as we go through life.

What do you think?

Photo by Andrea De Santis


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