Follow On

Social media and artificial intelligence can never be an antidote for natural stupidity and each one of us have to develop a way to enable us to work better and play harder. It’s time for us to make good choices!

When was the last time some well-meaning friend forwarded a really shocking or amusing news item to you on a social messaging platform only for a scream to emanate from other friends “It’s a fake?” Possibly in the last few days, right? And yet we persist (or at least most us including yours truly do!) in spending time every few hours on WhatsApp, posting great looking photographs on Facebook and Instagram and making morbid predictions and judgments on Twitter. What is the psychological motivation that takes us on a social media path where in reality we gain very little and just spend a lot of time?

Many of us digital immigrants who were very comfortable with land phones and missing dial tones till the mobile phone came along and disrupted our lives will remember that a young colleague would have introduced us to the convenience of text messaging and the need to reach out easily to our car drivers made us invest in a pager. And it was probably our teenagers who told us about Facebook and regretted it because we became more prolific posters than the young folk around us. And then somebody told us that a spruced up Linked In profile would help us become sought after by global employers and politicians who adopted Twitter for their propaganda made us experiment with that medium too. And then came WhatsApp and life has never quite become the same again.

What we do not realise is the quicksand like tendency of any social media platform to suck us into its vortex and tempt us to respond to every smart comment with one of our own and outdo any photograph with one that gets more Wows. My own voyage with Twitter started tentatively when I struggled to find value in saying something in one hundred and forty characters and who cared anyway? Then one day, a friend from Mumbai who was much more of an expert then with social media than I can claim to be even today posted on her road trip back from Mumbai about our interesting conversation and tagged me and soon I had a hundred of her friends as my followers and in an effort to keep this little group engaged, my social media community has grown to hundreds, then thousands and now tens of thousands. You could say I am well and truly hooked! And “loving it”.

We are all intelligent people and know the perils of social media addiction. Many profiles that we get attracted to on Linked In – boasting of affiliations to brand name technology and business schools are false and a connection established with good faith might see you and your money, or at least your reputation, being totally compromised. This risk has been expanded to our trust in machines, both hardware and software where scam purveyors lurk on our computers and on the internet, threatening to invade our privacy, breach our cyber security and wreak havoc on our work and our lives. Artificial Intelligence is playing a major role in predicting our responses and prescribing actions for us that easily get us caught in the web of deceit. With Metaverse beginning to happen around us, we may well spend hours in an immersive alternate reality and find it so rich that the simplicity of physical life become less attractive with every passing day.

Lest all this begin to sound like just one big horror story, let us look at the benefits. A young friend in his studio in the Western suburbs of Mumbai is designing an Augmented Reality aquarium where a young kid is first given a fish outline and crayons, He paints it in whatever colors he fancies and the coloured picture is scanned by an AR camera. A large screen in front has multiple fish swimming around and soon, the kid’s fish appears and starts swimming and interacting with other fish. The child has the option to click and get details of every fish his fish encounters and has to remember to “feed” his fish every five minutes to keep him swimming. The engagement of children with ideas like this is substantially higher than just walking around a real aquarium.

In the corporate world, we have delivered similar experiences using AI and adaptive learning to build customized skills paths for learners and even encouraged slum youth to sign up for paramedical skills training by just giving them a virtual reality experience of being in the operating theatre of a hospital and experience people like themselves in total comfort with alien surroundings. Factories and warehouses have been transformed using computer vision and digital twins and there is no doubt that commonly available technology, applied uncommonly well can transform both life and work.

How then does one eliminate the time wasting and fake experiences from our lives and use social media and new technology for truly value adding experiences? As in everything else, artificial intelligence can never be an antidote for natural stupidity and each one of us have to develop a world view that embraces technology and social media in ways that enable us to work better and play harder. It’s time for us to make good choices!