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What Will Drive People in the Age of AI?

They give us directions and order our groceries and compete with us in computer games. With artificial intelligences in our lives, where does that leave us?
by Fionnuala Kavanagh | Dec 1 2017

We tend to think of artificial intelligence (AI) in more tangible, human-like ways. Science fiction fills our imaginations with robots and cyborgs.

What Will Drive People in the Age of AI

But, the truth is that AI is already starting to play quite the role in our lives. Specialists in human-computer interaction and machine learning work for some of the most prominent companies in the world. Their efforts go into digital assistants, self-driving cars, and predictive order-placements that mean you’ll never run out of the staples of your household. There are far more examples today, let alone what we’ll likely see next year.

We will start to see AI involved in more and more corners of our lives. That is for sure. But, what does that mean for our sense of purpose and meaning as traditionally human roles become replaced?

Daniel Pink argues in his book Drive that a more fundamental understanding of what it means to be human is the way forward in this increasingly automated age. Our creativity, value judgment, and emotional intelligence provide us with thinking processes that still surpass the limited, binary nature of computers. By further exploring these inherently human qualities, we can retain our passion and forward-trajectory, so let’s dive into them.


Autonomy and ownership are key for motivation. Companies such as Google and Zappos allow their employees a certain amount of freedom, in terms of how they spend their time, where they work from, and how customer-support is handled. As a result, they have seen rich dividends. Google News and GMail can be directly traced to this strategy, as can a reduced turnover. Companies have also responded to this increased desire for self-determination by implementing flatter hierarchies in their structures.

Possibility for Perfection

Pink also wants us got get into “flow state.” It’s not a dance move, though dancing could be one way to get there. Rather, the term refers to work done with such passion that it completely absorbs us. “Flow state” sparks creativity, demands perfection, and eschews our sense of time. Through unexpected praise and constructive feedback, we can refocus our attention on the joy of our work, reviving our dedication. This way, we can combat the lack of commitment many feel towards their jobs and bring us greater happiness in life.

Meaningful Goals

People respond better when they pursue work they find meaningful, since they appeal to intrinsic motivation. Money and external rewards can actually be harmful in this regard. By working towards communally beneficial goals, employers can increase staff motivation. Such goals can take the form of allowing employees to opt in for donating part of their salaries to charity, sometimes of the worker’s choosing. These kinds of meaningful goals give the glowing feeling that one’s work has a positive effect on others and they contribute something worthwhile.

As we begin to take greater advantage of AI technologies, treating people with “carrot-and-stick” motivation techniques will become more and more passé. The book-in-blinks of David Pink’s Drive on Blinkist is a great way to better understand what motivates people to do great work. By appealing more to individuals’ internal drives, we can create a workforce that complements AI, rather than competes with it.

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