Author Darren Richards reflects on artificial intelligence, looking at the value of human leaders
Last year I had the privilege of reading the homily at my father’s funeral.
As I looked out the crowded chapel, grateful people were filling every pew. It was standing-room-only at the back. My Dad was a paramedic and operating theatre professional for most of his life. He spent more than 30 years leading and training other medics and paramedics.
It struck me, as I fought back the tears, that the world needs people who will inspire us and lead us. People who will look beyond their own needs and invest in others. The world needs people to pass on the baton, to train, coach, mentor and grow successors.
In fact, there can be no success without succession. The only lasting success any leader can have is to raise others up, then get out of the way, so they can go further and achieve more than we ever could.
But are human leaders and trainers still relevant and even still needed, with the rise of Artificial Intelligence and virtual reality avatars?
Displaced by AI?
Some social commentators predict over 40 per cent of professions could be “displaced” – 4 in 10 people may soon find their job replaced or made redundant by AI technology.
Yes, AI and computer programmes can learn faster, do certain tasks better than we can and do more tasks simultaneously than humans can, however these algorithms will never inspire, organise and mobilise people to solve the world’s age-old problems. We need leaders for that.
With all our sci-fi AI, wireless communications and lighting connections, we are still no closer to solving the same old causes of pain, misery and suffering: Poverty, hunger, injustice, disease, slavery and war. And to these old foes, with all our advanced knowledge, we’ve only added: Climate Crisis, water scarcity, displaced people, institutional racism, deforestation, addiction and debt.
Somewhere, buried deep in the recesses of YouTube’s cyber-warehouse is a short music video called ‘Fire Scorched Sunrise’. I wrote and recorded this song in 2009. Let me share some of the lyrics:
Finest intellects have tried to solve the puzzles of this life. Questions fill their minds, they lie awake at night. Are we alone? Why do we always have to know? Within my soul is laughter, love and awe. In art and song, in verse, in right from wrong. I see your touch. I sense the creator. Over a decade later, with the arrival of AI, these questions are more poignant than ever.
What makes us human?
Are attributes like freewill, a sense of social justice, a moral conscience, creativity and appreciation of beauty unique to our species? Are they evidence of a soul and proof that we carry a divine spark within us?
It so happens that ‘The Creator’, is also the title of a new movie where an all-powerful and self-aware Artificial Intelligence (AI) entity moves from being a benevolent and protective ‘creator’ to become a destroyer of worlds.
We’ve always secretly wondered if robots will take over and replace us. This plot is played and replayed in countless movies, books and plays. Now the robots and chatbots have arrived, truth be told, the emergence of this sci-fi style AI has left many of us questioning if humans really are unique and special after all. When AI can paint stunning photo-realistic masterpieces, write songs, compose symphonies and even write entire novels, what’s so special about humans? Even the most creative industries are in danger of being superseded.
Does this rapid new ‘industrial revolution’ of machine learning and technological change mean that humans are essentially redundant now? Will you and I cease to serve any useful and meaningful purpose in the workplace, when an AI chatbot can write the advert, a robot can stack the shelves and a drone can deliver the shopping?
Do we really need photographers when AI can create any photo from a few sentences? Will orchestral composers go the way of horse drawn carts and chimney sweeps? We’re already seeing ‘new’ material from long dead musicians being released. One day whole movies could be created on a laptop, using ‘prompts’, doing away with costly film sets and Hollywood actors. Artificially generated footage will soon be indistinguishable from actual videos of real people and places.
Let’s be honest…AI can seem scary. AI programmers are running faster than governments, philosophers and pastors can keep up. To quote Martin Luther King Jr, if feels as though we are once again living at a time when “our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power”. MJK was referring to the cold war and nuclear weapons, he goes on to write: “…we have guided missiles and misguided men.” Perhaps today, it could be said that we have AI chatbots and smartphones, but what we need is human communication and emotional intelligence.
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Then, as now, what is missing from the blistering sprint of scientific progress and invention is wise and ethical leaders. Human leaders.
I am mindful and concerned about AI, but I am not scared it will replace human beings. I believe that human artists, painters, poets, photographers, coders, musicians and actors will always be needed. Humans are inspired and raised up by humans, not machines. Humans will always create beauty and move audiences to tears or laughter. In the same way that electric lights replaced candles and microphones amplified musical numbers, I predict AI will be folded into the fabric of the arts, but humans will still create something truly original and unique that touches our heart and soul.
The stark reality is, you only have to look at history to see that more science, more technology and more innovation does not mean more peace, more harmony and more unity.
While millions of children still go to bed hungry, people are trafficked across borders and life-saving drugs are out of reach for the sick, human leaders will always be needed: to speak up, take action and dream big dreams of a better future.
International speaker and leadership consultant, Rev Celia Apeagyei-Collins, asserts that leadership is needed now more than ever before: “The greatest challenge we face in the 21st Century is a lack of integrous, competent leadership. We need energetic and trustworthy leaders…to affect meaningful change in our hurting world. We need leaders with courage and steel, not professional skills and qualifications alone.”
Remember, if one little girl skipping school with a cardboard placard can spark a global movement for climate change, then you can certainly make a difference.
What AI lacks is ‘heart’. It will never have soul or a divine sense of justice. It will never look at a fire-scorched sunrise and feel a sense of awe at creation or gratitude towards its creator. AI is itself part of creation, it is human-made. It will never be the creator.
A Bible verse comes to mind from the book of Romans , paraphrased in The Message translation: “They traded the true God for a fake god, and worshiped the god they made instead of the God who made them.” Romans 1:25
AI may seem God-like, but it does not have a divinely bestowed sense of right and wrong, and it cannot truly appreciate a symphony, a smile or a sunrise. What’s more, AI will never replace human leaders.
People will always need people to mobilise them, understand them, love them and lead them. Inspiring and godly leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. And, today, leaders like you. The truth is, you inspire more people than you will ever know.
Darren Richards is an international author, broadcaster and fundraising advisor. His new book The Plane Parable is written to help you “lift-off, lead and secede” in your dream. Darren enables his readers to become world-changers who make a difference and achieve their “someday” dream. He is also the global director of fundraising for Mercy Ships, and he hosts the ‘Someday Arrival’ podcast, to equip emerging leaders and encourage Someday dreamers.