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TECH TALK: AI–Provocateur of positive change

Technological advances can be stressful, but there’s a way to look on the bright side. Stress can be good for you, and your attitude can make a difference.

Editor’s note: Besides following developments in tech, our author is also a musical composer (Juilliard-trained). He has provided a musical composition for you to listen to while reading this column. This piece is called “Rise,” which is an acronym for Remember, Integrate, Scan, Execute.

Innovators are sometimes called change agents because their goal is usually to change the way things are. We do this because we are not satisfied with the current state of affairs, not necessarily to be disruptive, although disruption can be the outcome. As I mentioned in a prior column, Artificial Intelligence has been around for decades but only recently has become a stress-inducing provocateur.

Why has the emergence of AI inflamed fear and stress in so many people? Are some kinds of stress actually good for us? And did you know that we are, to a large extent, in control of how we experience stress? There are excellent studies demonstrating that how we think about stress determines whether it helps or harms us. Here is one called “Rethinking stress: the role of mindsets in determining the stress response.”

Over the last 50 years, the pace of innovation and technological change has accelerated consistently, largely because an innovation in one sector of technology can propel a different technology farther and faster. Artificial intelligence is propelling innovation to an extraordinary degree. If, like me, you are more thrilled than frightened by change, then the stress it causes can improve your life.

As a provocateur of positive change, AI can enhance productivity by liberating us from mundane and repetitive tasks, freeing up our time and energy for more creative and complex work. AI can manage emails, schedule meetings, and analyze data, allowing us to focus on strategic and innovative tasks. AI can also be a creative partner, offering new ideas and perspectives.

In music and art, AI can analyze existing works and suggest novel combinations or variations, inspiring artists and musicians by collaborating in the creative process.

AI-powered applications can also offer support in the area of mental health through chatbots and virtual therapy sessions. These tools can provide immediate assistance, track mood changes, and suggest coping strategies.  AI can also nudge people towards healthier and more productive habits. Fitness apps using AI can design personalized workout plans and provide real-time feedback, encouraging users to stay active. Similarly, AI in financial planning can help individuals manage their finances better, reducing financial stress.

AI can analyze individual preferences and behaviors to offer personalized experiences in various domains such as healthcare, education, and entertainment. Customized learning platforms can adapt to a student’s learning pace and style, while personalized healthcare can provide tailored treatment plans based on a patient’s unique medical history.

The increased complexity of life can be overwhelming and get you down, but just outside the door, something positive is coming. This image was created by Howard Lieberman with the assistance of DALL-E-2, an AI software program.

As we encounter innovations coming at a faster and faster pace, we need to keep in mind that stress can actually provoke us to do better in life. Were your best teachers the ones who demanded the least? Were your best friends and partners the ones who never pushed back when you were about to do something stupid?

Experiencing and managing stress can lead to personal growth and development. Overcoming stressful situations can boost self-esteem and provide a sense of accomplishment. Although unmanaged stress can be harmful, short-term moderate stress can have benefits, including enhanced cognitive function, improved immunity, increased resilience, better performance, and personal growth.

Dealing with the stress that comes with technological change is not new. In fact, most of us have successfully managed to adjust to life with email, smartphones, social media, and issues of privacy, and are benefitting from these innovations. What is most surprising to me, as I have been exploring why I am more excited than others by innovation, is the discovery that how we think about stress determines whether we experience it as debilitating or developmental. As I tried to transcend the perception of technology as an evil stressor, I was reminded that the stresses I had encountered in my life—completing various degree programs, adjusting to new work environments, and entering into new relationships or living situations—had actually all radically improved my life.

Many studies support this.  Here is a selection:

Once you learn how to use the tools and manage your stress, even though it may feel like walking a tightrope, you can master your life. This image was created by Howard Lieberman with the assistance of DALL-E-2, an AI software program

Like it or not, AI is here, coming on faster, and is provoking us to change by stressing us. Both stress and AI, when approached constructively, can serve as provocateurs that drive our personal growth and improvement. By harnessing the beneficial aspects of stress and the transformative power of AI, we can achieve enhanced productivity, creativity, resilience, and overall well-being. Yes, AI can be a source of stress related to job security, privacy, and ethical concerns. Nevertheless, we can maximize the benefits of AI and other technologies if we can manage and balance our stress as we adapt to them.

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The Edge Is Free To Read.

But Not To Produce.