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  • Writer's pictureGraham

The Tyranny of Binary Thinking



Some people are worried by artificial intelligence. Others, excited by it. Some are ignoring it.

In the past week I've read Elon Musk describe AI as a "one of the biggest threats" to humanity, while venture capitalist Marc Andreessen wrote: "We believe Artificial Intelligence is our alchemy, our Philosopher’s Stone – we are literally making sand think."


Another commentator wrote: "Nobody actually knows what will come of AI. But we can console ourselves with the knowledge that nobody has ever really known anything about the future."


Polarisation or disengagement. Both unhealthy responses to complex situations.


People like to think in terms of categories rather than 50 shades of grey. Yet complexity means uncertainty, and we are allergic to uncertainty, so we reject the complexity.


The result is we go binary on it. Complex things are either good or bad, right or wrong, harmful or helpful. We find solace in the extremes, and once we've picked a side, we need to defend it vigorously. The more extreme, the more certainty we feel, and the more difficult it is to accept the complexity.


The alternative is perhaps even worse: To disengage. This means turning your back on the issue altogether and pretending it's not important. If the issue appease to increase in relevance, the disengagement becomes more stubborn.


The fact is that AI is good and bad, it will harm you and help you. It will be used for righteous purposes as well as wrongful ones.


A healthier response is to lean into the complexity, accepting that certainty can't be achieved. Even those who create AI systems don't understand how it all works. There is no need to become expert, but you do need to start to identify its possible outcomes and what they'll mean for you and your business.


1. Enroll in an AI Fundamentals Course:

  • Sign up for an online course that teaches the basics of AI and machine learning to understand the terminology and concepts. Platforms like Coursera or edX offer courses designed for non-technical professionals.

2. Subscribe to AI Newsletters:

  • Find and subscribe to reputable AI newsletters. Allocate time every week to read these and stay informed about the latest AI developments and their implications in layman's terms.

3. Attend AI Webinars or Local Meetups:

  • Register for webinars that discuss AI trends, use cases, and policy implications. Alternatively, join a local AI meetup group to engage with the topic in person.

4. Participate in AI Ethics Debates:

  • Engage in or initiate discussions on platforms like LinkedIn on ethical AI use, expressing your views and challenging yourself to consider others’ perspectives.

5. Utilize AI Tools in Your Daily Work:

  • Start using AI-powered tools relevant to your field, such as CRM systems with AI capabilities or project management tools that leverage AI, to gain firsthand experience.

6. Set Up Google Alerts for AI in Your Industry:

  • Create Google Alerts for AI news within your specific industry. This helps in receiving a stream of curated content that is highly relevant to your professional context.

7. Write an AI Impact Journal:

  • Keep a journal where you note down how AI impacts your work and personal life. Reflect on what changes you observe and how you adapt to them.

8. Volunteer for AI Projects in Your Community:

  • Look for opportunities where your community might be implementing AI, like in schools, libraries, or local government, and volunteer. This will give you practical insights into AI deployment and its societal impact.

9. Challenge Yourself with an AI Project:

  • Identify a problem in your personal or professional life that could potentially be solved with AI. Research possible solutions and, if feasible, attempt to implement one.

10. Connect with AI Professionals:

  • Use networking platforms to connect with AI practitioners and thought leaders. Regularly engage with their content to understand different perspectives.

11. Read AI Books Written for a General Audience:

  • Pick up books that explore AI in a format accessible to non-experts, such as "Life 3.0" by Max Tegmark or "AI Superpowers" by Kai-Fu Lee, and commit to reading them.

12. Practice Explaining AI Concepts:

  • Try to explain AI concepts and news to a friend or colleague who is not familiar with the field. This will force you to break down complex ideas into understandable parts, reinforcing your own understanding.


A lot of ideas. And even if you only engage with one of them, you'll have taken a step toward developing a sophisticated view of AI, getting comfortable with the uncertainty, and taking control of your future.

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