With a new wave of AI advancements bursting into the mainstream, there are lots of questions. Much of them are about AI’s collective impact to humanity, society, and specfic communities. But there’s something big emerging at the individual level too — an existential question: In the age of AI, where do I fit in? It’s a conversation permeating dinners, group chats, and honest online discourse.
Generalized AI anxiety
When we introduce new machines, we also disrupt social structures, games, and the rules of those games. With paradigm shifts come lots of progress, yes. But agents of progress are agents of chaos too. They create agitation and anxiety.
I see many shades of this, but I’ll narrow it down to three major types:
Anxiety of incompetence: my skills are devalued and i have to learn new ones
Anxiety of irrelevance: people might not relate to, value, or think about me
Anxiety of uncertainty: I don’t know what the future holds and it feels fickle
Encircling these is a overall feeling of lack of control and agency. Among the groups of talented, ambitious people we engage in, there’s seem to be a palpable (perhaps rarely-felt) fear of falling or already being behind and wondering what next. It’s expected with any paradigm shift, sure, but this one looms large.
With the potential democratization of powerful AI tools, there’s also talk of moats (especially the software kind) being destroyed. This applies to individuals too, spurring more of the anxieties described above. Without personal moats, we may find ourselves in a perpetually evolving, seemingly more meritocratic game.
It sounds good in theory, but with fewer ways to play every game and more people able to play all of them, another kind of anxiety unquestionably pops up.
Paths of agency
I’ve personally felt a bit of all these things. But post-feelings, my mind shifts to thinking about the so what. The thing is, this can’t be new. Shocks to the system have come before and they’ll come again. So what are the agentic paths forward?
Become the expert at the new thing. If you’re truly passionate about AI, it might be a no-brainer. Build the tech, sell the ‘shovels,’ be a meta commentator, curator, regulator, etc. It’s still early, so it makes sense to me that you could reach expert status faster than in legacy industries.
Stay the course, but level up with the new thing. If you’re a software engineer, learn how to leverage AI tools to 10x your understanding, output, quality. Same goes for creatives of many kinds. And really for anyone creating software or using software to create.
Find weaknesses in the new thing, and exploit them. Believe there are things humans can do that AI can’t replace, and focus on doing those things. We might even willfully foster, create, and protect new skills and sectors that are AI-light or resistant (e.g. human made art).
Go where the new thing isn’t welcome. Cue the ‘man in the arena’ replies, but I see this as a legitimate, even virtuous option. AI won’t permeate every job, industry, or region at the same speed or to the same extent (read: probably not pure tech or software-first).
There are nuances to these paths. For one, the when and how you choose a path might depend on the position you’re in today. People who’ve banked big wins already could sit pretty for a bit and see what happens before diving in. Young people (in school or new to the workforce) can also watch, wait, and ride the wave.
On the other hand, people who are entrenched in the current world but don’t have a big win yet might need to be more considered. And the more specialized their skills, the more important. Paradigm shifts just might favor the generalist.
Ikigai in the age of AI
I’m not exactly sure how this all plays out, and hey, there’s still a chance this AI anxiety is a bit premature and too sensational. But assuming it isn’t, I’ve at least come to one personal conclusion, and it’s not ground-breaking: do what you love.
Granted, ‘ikigai’-type frameworks aren’t going away, but frameworks are static, and our circumstances right now are dynamic. In the middle of a paradigm shift, it’s hard to be certain what the world needs, what you can be paid for, and even what you’re good at. But, it’s still relatively simple to figure out what you love.
Put another way, when you do anything but what you love, you make internal sacrifices for external or future success. But right now, it feels hard to get this calculation right. So don’t just chase the shiny object (or everyone else).
All this said, figure out how to integrate the new thing into what you do love. And look closely at decisions driven by ‘old-world’ thinking. AI is leverage, so use it to your advantage. The way I see it, a shock to the system around us might be just what we need to awaken the system inside us for the better.
If this resonates, please consider sharing it with someone and giving it a like (it’s much appreciated). And, let me know your thoughts on the topic too — DMs open. 📨
We will definitely be facing this more and more - its really a new age we've entered!