What do you envision when you think about the future? Between just getting through the week unscathed by the drudgery of school or work, and all manner of Great Life Plans for houses, cars, and families, most goals tend to gravitate towards some form of self-preservation and stability. But in a world where natural disaster is the order of the day and artificial intelligence (the ubiquitous AI!) is charted to surpass our own, it’s often tough to figure out what we can do that really helps us get there.
Instead of being defeatist about this, VICE attended a conference featuring some of the smartest people in the world, hoping to find some answers to our existential questions.
At the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) in Qatar last year, thousands of educators, entrepreneurs and thought leaders got together to discuss the future of learning, sharing solutions for increasing global access to, and quality of, education.
A prescient and pressing concern amongst the esteemed group was around how humans can stay relevant in a world where they are up against robots. How can we equip young children with skills to succeed as grown ups? How can we teach people to be so human that they cannot be replaced by AI?
It’s comforting to realise that there is a dynamic shift away from the rote learning, memorisation, and overemphasis on standardised testing foisted upon some of us in our youth. Instead, what seems to be the new tendency is a more spiritual approach to education — recognising the innate abilities and developmental trajectory of young children, celebrating individual differences, and providing a safe space for exploration.
It’s a pretty strange proposition to “Unlearn Relearn: What it means to be Human,” but over the course of informative talks and panel discussions over two days, we came to a few conclusions on how to adult, informed by scientific research on what was best for us as kids.
Whenever you feel like crawling back into the womb, here are five simple things you can do to be human again, and survive the apocalypse of our now. It’s nothing revolutionary, but there are some things that are so painfully obvious that we need to be reminded.
We need to keep talking to each other
It’s scientifically proven that the best way to develop brain function in babies is to keep speaking to them. Simply hearing speech sends synapses in a tizzy as they begin to form constructs and recognise rules and rhythms.
While this growth is probably much less accelerated in adulthood, it should go without saying that communication is crucial to our stable brain function and sanity. Not only do we have an inherent need to express, if we also plan to fix complex problems, conversation is necessary. So, instead of compulsively scrolling through feeds and smashing the like button, why not speak to someone for a change?
We need to do things together
As individuals, human beings aren’t designed to be terribly great at a lot of things — we’re physically vulnerable and aren’t adapted for extreme or anomalous environments. One thing we have a proven track record on however, is surviving by learning from each other and solving problems as a group.
“The most critical element for learning is relationships,” saids Dr. Randa Grob-Zakhary, CEO and co-founder of Insights for Education, and this trust and interaction is essential to growth. Besides, the randomness and diversity of humans forming communities and collaborating is a surefire way to one-up the robots on creativity.
This is level up from idle conversation since it’s making a commitment to actually do things together. Meeting your friends in real life to watch videos online is a good start, but group treks or mountain climbs are always unforgettable.
We need to rest, play and have fun
For all the times we take ourselves too seriously and can’t catch a break, we should recall the simple joy of doing something light and having fun. Studies in the 1960s found that rats in cages filled with toys had thicker cortical layers than those locked up without any entertainment. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child supports this, stating that "every child has the right to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities [...] and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.”
Even the idea of play can also be pretty life-affirming. By reframing our problems through a game, we can approach them with less fear of failure. As we recognise our right to make mistakes, we become less stressed and more open to experimentation, keeping us actively engaged and kinder to ourselves.
Save a personal list of things that make you smile. The only prescription here is to send yourself a reminder in dire situations to hit the pause button, drop out of the harsher realities for a second, and resume only when you’re rested and ready.
We need to understand our bodies, abilities and limitations
If you’re reading this, sorry — you’re already way past the prime of your cognitive developmental growth. By the age of three, your baby brain was already 80 percent of its adult size, with twice as many synapses. It’s probably best to accept that our physical faculties are already the way they’re supposed to be, and any change we’re trying to achieve is always going to happen far slower than we’d like.
The next time you’re stressed and exhausted, take a step back to recognise that the body that’s making you feel down can also be a tool for immense joy and pleasure. We are not invincible — hell, even robots have their physical limitations — and a huge part of learning to be human is learning to accept ourselves.
We need to stay hopeful
Shit happens, and on the surface, telling someone to stay positive about it seems trite. But there are actually very valid, scientific reasons to do this. It’s been found that positive moods improve our thinking and expand our awareness.
“Imagination and sense of possibility are critical to complex problem solving,” said Janet Rafner, Director of Learning the Center for Hybrid Intelligence at Aarhus University.
So whenever you’re fed up and find yourself fantasising about a life state that is more stress-free (preferably beach or mountain-side with no deadline other than the sunset), I’ll give you this: you’re already getting one step closer to achieving greatness.