The Next Hurrah?

The Next Hurrah?

Generative AI is here to stay. Its bounds seem limitless. We may hail it as the answer to humanity’s shortcomings or we may see it as a threat to our purpose, to our very existence. If we don’t think about it now, future generations will curse us for our indolence. If we don’t do something about it soon, humanity as we perceive it may no longer exist.

Do you want Artificial Intelligence to be able to do everything humans can do? If your answer is ‘Yes’ then what will you do? Travel to Mars, perhaps. That will take a few days. Go on a voyage to nowhere in the universe and beyond? Could be fun, could be terribly boring. Would be very expensive, I imagine. What we want AI to do is a serious question. If we don’t think about it now it will be too late when Generative AI has reached its goal of taking all earth’s decisions. 

Generative AI is one of a number of things that we are at an early stage of inventing. Almost limitless cheap energy is another. It won’t be here soon but it may be in the lifetime of my great grandchildren. Very long life, near immortality, is another. Robotics is already with us and has extended way beyond the alternative to people hitting nails with a hammer. The concept of Generative AI is that it can substitute for all forms of thought that a human can have. Top of this list is creativity – the ability to perceive relationships in order to invent.

The invention of hydraulics was unquestionably good. Gym is preferable to some of the backbreaking work we used to have to do. So too, many physical processes are beneficial. Now we are inventing processes that substitute for thought. Again, where these can prevent catastrophic mistakes and enable continuity of life no human could sustain, they will be good. But humans by nature seek challenges. In The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck described the phenomenon memorably. “The last, clear definite function of man, muscles aching to work, minds aching to create beyond the single need. This is man.”  

We have taught ourselves that work is somehow bad and that ‘not working’ is good. As this is now a widely accepted belief we expect work to be tiresome, wearying and boring. Leisure, meanwhile, has often become idleness, sloth, indulgence and excess. Uncompromisingly destructive it generates levels of physical and mental illness that demand free healing – medicine – and time off to regenerate the failing self. The degenerating body soon realises the need for exercise, temperance and healthy eating and thus devotes both income and time to restoring what was already there but was driven away by a poor view of work. An advocate of the circular economy may be pleased with the roundness of it but a philosopher will ask why we didn’t make work more attractive than play.

That was certainly my objective when I was building Cerebos Pacific. It worked then but would it work now? Many will say ‘No’. The world is a tougher place today, they may claim. I don’t think so – and if it is, why don’t we change it to be the kinder, more satisfying place we would like it to be? We have proved that wealth is largely ours, as a race, for the asking; increasingly time is becoming the same. I have already had almost twenty years longer than my father.

Shortage of workers is forcing businesses to consider how to be more attractive to acquire and retain the best people. But suppose we turn the issue round and say that business should, in any case, set out to be more fun, more exciting, more satisfying than merely a paycheck. You cannot anyway export fun from work with money and then hope to recreate it at home. LIfe is a whole affair, not two or more different compartments. Increasingly businesses are seeing this and are working towards it.

It’s not a concept that can be achieved by a ‘change of policy’. It needs every job to be examined for possible ways to make it both more challenging and more rewarding than the wages it pays. Everyone engaged in hospitality knows the rewards of a happy, satisfied customer. The officers and stewards of an ocean-going liner all take part beyond their strictly functional jobs in handling the passengers. How can train and bus drivers be helped to do the same?  High Street shop attendants now realise that their work involves making a visit to a shop more than a necessity if customers are not to leave them for the online catalogue. Most jobs are capable of having a human connection they lack at present. How can you contribute to that in your dealings with those who work for you?

To do so makes work a better place by making jobs as enjoyable as time off.

It could be ‘the next hurrah’.

Good morning

John Bttleston 

Do you have an idea for making a specific job more rewarding? Write to us at We’d love to hear about it.

18 January 2023