ChatGPT is the fastest new technology to reach 100 million users. Artificial intelligence has brought hope and fears—including trillions in additional economic value as well as calls for a pause.
Are you afraid of AI? Of self-driving cars? Of the metaverse? Should we all be?
Assuming the presidency during the Great Depression nearly a century ago, Franklin D. Roosevelt attempted to bring hope for the future as he proclaimed in his inaugural address: “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
Convert retreat into advance. Is that an innovation clarion call?
Technophobia is the fear or avoidance of new technology.
When the personal computer first exploded onto the scene in the 1980s, as Adrienne LaFrance noted, some people found it so alarming that the term “computerphobia” was coined.
“In the early days of the telephone, people wondered if the machines might be used to communicate with the dead. Today, it is the smartphone that has people jittery,” LaFrance continued. “Humans often converge around massive technological shifts—around any change, really—with a flurry of anxieties.”
It Can Be A Fear…
…of specific technologies, such as microwaves, computers, robots, artificial intelligence, or it can be a more general fear of all technology. Technophobia can be caused by a number of factors including:
- Fear of the unknown: Technology is constantly changing, and this can be scary for some people.
- Fear of negative consequences: Some may be afraid of the potential negative consequences of new technologies—and of unintended consequences, as well as potential actions of bad actors utilizing new technologies.
- Fear of loss of control: Technology can make us feel like we are losing control of our lives. We may feel like we are at the mercy of machines, or we may feel like we are losing our privacy and autonomy.
- Fear of change: Technology can bring about rapid and dramatic change, and this can be unsettling for some people. They may be afraid of change, or they may be afraid of the unknown consequences of change.
Technophobia can have several negative consequences including:
- Reduced productivity: Technophobes may be less likely to use technology, which can lead to reduced productivity.
- Increased stress: Technophobes may experience stress when they are around technology, which can lead to health problems such as anxiety and depression.
- Social isolation: Technophobes may isolate themselves from others because they are afraid of technology, which can lead to loneliness and depression.
- Others? Many!
Technophobia Has Been Around As Long As Technology
In the 18th century, for example, some people were afraid of the printing press because they feared that it would lead to the spread of false information (sound familiar?). In the 19th century, some people were afraid of the railroad because they feared that it would lead to the destruction of traditional ways of life. And in the 20th century, some people were afraid of the computer because they feared that it would lead to mass unemployment (again, sound familiar?).
“People tend to express the highest level of fear for things they’re dependent on but that they don’t have any control over, and that’s almost a perfect definition of technology,” said Christopher Bader, a Chapman University professor of sociology and one of the co-authors of the Survey on American Fears. “You can no longer make it in society without using technology you don’t understand to buy things at a store, to talk to other people, to conduct business. People are increasingly dependent, but they don’t have any idea how these things actually work.”
The latest technology unleashed of course is Artificial Intelligence. A recent report from McKinsey made some educated guesses based on the firm’s own data, analyzing 63 use cases for AI and ultimately estimating that it could add a whopping $2.6 trillion to $4.4 trillion to the global economy. And at the same time the new Adobe Photoshop is easy and a little terrifying. See how AI is turning it into a two-click manipulation machine.
Geoffrey Moore offered recently:
“By virtue of its amazing conversational capabilities, GPT is taking the world by storm. This has sparked, among other things, a wave of commentary about the need to regulate AI. While legitimate in its own right, I fear it might be distracting us from the main event.
“GPT represents a deeply disruptive innovation in user experience,” Moore added. “Most importantly, it will do so in a remarkably non-disruptive way… That is, it will generate maximal immediate benefit from minimal investment. This is a formula that drives mass adoption, or what we call the Tornado.”
Hear Directly From AI
What would Google’s AI, Bard, say to those afraid of artificial intelligence?
“I would say that it is understandable to be afraid of artificial intelligence (AI). AI is a powerful technology that is still in its early stages of development. We do not know what the future holds for AI, and there are many potential risks associated with it. However, there are also many potential benefits to AI. AI has the potential to improve our lives in many ways, such as by making our work easier, our healthcare more efficient, and our transportation safer.”
Join The Present – And Help Create The Future
Inoculate your technophobia with the many things that can be done to help people, especially leaders, to overcome technophobia. For example:
- Education: Encourage people who are afraid of AI to learn more about it. Like many topics, the more we know about artificial intelligence, the less scary it will seem. And there are many resources available to learn about AI, including many books, articles, and websites.
- Get Involved: Let’s also encourage people to get involved in the further development of AI. There are many ways to get involved, such as attending conferences, participating in workshops, and even writing letters to your elected officials. By being involved, we all can help to ensure that AI is developed in a safe and responsible way.
- Exposure therapy: This involves gradually exposing people to technology in a safe and controlled environment. It can help them to overcome their fear of technology—and get busy with ways to leverage it and innovate.
- Support groups: Such outlets can provide technophobes with a safe place to talk about their fears and to get support from others who are going through the same thing. These can be leadership teams, interest groups, resource groups, etc.
- And finally: Standards. Regulations. And enforcement.
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Convert retreat into advance. Innovate!