Winter of our artificial communication disconnect

Winter of our artificial communication disconnect

With the rise of artificial intelligence assisting us with how we communicate via email, our alienation occurs while we communicate, not instead of. We can stop it by being intentional with each other while using AI for the rest.

If you have not heard of Artificial Intelligence (AI), you have been under a rock. AI is a field of computer science that aims to create machines that can do things that generally require human intelligence. These programs learn independently by processing and analyzing large amounts of data to predict responses to questions and commands. Large corporations and institutions invest billions of dollars to create software and programs that mimic human behavior so convincingly that others would believe they are interacting with an actual person. In my mind, the most significant looming question is about email.

Some sociologists suggest that we unknowingly sacrifice forms of communication that bind us together, favoring efficiency instead. We often replace conversations with emails, saving time by avoiding face-to-face meetings and assuming technology can substitute our human interactions. This pattern has been progressively prevalent since the advent of the information revolution, starting with the typewriter.

With the emergence of AI technology, we are on the verge of a new era of email convenience. The ability to replace a written email with the cold efficiency of AI algorithms at the click of a button, and have a draft ready in seconds is a natural technological progression that began with that typewriter.

Today, workers can simply copy and paste a received email into ChatGPT, and a complete response will be generated in seconds. Tools like Grammarly can now predict email replies and generate a draft with just a click of a button, no copy and paste necessary.

AI might further reduce our direct interactions by replacing the process of typing emails. The ability to send seemingly well-thought-out messages with a single click could increase feelings of isolation.

AI tools for communication are democratic, not demonic. Writing will no longer be the most significant barrier to work for so many people for whom English is a second language. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities can use AI to assist them with communicating their needs and desires. AI will allow us to focus on what communication matters most — no need to rage against the machine.

However, those gains will be societal benefits only if we start challenging the insidious implicit conspiracy among us that our electronic communication is better for us without us always writing emails. We will avoid communicating altogether while having the appearance of timely and efficient communication.

Some thoughts on how to move forward as we increasingly rely on email bots:

Cognitive dissonance is the discomfort of holding two contradictory beliefs at the same time. Pretending that we wrote that email when we did not is the upper iceberg that is the self-evident cognitive dissonance that we are in. The moral goodness in our communication depends on the implicit notion that we are the ones that we say we are, that we are not MilliVanilli lip-syncing emails. Going forward, we may seek to identify non-AI-generated writing from our emails that seek to establish trust by allowing the reader to see that we made an effort and that they matter to us.

The more implicit cognitive dissonance is that our co-dependency on chatbots and writing tools might diminish how we view ourselves as writers. Our overreliance on auto communication robs us of the sheer joy of finding our voice as we write and having an internal dialogue over wordcraft.

Find time for difficult emails for your own sense of accomplishment. If the siren songs of making e-mail communication easier with a click finds you too tempted, find a paper and pad. Develop your voice that way.

Reflection is one more tally to the writer, even in an email. We can reflect on our lives in emails we write, even if they reflect our choices of our favorite lunchtime spot. Why was that spot memorable? Who did you eat with? These questions only come with the slow burn of writing, leading to the enchantment of self-reflection. Ask the question that seems so odd to us: What will I get out of this email if I actually do the hard work?

Finally, remember that sheer joy and reflection will be there only if we recognize that claiming and reclaiming our voices will never go extinct, no matter the technological progression. We can always return to the roots of slow writing if we feel the guilt of the laziness that comes with AI communication co-pilots. That confidence should reinforce the strength of our own voice.

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