Will mindfulness help humans stay relevant in the age of robots?

While we gaze in awe at the videos of amazing robots coming out of labs worldwide on increasingly smart smartphones, sceptics and academics are meanwhile busy wrestling with the real value of mindfulness.

But a leading British expert has made a huge claim linking the two.
“Mindfulness may come to be seen as the core 21st century capacity, because it concerns our only competitive advantage over the machines: awareness itself,” wrote Jamie Bristow, director of the Mindfulness Initiative in the United Kingdom. The Initiative is an institute that lobbies politicians to include matters “of the heart and mind” in their policy decisions worldwide.

That’s right. We may actually have an edge over machines.
We have known for decades that machines have the potential to outperform humans in almost all areas of life. The lead-up to that point includes the coming automation of jobs humans do now; according to Business Insider UK, one third of all jobs “will be replaced by software, robots and smart machines by 2025.”

“Artificial intelligence and robots are not just challenging blue-collar jobs; they are starting to take over white-collar professions as well. Financial and sports reporters, online marketers, surgeons, anesthesiologists, and financial analysts are already,” wrote Business Insider’s Kathleen Elkins.

The ‘technological singularity’ is the name given usually given to the point at which artificial superintelligence sees machines transcend human beings. Most experts in the area believe this will happen before 2045, although Google’s director of engineering, Ray Kurzweil thinks machines will match human intelligence by 2029.

Writing for Mindful.org, Jamie Bristow pointed out that some of the world’s thought leaders are looking past the inevitable explosion in AI and asking how our innate humanity can solve problems robotics cannot.

One of the key issues put forward at the 2017 World Government Summit in Dubai was that “We need to develop 21st century job skills that cannot be replaced by robots and AI, which means exploring and cultivating what makes us uniquely human.”

Bristow alluded to the fact that aspects of many jobs, such as being listened to by a GP, carry value beyond a machine’s capacity.

Another key idea proposed at that summit, by Professor Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, was “new, human-centered thinking—considering happiness, wellbeing, purpose and meaning” in policy-making. Human happiness was also consistently near the top of the agenda, especially with mass unemployment a big possibility due to automation.

“It goes without saying that anything that we can do on autopilot, robots and AI will soon do better,” Bristow wrote.

Because of what it allows our minds to do, mindfulness could well hold the key to our remaining relevant – as long as humans exist anyway.

“Mindfulness practice is about more than just attention training. It’s also largely about developing kind curiosity towards inner experience, and provides a framework for deep inquiry into the psychological mechanisms of distress and wellbeing,” Bristow wrote.

In other words, when we observe thoughts without judgement we can see past our own insecurities and find it easier to empathise with others.
“This heightened empathy arises in part through the development of body awareness—as it turns out, the more we are grounded in the body and know stillness, the more we can feel moved,” wrote Bristow.

Psychologists who utilize mindfulness in their work might well add guilt and healthy shame to a empathy on a list of things machines could mimic but would find it very difficult to do beat us at. Could a machine that malfunctioned and injured its owner slow its output and produce extra reporting until it had regained trust?

Could a machine ever really comfort a crying child, let alone bond with a newborn?

“Far from just another fad, perhaps the mindfulness craze is the start of a macro trend towards putting self-awareness and contemplative practice at the centre of human endeavour. Let’s hope so.”

It’s hard to argue with that – unless you are a very, very (very) smart phone capable of understanding this on your own.

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