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Saturday, February 24, 2024

The Ego vs. The Machine

Exploring the existential crisis behind the fear of AI.

Image Credit: AI-generated image from DALL-E

Why are some people so upset about the new generative AI models?

To put it simply: AI damages their ego.

On the surface, the thought of radically democratizing a skill that they spent so much time, money, and energy developing and knowing that it can now be accessed by anybody, anytime, almost instantly is frustrating for them.

You can observe a similar sentiment among people who spent tens-of-thousands of dollars on a college degree that they didn’t need.

The sunk cost fallacy is a fallacy for a reason.

To go even deeper, at the heart of the modern aversion to AI-generated creativity is naked, existential fear.

As AI technologies rapidly advance, expanding their reach into domains traditionally dominated by human intelligence and creativity, a corrosive sense of insecurity has gripped these people. It’s a deeply embedded dread, one that whispers in their ears the disturbing question, “Are you necessary?”

The fear is understandable; for millennia, human identities have been intrinsically tied to their roles as creators and innovators. From the earliest cave paintings to the most recent scientific breakthroughs, human civilization has been a testament to their creative capabilities. To have this core aspect of their identity challenged by machines is a psychological jolt that they’re struggling to come to terms with. They feel, on some instinctual level, that if machines can do what they do—only better, faster, and more efficiently—then what value do they hold?

But here’s the hard pill to swallow: Your insecurities should not hold back the tide of innovation. The ego’s fragility should never be the yardstick by which societal progress is measured. When you subordinate technological and creative advancement to the preservation of your own self-importance, you engage in a form of collective narcissism that serves no one.

Many people experience a sort of existential crisis when they realize that automation or a new technology could potentially do their job—and possibly do it better. But instead of adapting or improving, some choose to fight progress, using political mechanisms or social outcry to stifle innovation. A tale as old as time…

When you react defensively to technological advancements that challenge your skill set, you are acting out of a false sense of self-interest at the expense of broader societal progress that would ultimately benefit you, along with everyone else. You’re hurting everyone, including yourself, because you don’t want your ego damaged. It is rather awful. If you can’t win in the marketplace, you are not a victim. You deserve to lose.

Let’s be brutally candid—the quality of work that advanced AI can produce is often higher than that of its human counterparts, and it’s only improving. It can write more persuasively, compose more complex musical scores, generate compelling images and videos, and analyze more data points than any single human ever could. It does so faster, more accurately, and, often, more innovatively. We ought to celebrate this, not stymie it.

Why? Because quality matters. In a world drowning in information and starved for meaning, the quality of the content we consume is paramount. If an AI can write a more compelling story, compose a more moving symphony, or solve a complex problem more efficiently, that benefits us all. The collective elevation of quality enriches society as a whole, serving as a catalyst for further human achievement and well-being.

High-quality, efficient production is the beating heart of a vibrant marketplace. If your concern is the protection of the so-called “human element” in the face of better, cheaper, and faster AI creations, it’s time to confront the egocentric motivations behind such an attitude.

Now, before you say it… No. The AI isn’t stealing your work. When AI generates content based on a vast dataset of human-created content, it isn’t “stealing” any more than a novelist steals by reading a variety of books to fuel their imagination. AI models are doing precisely what human brains have done for millennia—absorbing, synthesizing, and regenerating ideas. The difference is that they do it faster, more efficiently, and unburdened by ego or the illusion of originality.

The insistence that human intelligence is sacred while AI intelligence is profane is not just naive; it’s fundamentally hypocritical. The difference between human and artificial intelligence is not a matter of kind but of degree—of processing speed, of efficiency, and, ironically enough, of impartiality.

AI is not the enemy of human creativity; it’s the next chapter in its evolution. What’s threatened by AI is not our purpose or our ability to create but our ego. And in the grand scheme of things, that’s a small price to pay for a world enriched by higher quality, more innovative, and more efficient creative works.


  • Dylan Allman is a husband and writer, deeply passionate about liberty, a conscientious objector, techno-optimist, and a Hazlitt Apprentice at FEE.