Even tech experts have been astonished by the recent, rapid growth of AI technology, able to hold human-like conversations in multiple languages, create music and pass medical exams.
If you feel worried about how AI could affect your career, your privacy or your safety in the coming years, you might be experiencing AI-nxiety. This term, coined by a marketing agency and spreading on social media, describes the uneasy feeling about the effects of AI on human creativity and inventiveness.
Anxiety disorders are often related to difficulty coping with uncertainty and ambiguity. People feel anxious not just about what exists, but what is unknown. AI-nxiety stems from feelings of uncertainty about AI’s potential, for example, to create fake videos and spread disinformation that polarises populations. Some AI-produced content can also provoke a negative emotional reaction in viewers. This unsettling feeling when an AI character or voice is eerily close, but not quite, human is known as the “uncanny valley”.
It might help to remember that these feelings aren’t necessarily new. Similar worries about technological advancements, such as “computerphobia”, “computer anxiety” and “technostress” emerged as early as the 1980s.
In many ways, AI-nxiety is similar to the eco-anxiety that many young people feel about climate change. Like environmental degradation, rapid digitalisation is a result of human activity. Many people are now feeling that both of these are getting out of their control.
But AI-nxiety doesn’t have to rule your life. Excessive worry can affect daily activities, and even lead to other medical issues, and can stop you from seeing the positives of digital advancement. Below are three tips to cope.
1. Realise AI is already here
Lack of familiarity with AI technology could prompt feelings of fear and anxiety towards it. Taking a moment to think about how AI is already part of our lives might make the new tools that are employing similar algorithms less intimidating.
For example, many people use Apple’s Siri to look for nearby restaurants or select a film based on Netflix’s recommendations. AI is also part of learning new languages with Duolingo, or using Google Maps to navigate a new city.
2. Prepare for new career prospects
It’s almost certain that AI will affect the next generation’s workforce. A 2020 report by the World Economic Forum predicted that 85 million jobs will be replaced by AI by 2025, while AI could potentially generate 97 million new roles across 26 countries.
But you can prepare by learning how to use AI tools to their full potential in your current or future career. Several online courses are available to give you a better understanding of how AI will affect your field and help you prepare by developing your digital skills.
Importantly though, be mindful of keeping up with human skills such as interpersonal skills or emotional intelligence that AI can’t (yet) replace. A combination of digital and soft skills is needed for the future health of the workforce.
3. Take a break
If you feel overwhelmed, turn off digital devices or take a break from screens. Using new AI tools or reading the headlines could make you feel anxious or unsettled. Research has found that reducing non-work related digital screen use improves wellbeing and mood overall. Ironically, there are useful digital support tools, such as Digital Detox, that can give you a hand in reducing your screen time.
You may even be able to use AI or other digital tools to enrich your offline life. For example, using Google Maps to plot a safe cycling route, or asking ChatGPT for a recipe to cook with friends. This way, you can take a screen break while reminding yourself of the benefits that technology can bring to your life – two great ways to reduce your AI-nxiety.
4. Read up on regulation
While you shouldn’t spend all your time reading about it (remember tip number three), it could be helpful to stay informed about progress in AI regulation. With eco-anxiety, it can be frustrating to feel that governments are not taking swift action, but those with AI-nxiety might be reassured that some governments are taking the risks seriously.
For example, the EU has just approved a draft law, the AI Act, to regulate the use of AI in society.
AI creators and other tech experts, believe regulating AI is essential to building trust in the technology before it is used more widely. Good regulation could maximise the value AI offers to society, while minimising risks – and AI-nxiety.
- Sanae Okamoto, Researcher in Behavioural Science and Psychology, United Nations University – Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute (UNU-MERIT), United Nations University