The Heart of a Prosperous Future


Keeping the WHY in Focus as AI Disrupts the Future

Michael Shaun Conaway
Publishing Editor
May 9, 2023

Ensuring AI enhances our lives, rather than defining them.

Like a genie out of a bottle, generative AI — Chat-GPT, Mid-Journey, Stable Difusion,, and — have radically disrupted our technological world. In six short months we think differently. This is a profound shift that has many of us scrambling to understand or even keep up. We are all trying to meet this new standard of what it means to be someone who has mastered AI, even if we don’t understand what the tools are and what their long term impact will be.

A tool is just a tool, even if it is a really good tool.

Tools are things that humans use to accomplish a task, or a means to reach an end. If you have a garden and you have a tiller in the shed, in the early spring you fire it up to till the soil. You do this so that you will have good, fresh veggies in the summer. If you don’t have a tiller, then you might turn the soil by hand. Turning the soil is a tradition that has become somewhat controversial in the last decade as it leads to soil erosion, organic matter loss and disruption of the microorganisms in the soil, all of which leading to depletion of the nutrient value of the soil. In this case the tools for tilling the soil, when used, actually move us away from the aim of having good fresh veggies.

In his 1954 paper, The Question Concerning Technology, Martin Heidegger examined the way that technology fundamentally transforms the way we understand and relate to the world around us. He uses the term “technologization” to describe the process of turning resources into reserves, like “oil reserves”, as a measure of what is standing by to be deployed when needed. Humans, he argues, are also being technologized, as we see them as human capital, a reserve of measurable output to be deployed. Heidegger argued against measuring human value in this way in which we are reduced to mere resources waiting to be exploited. Jump forward to today and I’d say this is a clear description of how disembodied corporations, oligarch billionaires and political figures view us and all of humanity

What about our humanity? What happened to that?

Heidegger argues that we need to evolve a different way of thinking about people, one that is aligned to the deeper meaning of being a human being, one that allows and values wonder, awe and reverence for the world.

AI is quickly becoming smarter than people in some ways related to “knowing” past based information, in the form of text, images, video, audio and other human collected data. In the face of this we need and I would argue, long to know the deeper qualities of our being, that Heidegger points out. We tend the soil of our garden because of the pleasure it gives us to plant and grow food for a future time. We harvest that food with appreciation for what it took to grow. And we prepare that food for the flavor and nutrition that it will give our family and friends when we serve it on the dinner table.

We are not tools, standing by to be deployed. We are beings of unfathomable depths, not only measured by our mental horsepower, but by our ability to love, have courage, and do things for the good of others.

What is the garden of your life? What are you loving into existence?

AI, while a really smart tool, capable of amazing tricks human mimicry, has no being like the being of a human being. It is the tiller in the shed. And when you need a tiller, if you need a tiller, it is a good tool to use. Stretching this metaphor a little further, no matter how good the tiller is, or how fun it is to operate, you wouldn’t want to run the tiller across the lawns of your neighbors, heading down the street leaving a path of tilled up lawns, or run you tiller over to the park and run it through the playground, or bring it to a friend’s backyard barbecue.

A tool by nature is something that we use to reach a goal, or in my language — to create a future.

Rather than search for something to use AI on, notice the proliferation of “Ai-Prompts” or “Top 10 Uses of AI” articles, our focus should be on the futures we wish to create, on our causes. A cause being a result we are out to achieve, as in a fair and just world for all, or the dismantling of the glass ceiling for women in business, or universal healthcare for the poorest three billion on the planet, or my children will grow up being loved and knowing that their lives are meaningful. These are reasons to deploy tools and the results they produce are desirable. They are the WHY that disrupts Heidegger’s technologization.

Given the pace of change, the future seems to be out of control. If the future is out of control then the things that we do are displaced, like planting a garden without an expectation of harvesting vegetables. This present moment relationship to the future, called the ever present future, gives our actions meaning, which in turn gives our lives meaning. Said in another way, our causes give our lives meaning, which in turn give our world meaning.

To truly cause something, you have to generate a future. Envisioning a future and the commitment to having it be realized gives you thoughts, actions and feelings that are correlated, aligned with working on that future. This is the experience of being the cause of your world. Being a cause for the foundational experience of your world. Few of us truly know this experience, and many of us have only vague ideas about why we get up every morning and go through the motions of a life on autopilot.

The thing to do about this is to find a cause, find your why.

Having your why, you can then become the expression of your cause. This means to be the values and goals/future of your cause, to live and to act in alignment with your cause, and to be the result or outcome of your cause. For many causes, this is a long term commitment, for others shorter term. Regardless, thinking and living this way gives life meaning.

Now you are ready to get your hands around AI. It is a tool, a new and powerful tool. One that you can use to advance your cause, to answer your why.

In the meantime, we’ll be looking for PROOF of a thriving future for humanity.

The Generative Futurist
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Generating a Thriving Future for All

PROOF is a digital magazine published by NOW and the Generative Futures Initiative.  The mission of the magazine is to shine a light on people, organisations and ideas that stand as Proof of a Thriving Future.