Like many of our readers and experts, I’ve been fascinated by artificial intelligence (AI) for a long time. My favorite genre in movies and books is Sci-Fi and it’s likely an influence in my founding of World in 2050 over a decade ago—our futuristic think tank that aims to “help the future arrive well.” When we first started asking the big questions about AI and exponential tech—the first of our five megatrends, which we study at Diplomatic Courier and World in 2050—they had little to do with the tech itself and everything to do with the type of society we are building and the choices we are making as a human race.
Despite the vast barrage of commentary and articles we’re all consuming the past year about AI, the debates we’re having are not about AI at all. The AI debate is simply a proxy for all the anxieties humanity is facing at this critical juncture in our civilization.
We have big anxieties. In the past year alone, existential threats have soared. The threat of nuclear war is back on the table with geopolitical tensions at an all-time high; we’ve lived through an increasing number of extreme weather events with July 2023 being the hottest month ever recorded on Earth; and, the experts tell us, the chance that AI could destroy humanity is not zero.
We have “smaller” anxieties too. We have economic systems and governance institutions that are being questioned and challenged to a breaking point. We are nowhere near achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals to ensure basic human needs are met (such as education for all, no poverty, decent jobs, better health, etc.). COVID-19 continues to ravage health systems. Automation has reached fever pitch, and we disagree whether it’s better to work from home or from the office. Our kids are regressing in basic numeracy and literacy skills. The list goes on.
All AI has done is force us to make urgent choices about which world do we want and confront “business as usual.”
Where does the concept of wellbeing fit into all of this? With the help of our partners at the Gallup World Poll, we have looked at wellbeing as a key megatrend for several years. As a theme, it tends to fall low on big policy agendas; but that is changing. The loneliness epidemic has become a key issue for our host country for this year’s Wellbeing Forum. Health and wellbeing now top policy agendas for world leadership summits like the G20 and even NATO. On an organizational level, measuring how your employees are feeling matters for companies’ bottom line—whether you have five employees or five thousand. And at the individual level, we are learning to practice self-care and strategize with our employers and health care providers to achieve our wellbeing goals.
Will AI be an enabler for better health outcomes? Or will it contribute to more anxieties? AI is going to be a big part in how we meet these challenges. What we know now is that AI is powerful, but not perfect (yet). It is up to us to shape it into something good and in service of humanity. The Wellbeing Forum is a where principals are doing just that. We look forward to the dialogue that begins in London and will continue to other key cities around the world in 2024 and beyond.