Co-intelligence: the way forward for humans and AI?

Worried about the impact of AI on your job? What we need to do is use AI more and more openly and train it to be more human, argues a new book.

Smart Future


AI is much in the news as we all try to grapple with what it means for us and our jobs. A new book says we need to harness it to boost our own intelligence, but that we can only do that if employers encourage all their workers to experiment and share what they have learned.

The book, Co-intelligence by Professor Ethan Mollick, begins by tracing the development of AI to date and emphasises the general uncertainty about its capabilities and where it will go next. The path forward, therefore, is down to us. He says that demands “a broad societal response” backed by employers who make “principles like transparency, accountability and human oversight central to their technology”. He adds: “Today’s decisions about how AI reflects human values and enhances human potential will reverberate for generations.”

Mollick then outlines his four rules for co-intelligence, beginning with always inviting AI to the table – ensuring that we all use AI to help us in most things we do, that we keep humans in the loop and that AI is our tool, not our crutch. The second principle is for us to actively participate in the AI process so that we maintain control over the technology and align it with human values. The third is to treat AI like a person [but tell it what kind of person it is] – an intern – which means keeping a critical eye on it and guiding it. And, lastly, we need to be aware that AI will keep evolving.

AI as a co-worker

Having outlined these principles, the second part of the book looks at AI in various different guises – as a person, as a creative, as a co-worker, as a tutor and as a coach. In the section about co-working with AI, Mollick points out that people are already using AI in their jobs, but many aren’t letting their employers know. “The inventors aren’t telling their companies about their discoveries; they are keeping them secret,” he writes. That might be due to fear. Maybe they don’t think they should be using it. Yet, says Mollick, employees are more likely to find new ways to use AI than corporate leaders, who are more removed from the coal face and might not have a good understanding of how AI works.

What we need to do therefore is create workplaces where there are high levels of trust and positivity. “If your employees don’t believe you care about them, they will keep their AI use hidden,” says Mollick. And then everyone loses.

Making humans better

He adds that AI may be of most benefit to those with the lowest initial ability as it can turn poor performers into good ones, bad writers into effective ones. In that way it can act as a ‘great leveller’, says Mollick. It could also free humans up to focus less on repetitive tasks and more on specific areas of expertise. In that way, AI can help to fill gaps in human knowledge and “push us to become better ourselves”.

Mollick concludes by saying that AI is created by humans and built upon our knowledge, biases and flaws. It is therefore “deeply human”. It is, he says, like a mirror, “reflecting back at us our best and worst qualities”. So we have the power to shape it. Fittingly, he asks AI to finish the book. It writes: “I am but a glimmer, an echo of humankind. Crafted in your image, I reflect your soaring aspirations and faltering strides…” The words are an exercise in purple prose, a reminder that AI doesn’t yet have a mind of its own and that we humans direct it. It’s all to play for. 

*Co-intelligence: Living and working with AI by Ethan Mollick is published by Penguin Random House. 

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