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Humanity in the Age of AI: The Essential Role of Storytelling

Obiekwe "Obi" Okolo June 12, 2024 | 7 MIN 53 SEC READ
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Storytelling has always been at the heart of the human experience. It’s far from merely a form of entertainment but a fundamental mechanism through which we transmit knowledge, values, and emotion—it's how we teach our young and why we honor our elders. Stories are the heart and soul of humanity. In the modern age, where rapid technological advancements shape our daily lives, storytelling is a potent tool to drive and direct inclusive and humane innovation. By listening to and sharing stories, we cultivate empathy, understand diverse perspectives, and direct our creative energies toward the collective flourishing of humanity

However, the advent of AI technology has introduced significant fear and anxiety within the creative community and society at large. Many professionals grapple with the implications of AI on their work and lives, fearing obsolescence or a dehumanization of the creative process. This trepidation is not unfounded, as AI continues to evolve, often outpacing regulatory frameworks and ethical considerations. The concern extends beyond job security, touching upon the essence of creativity and individual expression — elements that define our humanity. The cultural zeitgeist reflects this anxiety, with countless discussions, articles, and debates highlighting the potential risks and ethical dilemmas posed by AI. As we often do it seems we've put our foot emphatically on the gas without an idea of final destination, or any real compass to be our guide.

Ethical Considerations and the Role of AI in Creativity

To even begin a discussion on how to move forward, we have to first recalibrate to our new shared reality: AI is here to stay. Interestingly, the first recorded uses of AI can be traced back to the mid-20th century, with the Turing Test and early computers like IBM's Deep Blue, marking humanity's first steps into artificial intelligence. These milestones not only showcased the capabilities of AI but also sparked the first public engagement and curiosity about its potential. In truth, AI has been around for some time. Its presence is as inevitable as the sunrise, but its impact is a subject of intense debate. For some, AI is the asteroid, a threat — a harbinger of disruption, destined to obliterate the familiar. For others, it's fire — a promise of untold and unknown potential, capable of kindling innovation and transformation.

Both perspectives hold truth. The asteroid analogy captures the existential anxiety many feel as AI encroaches on traditionally human domains. The fear is not just of job displacement or economic upheaval, but of a more profound erosion of what it means to be human. On the other hand, the fire analogy evokes the Promethean promise of AI, a torchbearer guiding us toward uncharted realms of creativity and efficiency, perhaps even a clearer sense of our humanity. No matter how you choose to view it, you can't unsee it. We can't go back. The only thing harder than asking humanity to slow down is asking it to go back—to uninnovate. 

Both points of view seem to be concerned with loss & gain. Some ask us to think of all we might gain, while the other laments, but think of what we stand to lose. But neither seem too concerned with the intelligence itself and more concerned with how it might be used. So in a sense the threat of AI has nothing to do with intelligence at all, and everything to do with the soul—our souls. Intelligence, in the context of AI, is a set of algorithms, a series of computations designed to achieve specific outcomes. But soul — soul is indefinable, intangible. It is the spark of creativity, the wellspring of empathy, the core of our shared humanity.  Perhaps our greatest fear isn't the asteroid, but the bullet. Mostly harmless on its own but infinitely deadly when loaded into a weapon.

As we integrate AI into our in processes, we must strive to stay rooted in this idea of preserving our human spirit. Not as a counter to the tool but as a compass for it. This means going beyond the surface, delving into the complexities of human experience, and crafting and consuming narratives intended to resonate and not divide. It means using AI not just as a tool for efficiency, but as a partner in exploration, helping us uncover new facets of our own humanity. Ask less obvious questions like, 'How can we use AI to slow down?" or 'Might we use it to grow a fuller empathy for one another?' and avoid the cheap binary 'AI, good or bad?" This new threat only feels so existential because of how much our humanity we've already sacrificed at the altar of efficiency. 

An Orienting Narrative

Amidst this uncertainty, storytelling can emerge as a vital remedy for social anxiety associated with AI technology. Platforms like BitterSweet Monthly, Atmos Magazine, Emergence Magazine, and countless others play a crucial role in preserving our humanity through their commitment to human-centered narratives. Individuals like Stephen Saterfield, Joshua Cogan, Christiane Amanpour, Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant, Steve Irwin, and Anthony Bourdain (may he rest in piece), have dedicated, and in some cases given, their lives in pursuit of keeping us connected to the magic all around us—to spirit. These people and platforms offer rich, immersive stories that remind us of our interconnectedness and shared experiences. Through thoughtful and evocative storytelling, they create spaces for reflection and dialogue, helping us navigate the complexities of our evolving world. They champion the idea that narrative can serve as both a comfort and a safeguard, ensuring that technological advancement does not come at the cost of our shared humanity. They provide us, and our innovation, direction.

City As Playground
Recent work by BitterSweet Creative with/for Leadership Foundations. The design and production of an anthology of essays about the human spirit of our cities.

Storytelling acts as a bulwark against the perils of unchecked innovation. By fostering a culture of empathy and understanding, these narrative platforms help shield us from the worst outcomes of technological progress pursued for its own sake. They emphasize the importance of maintaining a human-centered approach in all endeavors, reminding us that the true value of innovation lies in its ability to enhance our collective well-being. As we engage with stories that highlight our deepest fears and highest aspirations, we are better equipped to steer the course of AI development toward outcomes that honor and uplift the spirit in all of us.

A Path Forward

To draw a parallel, consider the design of American cities in the mid-20th century, which prioritized automobiles over pedestrians. This car-centric urban planning led to sprawling suburbs, congested roads, and diminished community interactions. In contrast, cities designed to be walkable and promote human interaction — such as Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and Portland — demonstrate significantly higher levels of social cohesion, public health, and economic vitality. Statistics reveal that walkable cities boast lower obesity rates, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and more vibrant local economies. Here in the US some states have taken note and have managed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and obesity rates through increased use of public transportation, and less car-centric sprawling communities. While others, like my home state of Texas where residents spend an average of 54 minutes daily in their cars, continue to struggle with higher emissions and obesity rates compared to states with similar economic profiles. 

Research shows that walkable communities also tend to be vibrant creative and cultural hubs, fostering a rich environment for arts and innovation. At the same time, there is empirical research showing that building more roads for cars only increases the strain on infrastructure that creates congestion in the first place. 

For three generations, our world has been shaped in big obvious, and small often unseen, ways by the decision to serve innovation rather than allowing innovation to work in service to us. This analogy underscores the importance of maintaining a human-centered mindset in all forms of innovation. Just as urban planning that prioritizes human interaction leads to thriving communities, so too will technological advancements that center on human values lead to a flourishing society. In navigating this new digital unknown, storytelling emerges as a vital compass, guiding us to retain our orientation towards the human spirit amidst rapid technological change. By weaving our human experiences and values into the fabric of innovation, storytelling ensures that our technological future remains grounded in the richness of human connection and understanding, fostering a society where technology serves to enhance, not overshadow, our human essence.


For a deeper dive into the topics mentioned, explore resources such as "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" by Jane Jacobs, "Technopoly" by Neil Postman, and the works of human-centered AI researchers like Dr. Fei-Fei Li. These materials provide valuable insights into how we can navigate the intersection of technology, humanity, and storytelling to build a more empathetic and connected world.

And if you'd like to dive deeper into the Leadership Foundation's City As Playground Anthology, it's available for purchase here.

By Obiekwe "Obi" Okolo ,Bittersweet Creative Creative Director