How to Think for Yourself in the Age of AI

According to a tweet from behavioral scientist Katy Milkman:

when people are told that a flu shot was “reserved for you” or “waiting for you,” vaccination rates jumped.

If you believe that a vaccination can save a life, then by the transitive property, you must also acknowledge that changing a few words can literally be the difference between life and death.

Ah, the power of copyrighting.

This simple example illustrates the power that these “little nudges” have over us. In this case, the overall outcome was positive. Unfortunately, this exact technique, and many similar techniques, can be used for more nefarious purposes. For that reason, it is in our best interest to study these techniques and become more resilient to their effects.

# Billions of dollars are being invested every year to prevent you from thinking

In addition to copywriting, we have:

  • AI-driven recommendation engines that can encourage you to click on certain links
  • Advanced biometrics that can track your feelings with high accuracy
  • Fake news and deep fakes that can create false narratives

Despite these examples, all is not lost. There are a few things we can do to fight back.

# Step 1: Spend less time online

This one may be obvious, but I’ll say it anyway because it is the most effective. People are much more prone to manipulation in the world of pixels than the world of atoms.

# Step 2: Environment Design

You probably shouldn't abstain from the internet entirely. In that case, Environment Design is your next best solution. In essence, environment design is the process of strategically designing your environment to work for your goals rather than against them.

For dieting, this could mean leaving healthy snacks on your counter while leaving unhealthy snacks hidden.

For digital wellbeing, this could mean hiding your YouTube recommendations (I built a tool to do that).

# Step 3: Train yourself to be more resilient

Researchers were recently able to develop a game that improved the ability of people to successfully identify fake news (similar game here). This is great because it proves that identifying manipulation is a skill we can improve.

But how do we improve?

Using tools like the one mentioned above is probably a good start. In addition to that, studying cognitive biases can help you understand your own weaknesses a bit more. The fight against disinformation is a growing field and I'm sure additional tools will reveal themselves over time.

Ultimately, the most important thing to remember is that digital manipulation is not going anywhere. Prepare yourself for the long road.