Why You Need Critical Thinking When it Comes to AI

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

I agree with Aristotle on this one – now more than ever! How honed are your critical thinking skills? In our every advancing world of AI, critical thinking is an invaluable asset. Let’s see how we can make your practice even stronger with my 4 simple tips!

Critical Thinking in the World of AI

One thing is abundantly clear: artificial intelligence programs have reached incredibly high and amazing levels of functionality. There is no way of denying it – they are efficient, knowledge-based machines which have been proven capable of completing tasks and tests at least on par (and if not better) than a lot of humans. With all this information at our fingertips (or even closer with the likes of amazon’s Alexa) there is one quintessentially human skill that we need to ensure we keep in mind: critical thinking.

Acquire, pause, and reflect

Critical thinking involves the combination of learning or acquiring information and then reflecting on it with an impartial lens. And it is a form of emotional intelligence that needs to be practiced and strengthened as we learn and grow. By supporting our ability to think critically, we can enhance our problem-solving skills and overall improve our decision-making. This is even more important now with the rise of ChatGPT, AI-generated art, and of course, the ongoing social media echo chambers we can get sucked into. Critical thinking is yet another brain-friendly asset to add to your toolkit, and there are some simple ways in which you can develop an even deeper connection to this invaluable skill.

1. Beware of Groupthink

Our brains love to fit in. They love patterns, stability, and feel safe when they fit in with the group. This innate, biological desire to fit in with our peers actually hinders our ability to think critically. So being aware of groupthink, and knowing how to avoid it, is vital to our critical thinking.

In Chapter 10 of my Wall Street Journal bestseller The Brain-Friendly Workplace, I liken teams getting into groupthink to being stuck in quicksand. It takes over when a group of people prioritizes harmony and conformity over critical thinking and alternate viewpoints, and it drags them down, stifling any room for innovation or creativity. 

We are hardwired with a bias to accept the opinion of the majority that surrounds us, and this majority can appear different depending on where you are looking. We want to trust those in our in-groups, especially if it seems that the rest of the group does as well. This is why it is important to know that the majority, or the loudest voices, are not always right – even if the AI-generated algorithm on your news feed seems to amplify them. Blindly following something without assessing it critically can have devastating consequences. Just because “the algorithm” predicts something, it doesn’t mean that it is correct. 

2. Understand statistics and probability

We as humans have a very tough time judging probability – which is why having a basic understanding of statistics is crucial to supporting our ability to think critically. In the same vein as falling into groupthink, our brains love a good confirmation-bias fuelled dopamine hit. 

When you’re interacting with someone, be it an astrologer or an AI bot, and they guess something correct about you – you are more likely to ignore the things that they got wrong and place more weight on what they got correct. The more correct guesses they get, the more information they acquire and use to inform their next questions, and the more likely they are to make correct guesses in the future. This is nothing more than simple statistics – but without this knowledge, it could seem like magic, or something more nefarious.

Being able to do a quick assessment of the actual probability of something occurring is especially important now that we live in a 24-hour news cycle. We are bombarded at all hours of the day with the most up-to-date news and this unrelenting stream of information can make statistically less likely to occur events feel like they are banging at your front door. Take flying for example, you are statistically over 4 times more likely to be struck by lightning than to be involved in an airline accident – but which one are people more afraid of, and which one do they feel they hear of more often?

3. Practice empathy

Empathy plays a role in critical thinking. Being able to look at a problem, or information, from a perspective of how it pertains to those other than yourself, enables you to broaden your horizons.

Social media creates both a vacuum of information and an echo chamber. The AI behind the algorithms feed off what we interact with and show us more and more of it. Everything else? It’s like it doesn’t exist. Critical thinking is vital to overcoming this unwanted side effect of curated news and empathy is a key way to getting there. 

Think about the media that you are consuming. Do all of the people speak and look like you? Share your lived experiences? Exist in the same socio-economic space as yourself? If the answer is yes, it may be more difficult for you to see things from a different point of view than your own. Overcome those AI powers-that-be and strengthen your empathy muscle by critically viewing the media that you are consuming and searching out sources and voices that differ from your own. At best, you will gain a new perspective and at worst you will simply reinforce your original perspective. So there is really no harm in pushing past the algorithm!

4. Stay grounded in the physical world

For all the brilliance that our brains hold, they can struggle with some things. One of them is telling the difference between the “real” world and the virtual world. This is a proverbial double-edged sword. While engaging and socializing virtually can provide us with dopamine, serotonin, and even oxytocin, our brains are still missing something. And that something is sensory experiences.

While we can certainly survive on virtual alone, in order for our brains to truly thrive they need sensory input. Looking at a beautiful landscape with rolling, green hills and a clear blue sky doesn’t provide the same sensory input as feeling the warm sun against your face, smelling the recently bloomed wildflowers, or hearing the cool breeze gently rustling through the trees in the distance. It’s those sensory inputs that make your brain light up with dopamine and serotonin, and make you feel alive. Speaking to your best friend via video chat is amazing for feeling close and connected to them, but nothing beats being able to give them a big full-body hug when you do connect in person.

Imagining a future of artificial and emotional intelligence

Our virtual world is changing rapidly! We have access to resources now that we could have only dreamed of not even 15 years ago – and it is exciting to see where it is going to lead us. I’m a scientist at heart, and can’t help but be captivated by the advancements that the STEAM fields have been able to make recently! Artificial Intelligence is likely going to be more and more integrated into our daily lives, so it is important to make sure our critical thinking skills are as sharp as ever. By staying out of groupthink, understanding statistics and probability, practicing empathy, and staying grounded in the physical world you will be well on your way to harnessing your full, critical thinking potential. But don’t just take it from me. 😉

Want more brain-friendly tips?

Check out my Wall Street Journal bestselling book, The Brain-Friendly Workplace: Why Talented People Quit and How to Get Them to Stay. And if you felt inspired, please leave an Amazon review. I read every single one and would love to see yours there!

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