Unlocking Human Potential: How AI Enhances Wellbeing and Revolutionizes the Science of Flourishing

August 9, 2023

In 1995, a curious Bill Gates explained this wild new concept called the internet to a skeptical David Letterman. He said it was a portal to knowledge—where commerce and storytelling collided. Letterman, baffled, uttered, "It's wild what's going on."

You think that was wild, Mr. Letterman? Buckle up! Fast forward to today, and we're neck-deep in another wild frontier: Artificial Intelligence (AI).

AI is transforming our world as we know it, turning it upside down, and reshaping it at a speed higher than many of us humans are capable of understanding. But what is AI, you ask? In the simplest of terms, AI is a savvy computer system that accomplishes tasks without needing us humans to hold its hand. It learns by recognizing patterns, which it then uses information (both accurate and inaccurate) to make decisions for the future. And it's here to stay.

Now, if you're a like me, this raises some serious questions. I am deeply immersed in the science of human flourishing, wellbeing, happiness, and optimizing human performance. I see a huge opportunity. It's about leveraging what machines do best to help humans do good work while contributing to the greater good.

One area where AI is flexing its muscles that can help us involves analyzing colossal amounts of data and identifying patterns. Machine learning, a subset of AI, can pick apart language patterns on social media and associate them with mental health outcomes. This ability can help pinpoint key factors that promote positive mental health outcomes and devise strategies to optimize these results. It can also red flag communication trends of someone in crisis. Yes, there are layers of ethics that we have yet to sort through but imagine Utopia, not Armageddon! (Thanks Dan Harris for that language)

AI has another trick up its sleeve: automated interventions. Have you heard of chatbots or virtual assistants? These nifty AI applications have been making waves in the mental health tech space. They've been used in therapeutic interactions, like the chatbot Woebot, which provided study participants with personalized cognitive behavior therapy techniques. It was found to significantly reduce depression and anxiety symptoms.

All these technological advances can bring about more accessibility and affordability to those who might not have access to traditional mental health services. They offer a personalized, effective approach to treatment that can be tailored to one's unique needs. But, like all good things, there's always a catch.

Integrating AI into the treatment of mental health challenges or the promotion of positive mental health habits raises some ethical eyebrows. First, there's the concern that AI could reinforce biases and discrimination. And then there's the concern that AI might replace the human touch in mental health interventions. The human element is irreplaceable when it comes to promoting wellbeing and resilience. AI should supplement human interaction, not replace it.

The conspiracy theorists see the beginning of the end here! They aren't 100% off (this time). The use of AI brings privacy and data security issues into the spotlight. As AI relies on heaps of personal data (did you hear about the Zoom AI privacy fiasco?!), we need to ensure the utmost protection of individuals’ privacy and prevent misuse of personal data. Users should be fully aware of how their data is being used, as well as the potential risks and benefits of AI-powered interventions. We also need to educate students to understand that accuracy cannot be assumed since AI only predicts based on what we feed it. And our human history is filled with bias and misinformation.

To tackle these concerns, an interdisciplinary team needs to be part of the AI game plan. With their understanding of human behavior and emotions, they can guide the development of AI applications in a way that ensures it's used ethically and responsibly. They can champion AI to be used for humanity's greater good and foster a culture of compassion in AI applications.

AI is here, and it's not going away. It's time we leverage this technology responsibly, making sure we're using it to its full potential to enhance human potential. The question isn't whether we'll use AI. It's whether we'll use it well. And that's something those of us active in the research or application of human flourishing, peak performance of human potential can help guarantee.

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