Making Friends with AI

AI and the future of work: What stays 100% human?

The bright side and the dark side of automation

Cassie Kozyrkov
3 min readAug 3, 2023

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AI systems analyze data, recognize patterns, and turn those patterns into output. (Learn more here.) They can mimic our behavior and they can blend what we show them into new combinations, tricking you into thinking something fundamentally new has happened, but AI systems can’t truly automate the big four:

These are uniquely human thinking tasks. While AI can automate thunking tasks, it can’t think for us. Thunking is the term I use to describe those tasks that are repetitive, predictable, and don’t require a high level of cognitive engagement, creativity, or critical thinking. These are the tasks that you can do almost on autopilot once you’ve figured out what needs to be done.

We have an unprecedented opportunity to leverage AI as a tool to free up more time for the thinking tasks that drive innovation and progress. So what are we so afraid of? (There is something to be genuinely worried about, but we’ll get to that in a minute.)

AI doesn’t automate thinking, but it sure knows how to handle the thunking!

It’s not like we mourn the mundane! Sure, many of us like a good thunk on our own terms. This is why I still do a bit of personal data entry for fun with a glass of wine on the weekends and it’s probably why many of you play 2048, Candy Crush, or whatever other thunkery lets you put your brain in neutral gear for a while. Relaxing into mindless repetitive motion is a delightful way to put problems on hold of a bit and sometimes it helps me find the courage to do my best bright bursts of thinking.

But very few of us love thunking when it gets in the way of spending time with our loved ones, taking care of our bodies, advancing our careers, or having more vibrant flavors of fun. We would all love to get rid of forced thunking and AI is a way to that… but it’s not all roses. Things could get rough for those who got comfy in high-thunk jobs. But the rest of us…

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Cassie Kozyrkov

Chief Decision Scientist, Google. ❤️ Stats, ML/AI, data, puns, art, theatre, decision science. All views are my own. twitter.com/quaesita