There have been many discussions about job loses the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI) could cause.The last time the world faced this level of anxiety about job losses, was during the industrial revolution. During the industrial revolution too many manual, repetitive jobs were lost to the machines. There is no doubt that the advantages that AI bring to the table far out weighs its negatives. So any luddite style attempts to stop this forward march of AI is not desirable.

Every societal trend like AI tend to create equally strong counter trends. To understand the possible counter trends that could happen to the inevitable forward march of AI, it might be worthwhile to study the societal trends that happened as a counter to the industrial revolution.

Industrial revolution coincided with the advent of enlightenment age in Europe. With the publication of Principia Mathematica by Issac Newton, Kepler explaining the movements of the planets, Galileo placing the sun at the centre of the universe and discovering calculus, it was believed that scientific methods could explain even the deepest truths in the universe. Industrial revolution portrayed a world that was certain, rational and governed by reason. But soon the reality dawned on everyone. One started to realize that beyond the apparent sense of progress one was achieving with the industrial revolution, there were too many irrational, emotional aspects at play.

In his book, Age of Insight: The quest to understand the unconscious in art, mind and brain, Nobel prize winning neuroscientist Eric Kandel, vividly captures the counter response to industrial revolution. This response emanated out of Vienna, the then cultural capital of Europe. The Vienna School of Medicine led the way with its realization that real truth lies beneath the surface. This principle strongly influenced thoughts in psychology, arts and literature. The most significant thoughts came from Sigmund Freud who put forward his psychoanalytic thought that most of human behaviour is influenced by what happens in one’s unconscious. Artists like Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele realized that the three-dimensional depiction of the outside world by photography is far better than what realist artists could ever depict. So they started to focus on creating art that depicted the multi-dimensional, inner happenings of the mind that photographs could never really capture. Writer Arthur Schnitzler revealed the unconscious beliefs of his characters through innovative use of interior monologue. Huge focus on the inner working of the mind was a strong counter trend to industrial revolution.

Today’s scenario is quite similar to that during the industrial revolution. The confidence in the efficiency of machines during the industrial revolution has now been replaced by the strong belief by the AI industry in the absoluteness of data and in the faith of algorithms and technology to make sense out of that data. Reason still rules. No doubt, data is the most honest record of the past behavior of humans. With increasing computational powers and improved technology AI will be able to better explain what humans have been doing. But to explain why someone did what they did and to understand how their existing behaviour can be changed, the rational world of data has limitations. This is the opportunity for new societal trends to emerge.

According to Eric Kandel the central challenge of science in the twenty-first century is to understand the human mind in biological terms. The possibility of meeting this challenge opened up in the late twentieth century, when cognitive psychology, the science of mind, merged with neuroscience, the science of the brain. When Freud tried to build his psychoanalytic theory, the then existing technology did not allow him to have a deep understanding of deeper contours of the human brain. Today, the field of Neuroscience have moved far ahead.

Neuroscience has discovered that more than 99.99% of human behaviour occurs at a non-conscious level and that the non-conscious brain is ten times faster than the conscious brain. While at any point of time, the conscious brain can focus only on one task, the non-conscious can easily manage multiple tasks. This means that the facet of human behaviour that the rational world has been focusing on, the conscious mind, is a very small, not so efficient dimension of human behaviour.

It is not be easy to understand the working of the non-conscious brain. One’s consciousness has no understanding of what is happening in one’s own unconscious. There is very little observable data on the happenings of the non-conscious brain. We need to develop new qualitative measures to decipher the workings of the non-conscious brain. Marrying this qualitative information with the existing quantitative data about humans will be one of the interesting challenges for tomorrow.

The increased focus on the non-conscious processes will bring in more challenges for the corporates. It was easy for corporates to monitor and manage the conscious processes of their employees. But brain studies show non-conscious works best when one is sleeping or while one is relaxing. May be having a drink in a beach. How will performance appraisal be done to capture how well someone is using her non-conscious brain?

Neuroscience will remind us that all the great scientific discoveries, all great works of art and literature, all innovations that humans have witnessed so far have emanated out of the non-conscious processes of the human brain. All these paradigms shifts have happened when there was very little understanding of the workings of the non-conscious. It will be good if there is greater focus on the non-conscious processes of the brain as a counter trend to the emergence of AI. Because more focus on the non-conscious processes will surely lead to even more innovations in the world.

Biju Dominic is chief executive officer of Final Mile Consulting, a behaviour architecture firm