From Division of Labor to Artificial Intelligence

The division of labor witnessed in early civilizations has a direct link today’s robotics and artificial intelligence overtaking people’s jobs. With this revolution taking place in the job market, we need an equal revolution in our antiquated societal structures such as education to train for the skills that cannot be replaced by AI.

According to Wikipedia:

Division of labor is the separation of tasks in any system so that participants may specialize…

After the Neolithic Revolution, pastoralism and agriculture led to more reliable and abundant food supplies, which increased the population and led to specialization of labor, including new classes of artisans, warriors, and the development of elites. This specialization was furthered by the process of industrialisation, and Industrial Revolution-era factories…Also, having workers perform single or limited tasks eliminated the long training period required to train craftsmen, who were replaced with lesser paid but more productive unskilled workers…

The division allows for unskilled workers to replace the master craftsmen who trained for decades. With the industrial revolution and innovations like standardized parts and assembly lines, we can take any person and immediately put them into work in factories making sneakers and Ikea furniture. Similarly, with a global economy, we can outsource jobs to the cheapest labor markets.

It’s a small leap to go from unskilled workers to robots and computers doing the same job even better. Whereas, unskilled workers replaced master craftsmen at less pay but more efficiency, we now have robotics replacing the unskilled workers at zero pay and more efficiency. Everything from car assembly lines to the grocery checkout line is done by a machine now with the owner the primary beneficiary.

Today, automation replaces skilled jobs with artificial intelligence risking replacing truck drivers, stock traders, musicians, therapists, and even doctors. I have not seen anyone directly point out this direct link from division of labor to global outsourcing to robotics to automation/artificial intelligence.

Automation and job replacement by themselves would not be so distressing if society were adapted to fit these changing tides, but we are not adapting. So much of our modern education and therefore childhood and therefore families and therefore society at large is fixated around training students to becoming good workers. Yet, the education system itself was developed to create unskilled, complacent factory workers. Yet, factory worker with its relevant skills is no longer what’s needed. Our entire society is antiquated optimizing for jobs and livelihood that no longer exist.

The only jobs that matter are the ones that cannot be replaced by robots and AI then. What kind of skills and jobs would exist in such a world?

Our entire society needs to be revamped for this already present and continuing revolution. We need education systems, health systems, politics, and community structured around human development with skills such as leadership, emotional intelligence, critical thinking, and perspectival fluidity. These skills are a lot less about accumulated knowledge or following procedures. With the exponential change that’s constantly happening, we cannot ever rest on our laurels. The key skill I would argue is mindfulness, how to learn to focus our attention.

We need to focus on becoming better beings in general.

AI Therapists Clarify How Mindfulness and Circling Help to Understand People

I found recently inspiration for a way of explaining and orienting Circling practice from an unexpected source.

This insight came from reading a book called Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work.

The authors spent several years investigating high performing teams and organizations exploring the edges of how to reliably produce altered states of consciousness that have previously been the realm of elite performers, mystics, and psychedelics. These altered states they argue produce amazing insight, productivity, and inspiration that would otherwise be nearly impossible. They break down the drivers for these altered states as psychology, neurobiology, technology and pharmacology.

One chapter features an Artificial Intelligence named Ellie who serves as an AI Therapist. Ellie was funded by the army to identify soldiers with depression with the hopes of stemming the rising tide of suicides. Normally, a robot AI would sound insane. However, they make the compelling case that Ellie is actually not investigating what people are merely saying but more so how they’re expressing themselves. This goes hand in hand with how good circling facilitators work. A good circler (or really anyone who’s good at reading and relating with people) can pay attention to not just the content of what people are saying but how they express themselves via nonverbal cues of the body.

Let’s jump to a section from the book:

…Her ability to identify, assess, and respond to emotion in real time is the result of a growing body of research into the mechanics of embodied cognition. The neurobiology of emotion shows that our nonverbal cues—our tics, twitches, and tone—reveal much more about our inner experience than words typically do. “People are in a constant state of impression management,”13 explains USC psychologist Albert “Skip” Rizzo, the director of the institute. “They have their true self and the self they want to project to the world. And we know the body displays things that sometimes people try to keep contained.”

her ability to track a patient’s unconscious tells involves inexpensive, off-the-shelf technology: a Logitech webcam to monitor facial expressions, a Microsoft Kinect movement sensor to follow gesture, and a microphone to capture word choice, modulation, and inflection. Every second, she’s noting and processing more than sixty different data points. She constantly scans vocal tone for signals of sadness, for example, with every word rated on a seven-point “openness” scale (that is, willingness to disclose revealing information). An array of algorithms then analyzes this data and helps provide a clearer picture of a patient’s overall well-being.

“For the past century, scientists only had good data about two of the three streams of information we can glean from people. There’s what people say about themselves, self-reporting, and what the body can tell us, biophysical data like heart rate and galvanic skin response. But there’s also behavior—our movements and facial expressions. These have always been hard to assess and, typically, we could only get at them through subjective observations.”

With her cameras, sensors, and algorithms, she extends our five senses and gets upstream of our umwelts—or reality as we perceive it. She bypasses our relentless storytelling and reflects back to us a little more of what we’re actually thinking and feeling.

AI therapists like Ellie are simultaneously more objective and more perceptive than humans and they can help us become the same. She gives us distance from our inner critic and a better understanding of what we’re perceiving in the present moment. In a very real sense, Ellie’s dispassionate reflection of who we are mimics the advantages conferred by ecstasis—the ability to look at ourselves from outside ourselves.

So, Ellie constantly keeps track of sixty data points, most of them around a person’s behavior. These non-verbal cues include facial expressions, body gestures, vocal tone, word choice, and modulation. Whereas most humans get wrapped up too much in the storytelling content of how people express themselves (and then get triggered into their own story), Ellie is able to not get lost in the story.

Whereas, the authors somewhat bash on human beings’ ability to assess and track these non-verbals and argue an AI can do it better, I would argue that this ability to read and understand others is a trainable skill. Practices like meditation and circling help us cultivate the skill of not getting lost in other people’s stories (including our own) and cultivate the clarity to detect and discriminate more information such as body language.

It’s interesting that my meditation teacher does hundreds of one on one interviews with students every month. He is able to assess a student’s meditation practice within seconds of them entering the room before they have even spoken a complete sentence. And he does this by reading the person’s behavior and body language. How much tension is in their body as they move? How is their eye contact? How do they open the door? How do they sit? There’s such a wealth of information in just a few seconds of observing a person.

Likewise, in circling practice, one of my teachers said, “Honor Everything, Believe Nothing”. Another way of saying, honor whatever story and experience the person is having but do not believe in the person’s story at face value.

Furthermore, unlike a computer AI, to the extent that a facilitator can empty themselves of a self, the more capable they can take on another person’s being or self. Rather than dispassionately reading a person’s body language and such, you can become the other person. At least it feels that way. And therefore gain a wealth of insight and information and relate from a genuine connection that an AI could never do (at least without its own consciousness and embodiment).

So, mindfulness practice can help us both empty ourselves at will from being in our own storytelling narrative and also cultivate our skill of clarity to discern and break down our experience. This skill translates to our ability to be with other people and reflect back to them who they are.

Likewise, Circling is a way of practicing this mindfulness skill in relationship with other people. In circling, unlike many normal conversations, we track not just what is said but how it is expressed. What words do they keep using over and over? How their body gestures or their eyes move? What’s their body posture? Are they moving or still? Are they making eye contact? There’s such a wealth of information here that can only be recognized if we don’t get lost in that person’s story which is often the expression of their superego or ego. The projection that they want to impress onto others. But their embodied expression reveals the other parts of themselves of how they’re actually feeling and thinking.

Religion as Meaning Making Guide

Since my college days, I’ve contemplated the meaning of religion. It was and continues to be an active inquiry for me. I disliked the arrogant certainty that the evangelicals and the atheists spoke about each other. Particularly, the atheists who should know better and yet still claimed to be free from the disease of religion. It was clear to me that everyone has a religion of sorts even if you don’t subscribe as a member to a religious institution.

Imagine my resonance discovering this article, America’s New Religions by Andrew Sullivan. He writes:

Everyone has a religion. It is, in fact, impossible not to have a religion if you are a human being…
By religion, I mean something quite specific: a practice not a theory; a way of life that gives meaning…
…John Gray puts it this way: “Religion is an attempt to find meaning in events, not a theory that tries to explain the universe.”

…This is why science cannot replace it. Science does not tell you how to live, or what life is about; it can provide hypotheses and tentative explanations, but no ultimate meaning. Art can provide an escape from the deadliness of our daily doing, but, again, appreciating great art or music is ultimately an act of wonder and contemplation, and has almost nothing to say about morality and life.

In this way, religion is how one navigates the meaning of life. This includes questions such as, what’s real? What’s valuable? What’s good? These are vital questions that most of us inherit from our family and cultures. The answers to these questions form one’s value system, one’s way of life, or one’s religion to navigate through life. In my view, one of the greatest dangers are those people who are not conscious of their own religion, their own inherited patterns of behavior and thinking which is to say most people including my modern cohort of non-religious peers.

It is hard work to really ask these questions and challenge one’s assumptions about what’s valuable and how to live one’s life. For most of us, we would rather follow the pack than upset the existing order. If there is anything I agree with those Fox News Christian conservatives is that there is a popular, subtle anti-religion culture in America. In fact, there’s an anti-institution of any sort whether it’s government, business, or academia. Since the 1970s (and arguably for centuries), we’ve uncovered and examined the abuses of power by institutions and grown to automatically distrust them.

Andrew continues:

…the fact that religion has been so often abused for nefarious purposes — from burning people at the stake to enabling child rape to crashing airplanes into towers — does not resolve the question of whether the meaning of that religion is true. It is perfectly possible to see and record the absurdities and abuses of man-made institutions and rituals, especially religious ones, while embracing a way of life that these evil or deluded people preached but didn’t practice. Fanaticism is not synonymous with faith; it is merely faith at its worst…

A lot of people argue that religion has caused a great deal of war and conflict throughout history. They say, “Look at the Crusades!” However, consider this modern epoch with a historic low of religion and yet destruction of life and souls is at an all-time high. Suicide outpaces both war and murder combined in the world. The planet itself and its countless species are going extinct on a daily basis. Yet, survival of life itself does not seem to matter against the values of progress and economic growth.

Andrew says that today’s religion of meaning is in the idea of progress for individual, selfish humans:

Seduced by scientism, distracted by materialism, insulated, like no humans before us, from the vicissitudes of sickness and the ubiquity of early death, the post-Christian West believes instead in something we have called progress — a gradual ascent of mankind toward reason, peace, and prosperity — as a substitute in many ways for our previous monotheism. We have constructed a capitalist system that turns individual selfishness into a collective asset and showers us with earthly goods; we have leveraged science for our own health and comfort. Our ability to extend this material bonanza to more and more people is how we define progress; and progress is what we call meaning…

…But none of this material progress beckons humans to a way of life beyond mere satisfaction of our wants and needs. And this matters. We are a meaning-seeking species.

If I query most young folks my age what are they really doing with their life? What really matters? I often get vague answers. “Trying to find my purpose. Take it one day at a time. Focused on my family.” Or sometimes the rare, “I don’t know. Just trying to survive and be more happy.” There is this constant wheel of progression whether it’s career, family, health, or otherwise. Just keep doing stuff.

As a society and in this historic age, we’ve lost an overarching positive narrative, a positive meaning of what are we doing? We don’t seem particularly caring for each other. All of us dislike being glued to our phones traveling in lonely masses through our cities. And, yet, what’s the alternative when everyone does it?

I would argue that we need new paths, new stories, new religions. We can take the best from the past and recast it for our times now.

All of this begins with the simple questions of what is my religion? What do I care about?

Going forward, I’m planning on writing more about religion including Jamie Wheal’s recent talk on Religion 2.0 and Japanese philosopher Keiji Nishitani’s essay, What is Religion?

Near-Term Social Collapse

I updated recently to believe that things are extremely bad. Global social collapse is underway. Significant breakdown of civilization is likely to occur within the next five to ten years. This means mass starvation, mass migration, war, and possibly even the extinction of humanity. No one will be safe, this collapse endangers and threatens everyone.

I’m embarrassed that I came to accept this realization so late. I’ve been hearing this message for a while now from multiple sources. My meditation teacher, Soryu Forall, for years has been talking about the 6th Mass Extinction and the dangers of humanity via nuclear warfare, global warming, artificial AI, and so on. For the longest time, I brushed it aside as hyperbole.

All of this changed recently through a conversation with my friend, Daniel, host of the Emerge podcast and former resident here. He sent me this academic article: Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy. It’s a bit dry at 21 pages and ~1.5 hours to read but well worth the time. I’ve read through it twice and had a reading session with everyone at the Monastic Academy. If it’s too difficult, an easier article is New UN Report Warns of Impending Catastrophe as World Warms, Glaciers Melt.

The basic view is that we, as a species, have passed the point of no-return. Unless every major country in the world suddenly takes drastic and immediate actions such as increasing wild lands for carbon sequestration, eliminating (not merely reducing) carbon pollution, and reshaping our agriculture, we won’t prevent global warming. We won’t make it through the next ten years and still have the same quality of lifestyle. Even with those changes, our world’s oceans are already screwed. The meltdown of the Arctic Shelf, the acidification of the world’s oceans, and significant methane release into the atmosphere will cause extreme climate changes. These changes will make coastal cities inhabitable (think Hurricane Katrina), lead to significant food shortages (think Dust Bowl), and likely lead to starvation, drought, and war. The already significant death and extinction of animals and insects across the past few decades means our very ecosystem for survival is being threatened. This is not a prophesy. It’s already happening. People are talking about it increasingly more and more. And no major government or corporation are doing anything close to enough about it.

So, at this point, it’s not realistic to believe we can prevent disaster but but rather we will need a significant deep adaption to respond to the disaster. We need a different approach to our lifestyle, culture, and values going forward. Our cultural fixation on technological solutions to solve the next crisis or separating into small bunkers is not a feasible step.

Reading the Deep Adaptation article completely re-oriented my life. While I knew many dangers faced us including global warming, nuclear war, and dangerous AI. I didn’t realize we were already in the danger zone and perhaps even past it. Any naive fantasy of leaving the monastery to live a “normal” life and hoping others would handle the problem was taken from me. The question now is how would I feel if in 5-10 years, I see the results of this disaster unfolding for billions of people including my loved ones, and I did not dedicate enough of my life to proactively doing something about it?

The planet is in danger. Everyone on the planet including the animals, insects, waters, and yes, humans are at the risk of extinction.

Perhaps, I’m wrong. And, if so, that would be a blessing. But, the scientists and politicians are increasingly saying otherwise.

If there’s any solace it’s that I hope this catalysts people to wake up to what’s happening. Social media, consumerism, and so much of daily life has become an opiate of the masses. So many of us continue living unsatisfying lives seeking meaning in all the wrong places. Now, we have a truly real and tangible threat to all of us. Perhaps, this will ignite a new age of heroes. I hope people dedicate their lives to this cause so that the next generation of children have a hope to live in an even more beautiful world than our’s today. It’s clear that our existing society is already sick anyway. I like to believe that this challenge while filled with sadness and grief, it can also be a new source of connection, joy, and purpose.

I’m not sure what to do next. I do think our monastic training and culture is more important than ever. In many ways, I would say the monastery already embodies a major piece of what’s needed next. We are a strong community based in truth and compassion for all things. We carry a very small footprint in consumption, waste, or pollution. We live a life of relinquishment to rediscover unconditional joy and fulfillment. We live a life of service. We strive for a life of continual growth and ethical development. We learn to let go of fixed beliefs and perspectives so we can update from the world and see other people’s perspectives. We train on how to work with those we disagree with. We are able to face physical discomfort, mental confusion, and feelings of overwhelm without burning out. We face our own death so that we can truly live for others and ourselves. We find a source of life happiness beyond materialism, beyond our beliefs, beyond our lives.

I’m not sure what’s next. But I’ve radically shifted my view since reading this article. More than ever, I’m dedicated as a metamodern bodhisattva monk to awakening and service for the sake of all beings and life.

I made a vow to myself in our solo retreat earlier this year. It seems more relevant than ever. Until evidence says otherwise, I vow to live a life of awakening and service. I shall not take permanent housing, comfortable career, or create a biological family as my goals. I choose homelessness, choose service, choose everyone.


State of the Collapse on Emerge podcast
Anything by Daniel Schmachtenberger or Jordan Greenhall
Anything by Professor Jem Bendell
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond
The End of the World Podcast

Image taken from, Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images.

New Beginning

So, it’s been nearly a year since my last post.

A lot has happened this year…

  • I finished my 3rd year of Circling Europe’s SAS Leadership training, this year I was a teaching assistant.
  • Led an amazing circling meditation intensive at the Monastic Academy with outside teachers including Mike Blas, Vincenzo, and Olivia. One of the most enjoyable and transformative circling experiences I’ve ever seen anywhere.
  • I became a teacher at the Monastic Academy in Vermont. While Soryu went away for ~4 months, I took over all teaching responsibilities including daily interviews, dozen or more dharma talks/workshops, and more.
  • Most of all, I finished my winter solitary retreat from February – May. It was probably the second most important experience of my life, only behind my first meditation retreat in college.

Given all the crazy busyness, I haven’t had much time to focus on anything outside of the monastery. My life is here.

Up until recently, I contemplated leaving once again. However, I was shaken awake in October around the likely and immediate global tremendous challenges on the horizon that threaten life on the planet and human civilization. It seemed very clear that we’re soon embarking on a massive transition stage whether we like it or not. And being at the monastery for now seems like the best place to train and prepare so that when things to shit, we will have “technologies” and models for this new world.

Between the cabin, becoming a teacher, and this new awakening of global deep challenge, my life and priorities has deepened and reoriented once again.

A lot has happened.

It seems more than ever, my vow is here and committed to awaken and serve. Not taking the common path of householder life with family, stable home, and career as my priorities. And with the likely systems radical collapse and reinvention, those old ways might not be even so attractive or feasible.

My piece in all the future work seems oriented around teaching meditation, circling, human development, and community. As I’ve expanded towards teaching, I’ve also begun actively offering coaching to select folks too.

I don’t expect I’ll be doing monthly reviews anymore. But I do plan on writing publicly much more often.

Let’s build a better future together.