Anxious About AI? You’re Not Alone. Here’s What Therapists Recommend.

Anxious About AI? You’re Not Alone. Here’s What Therapists Recommend.

With artificial intelligence systems quickly evolving, it’s not uncommon to feel anxious about the development of technology and how that may affect our own jobs. According to a Forbes advisory survey, 77% of people are concerned that AI will cause job loss in the next year as businesses are looking to increase overall productivity.

Even if AI hasn’t been implemented into your workplace, you might feel uneasy about how fast it’s growing, which is fair. AI is able to mimic human function, including tasks that involve perceiving, reasoning, learning, problem solving, and more — all without the use of human minds. The most common legal and ethical issues of AI include privacy and surveillance, bias or discrimination, and job automation. As Goldman Sachs reported, AI is predicted to replace over 300 million jobs or partially replace two-thirds of roles.

All of this means AI can have a psychological impact, depending on if the technology comes as an opportunity or a threat, Mindy Shoss, professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Central Florida, told HuffPost.

As a result, job insecurity can be an extremely stressful experience. “Jobs can be a source of meaning, social connection, identity and stability in one’s life,” Shoss said. “Job insecurity is difficult to cope with because people are unsure of if or when job loss might happen — this can lead to a near-constant state of vigilance and anxiety.”

With nearly half of U.S. adults being equally concerned and excited about the implementation of AI, including the loss of jobs, we asked psychologists about the ways you might be able to ease some of your anxiety:

Stay informed on new developments.

It might be hard to keep up with fast advancements of AI — especially with changes already being implemented and human AI potentially existing in the next 100 years.

However, utilizing AI to improve performance might be helpful, Maria Espinola, a licensed clinical psychologist at the Institute for Health Equity and Innovation, told HuffPost.

“Education is power. The more informed we become about AI, the more prepared we will be to plan our future in the workforce,” Espinola said. “The reality is that AI is only going to keep growing so we have to channel our stress into energy and take action, learn as much as we can about AI.”

Learning about AI could come with some positives; it might shift tasks and create new opportunities. According to the World Economic Forum, despite displacement, the implementation of AI will create 97 million new jobs.

Or, you may find that it won’t matter your specific job at all. “Others realize that AI is not as useful in their fields as it initially appeared to be,” Espinola said. “Either way, learning about the pros and cons of using AI allows people to make educated decisions about AI that can benefit both their own careers and their organizations.”

Use it as a catalyst for learning something new.

New models and applications will continuously update as technology does, which might be helpful depending on your occupation. Additionally, Espinola told HuffPost that a healthy amount of stress can be beneficial in the workplace.

“A certain level of stress can be helpful, it can give us the energy and the motivation we need to make changes,” Espinola said. For example, it may motivate someone to learn a new skill ― whether for their current job or outside of it.

Of course, that might be easier said than done — with lack of funding to get training, relocation problems, disabilities and family-related responsibilities.

“That’s why the responsibility should not be placed solely on individuals,” Espinola said. “Public and institutional policies should be developed to ensure that workers can get access to both mental health care to manage their anxiety symptoms, and programs that allow workers to access the training they need to remain in the workforce.”

Remind yourself of its limitations.

Despite the advancements in AI technology — there’s still doubt that machines and systems can emulate human creativity.

“Computers can only do what humans instruct them to do. They are fast and accurate, but do not have the abilities of creation and abstraction,” Huimin Lin, a computer scientist and professor at the Institute of Software, said in an analysis of computer-generated imagery.

For example, AI may be able to answer questions and solve problems, but it lacks the power to convey emotions, leverage empathy and create original content. Instead, AI relies on human creativity.

“Computer scientists’ aim of developing AI is not to create human-like organisms, but to make intelligent tools that obey and help humans,” Zhi-Hua Zhou, professor at National Key Laboratory for Novel Software Technology at Nanjing University said.

Outside of reminding yourself of the limitations of AI creativity, integrating affirmations about your own skills can help with uneasiness.

“For individuals, several studies have found that opportunities to affirm and reflect on important values and personal characteristics helps people feel better equipped to cope with uncertainty related to work,” Shoss said.

If you’re a manager, advocate for ethical use of AI.

Ethical AI refers to guidelines that people should follow when using the technology, including individual rights, privacy, nondiscrimination, and non-manipulation.

In 2021, New York City passed a law that stops employees and agencies from making employment decisions, such as screenings, based on AI. Additionally, the White House released algorithmic discrimination protections to ensure that systems don’t violate established legislations.

The Center for AI Safety is also discussing the risks of AI, releasing the statement: “Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war.” Signatures from AI scientists and figures follow the statement, consistently keeping up with new developments.

Bills or resolutions have been introduced to 17 states in 2022 to create task forces or commissions to study AI — some of which are already in progress or pending.

By recognizing that AI technologies can deepen inequalities in the workplace, it’s important for companies to distribute equal access to technology. Supervisors should address ethical implementation and challenges that might arise due to potential misuse.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recommends that the choice of AI and AI systems among businesses should be discussed with full transparency. Although there are no laws or regulations that regulate AI in the workplace, organizations can listen to concerns, provide updates and allow employees to be a part of new AI developments and decisions.

“I’ve been part of research on employee layoffs that found that supervisor active listening helped employees feel more in control and less anxious about their job security,” Shoss said. “Other research has likewise found that organizational communication and opportunities to participate in decision-making help employees manage uncertainty.”

If you’re an employee, reach out to co-workers and resource groups.

If AI is starting to be implemented in the workplace or has already been integrated, speaking to co-workers can be a first step in staying informed on developments.

“Don’t just advocate for yourself. Take a look at your co-workers and at others in your field and think about how AI may impact them,” Espinola said. “Then, look into whether or not they are doing something about it already.”

Depending on whether AI has impacted their roles in the workplace, consider joining their efforts in discussing upcoming changes, what should be expected, and what your job can offer. You can also reach out to groups that have experience in advocacy, such as professional organizations, affinity groups or employee resource groups.

“For example, you might choose to advocate for public and/or institutional policies that ensure that workers can get access to mental health care and programs that allow workers to access the training they need to remain in the workforce,” Espinola said.

Overall, focus on what you can control.

Generally, taking care of yourself during a time of uncertainty is important. Focus on the things you can control right now ― like the work you’re doing, prioritizing your mental health through positive lifestyle habits and staying on top of any new developments with AI.

Finally, remember that this is just one part of your life right now. “Our self-worth is broader than any one job or one aspect of our lives,” Shoss said. “Exercises such as reflecting on the things in life that are most important to individuals (e.g., family, creativity, humor) and situations where these aspects have been particularly important are grounding for people.”

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