Insights How Interstellar provides a vision into humanity’s AI future

How Interstellar provides a vision into humanity’s AI future

“it is not possible… no… it’s necessary”… a line said during the clip below that completely sets the tone of what I’m about to talk about. I’ve said before and I’ll say again that we stand on the precipice of an amazing transformation of the nature of human work. It is critical that we as leaders aid in a transition of every person to leverage AI in a way which makes us more human and helps every person to be the best version of themselves. This is not just a saying; it is something we have the opportunity to enact in word and deed.

When I was growing up (and still), I loved science fiction. I loved the way that looking into the future connected us to concepts that felt only conceptual. A favorite of mine is Interstellar. It was not the first to talk about AI in a really engaging way… for that there is a long list of great go-to movies and shows, such as 3001 a Space Odessey, Aliens, and Star Trek (with Data). That said, Interstellar is a modern example that shows what a truly collaborative future looks like with AI agents performing real tasks, but not taking away from the human involvement in the moment.

So, to start, watch this clip. Then we’ll discuss it. Ready, steady, GO!

Ok, so now that you’ve watched that for the first time, or for the 100th time (like me), we’re ready to discuss. What did you notice first? The stress? The incredible feet of guts and action? Or the collaboration?

To give the background, in this scene we’re in a pre-climax of the movie, but one that is a critical moment, that is built on other critical moments. This movie never lets up once it grabs hold of you, because it is about the future of the human race, but in a sense, it is so natural and real. What is happening? Cooper needs to dock the ship with the larger ship in order to save humanity. There are two ways that saving humanity can be accomplished, the first is to save ALL of humanity (which means getting data and bringing information back) and the second is to save humanity abstractly, by re-colonizing a planet with a few people. Neither of those are possible unless Cooper docks the ship.

What do we notice from what happens? First, Cooper is driven by his relationship with his daughter. This is not shown on screen, but it is critical to understand what is driving him. Second, you see him immediately take action. In that moment (and this was written right after memorial day), you see the indomitable spirit that humanity can bring to the table when challenged. The AI agent (there are two), starts by conveying, “its not possible”, perhaps driven purely by the very unlikely odds of success. However, the AI agent has underestimated perhaps the capabilities that the human, when challenged, will drive. We see this often in sports… that when challenged… when it really matters certain people step up.

What happens next is what this article is really about. You see Cooper perform a set of tasks, but then immediately you see Cooper delegating tasks to two AI agents and having interchange of ideas. A few examples of these are:

  1. Getting information on the rotation of the ship
  2. Getting feedback from the AI agent on the possibility of the task’s success
  3. Redirecting the AI agent despite that protest (we talked about this)
  4. Telling the AI agent to match the rotation
  5. The AI agent (now understanding), telling Cooper “this is no time for caution”, which came from earlier in the movie. The AI agent is now maximizing the change for success.
  6. The AI agent getting direction from Cooper on activities it is to perform if Cooper is incapacitated
  7. The AI agent actually performing the docking procedure and working with the human to make the docking possible. In this case there are actually three performing tasks, the human and the two AI agents… “common TARS!”
  8. Finally, the success and support of success

This comment hit home for me:

And this as well:

Now, I ask you, which of these is NOT possible now? Any of these independent activities are on the horizon. None of them require sentient AI, or AGI to be possible. All of it is right in front of us. So, what does it mean to our short term, or mid-term future?

  1. Realize that human-AI collaboration will be “a thing” faster than you think
  2. This is already starting off with Copilot or ChatGPT performing the initial task of returning information
  3. We saw this week from Build early examples of human-directed delegation (not requiring a Data Scientist), essentially training an AI agent with human input to perform activities
  4. We are already seeing collaboration in the context of “write an outline for these topics for me”, but we’ll see even more audio collaboration and delegation coming up. Seth Juarez demoed an incredible website example of audio collaboration with an AI agent when selecting shoes
  5. The things we trust to AI agents will incrementally increase as their capabilities, or our abilities increase
  6. The future org structures will be made up of humans performing tasks, but also “virtual org structures” of AI agents that perform discrete tasks. Understand that whole thing needs to be governed and managed.

What do we need to watch out for?

  1. Governance is necessary and we need it soon. The balance of enablement is governance. Without enablement, you have nothing to govern. Without governance, your enablement goes awry. It’s a balance that is necessary in every business and at the executive level, not just in IT
  2. Human Skills Transition is critical. We have a responsibility to enable every person to gain skills for AI delegation. If we fail to do this, we’ll leave individuals behind.
  3. Mission-Less-AI, in other words… AI for AI sake. The unsuccessful companies are fitting into two camps (1) the ones that are ‘sitting it out’ and (2) the ones that haven’t aligned AI to the mission of their business. Always “start with why”, then move to “what”, then to “how”. Yes, AI is an enabling technology and it disrupts the people-process-technology triangle, but a company, or a person, still needs to understand fundamentally what they are trying to accomplish.

So, at the end, this is about an opportunity for human flourishing. To return to the movie, the human race succeeded only because the unique qualities of each person was able to be maximized to accomplish a goal. Cooper, out of love for his daughter, was able to focus his energy to accomplish a goal. That unique characteristic of humanity, combined with ingenuity, drive, and insight, allowed the human-AI partnership to succeed. Trust me… watch this movie and let’s talk more about our possibilities. Those possibilities start now.