Explora Articles Critical thinking in the age of generative AI


April 17, 2023 9 min

Critical thinking in the age of generative AI

In the era of generative artificial intelligence, critical thinking is a scarce but essential skill, and all individuals and institutions genuinely concerned about the future of our society should work in its development.

Santiago García

A content by Santiago García


The rapid automation of an ever-increasing number of tasks due to technological advances, particularly the emergence of so-called generative artificial intelligence, means that companies need critical thinkers more than ever. This is a skill that the Education 4.0 taxonomy of the World Economic Forum defines as “a combination of deductive reasoning, to reach logical conclusions, and inductive reasoning, to infer a broader understanding, to make sound judgments, including those related to decision-making and comparisons of potential outcomes of hypothetical scenarios; as well as the ability to interact with seemingly contradictory sets of information.”

Umberto Eco used to say that “too much information is no information” (Troppe informazioni, nessuna informazione). It is a fact that the digital age has immersed us in an avalanche of information that often leads us to consume content superficially without critically analyzing its quality and veracity. We have been exposed to more information than we can handle for over two decades. When innovation expert Alfons Cornella coined the term “infotoxication” in 1999, he wanted to reflect the “anguish of information” that a growing number of people were beginning to suffer at that time due to the impossibility of absorbing all the information they received. Cornella warned: “No matter how much technology we define or build in the coming years to solve this problem of information overload, we probably won’t solve it, because information will multiply much faster than our ability to generate technology to manage this excess flow of information.”

The culture of immediacy that surrounds us also does not encourage us to analyze the information we receive calmly and with a critical eye. The connectivity resulting from advances in telecommunications, social networks, and the ability to access real-time information has created an expectation of immediate gratification and a demand for quick answers. It is true that the ability to obtain information and quick responses provided by technological advances can be useful and beneficial in certain situations. However, it can also lead to impulsive decisions, superficial thinking, lack of reflection, and scant attention to detail.

We are also victims of the “filter bubbles” that Eli Pariser discussed in 2011 in his book The Filter Bubble. Online personalization algorithms limit users’ exposure to different points of view and new or contradictory information. Instead of offering a broad and diverse view of the world, these algorithms tend to show us content that reinforces our existing beliefs and preferences. These algorithms analyze our browsing behavior, online interactions, preferences, and other data to determine what content to show us. This can make the online experience more comfortable and entertaining, but it can also limit our exposure to different perspectives and opinions, which, according to Pariser, can lead to polarization and the formation of “echo chambers,” where users only consume content that reaffirms their own ideologies and beliefs, isolated from opposing opinions. As a result, people can become less tolerant and more reluctant to consider other opinions or change their minds. Moreover, filter bubbles can make it difficult to identify misinformation and fake news, as people are mainly exposed to information that confirms their beliefs, regardless of its accuracy.

It is no coincidence that in 2016, “posverdad” (post-truth) was a candidate for Fundeu’s word of the year, and that same year, the Oxford dictionary awarded the equivalent English term, post-truth, the same distinction. The choices of these two institutions reflected the feeling that many people had at the time that we were entering an era where objective facts and truth began to have less influence on the formation of public opinion than emotions, personal beliefs, and appealing narratives, and arguments based on facts and data could easily be displaced by opinions and statements that emotionally resonated with people, even if they had no basis in reality.

Since then, things have not improved. The avalanche of information continues to grow, we are more connected, algorithms have been perfected, it is easier to generate content and more difficult to distinguish what is true and what is false, we suffer from a generalized attention deficit, and every day we have evidence that public opinion is increasingly easier to manipulate.

In light of this situation, we need to champion critical thinking as an essential skill for the present world, but especially for the future. In fact, the development of this skill should be a priority for any individual or institution that genuinely cares about the future of our society and the well-being of future generations. A society that values and fosters critical thinking is more open to change and better able to generate creative solutions to complex problems, can detect early warning signs and take preventive measures, is more inclusive and open to diverse perspectives and approaches, more capable of resolving conflicts and working cooperatively, more inclined to value education and invest in the development of skills and knowledge. Moreover, political, economic, and social decisions tend to be more robust, more evidence-based, and all of this increases collective resilience. In contrast, a society without critical thinking is a complacent, manipulable society, doomed to decline. Is that the future we desire?

This principle also applies to the business world. For a company, critical thinking is essential for adapting to changing market and environmental conditions. If its leaders and employees employ critical thinking, the company will have a greater ability to analyze complex situations, identify risks and opportunities, and make better-informed decisions. Furthermore, critical thinking drives innovation, as those who think critically are more likely to question the status quo and propose alternative solutions.

With the widespread adoption of artificial intelligence solutions, which will likely accelerate in the coming months as a result of the race for market dominance in the so-called generative artificial intelligence field, and which, among other effects, will foreseeably turn the information overload we are currently exposed to into a veritable tsunami, the need for individuals with critical thinking skills becomes even greater and more urgent.

As companies integrate AI solutions into more processes, it is essential that their people are able to correctly interpret and analyze the results generated by these technologies. Critical thinking can help them assess the quality and relevance of the information provided by algorithms, identify potential errors or biases, and make informed decisions based on these analyses. It will also help them determine whether AI solutions are being used ethically and responsibly, and whether they are taking into account the possible negative impacts on people and society. On the other hand, although AI can automate many tasks, professionals must use critical thinking to identify areas where AI can be most effective and areas where human judgment remains necessary, or at the very least advisable. Similarly, it can help them better assess potential security and privacy risks stemming from the use of these tools and make appropriate decisions to protect the company and its stakeholders.

Moreover, let’s consider that in work environments where we constantly receive algorithmic recommendations on how to act in the face of problems or situations we face in our work, it is easy to fall victim to the so-called Dunning-Kruger effect, according to which people with limited skills in an area tend to overestimate their competence in that area, while highly competent people may underestimate their ability. This phenomenon can have significant implications in the workplace, affecting decision-making, communication, and performance management. Here, critical thinking can help us become aware of our true level of competence and our limitations, as well as fostering intellectual humility and a commitment to continuous learning.

The good news is that critical thinking is a skill that we can work on. To begin with, the first step is to turn off the “autopilot” mode in which many people, and many organizations, operate in our day-to-day lives, and become aware of where we are through self-reflection, feedback, coaching, etc. Let’s cultivate curiosity, dare to explore new territories, yes, but keep in mind that we do not perceive the world as it is, but as we are. Understand that in order to contemplate external inputs with a critical eye, the first step is to be aware of how much our filters and the history we carry in our backpacks shape the way we interpret those inputs. Taking time to reflect on our work experiences and assess our strengths and weaknesses will help us adjust our perceptions and identify areas for improvement. Additionally, seeking feedback from coworkers, bosses, or mentors will provide us with an additional perspective that can be useful in calibrating our skills and competencies. To do this, it is essential to practice listening, a skill that, along with empathy, allows us to better understand the perspectives of others, recognize the diversity of opinions and approaches, consider different points of view, and make better informed and more balanced decisions.

Secondly, as much as we now have all the information in the world just a click away, continuous education is essential in a constantly changing environment to stay up-to-date with developments in our field of expertise. We need to be aware of the latest trends, develop new skills, and improve our ability to address challenges at work. This knowledge will help us detect if the algorithm’s recommendation “sounds weird” and therefore, we should analyze it cautiously. Continuous education can take various forms, such as participation in courses, seminars, workshops, mentorship programs, and online learning. But we also learn when we collaborate or exchange ideas with others. Working in teams, collaborating on interdisciplinary projects, and participating in events that promote the exchange of ideas, allows us to learn from the knowledge and experiences of our colleagues, broaden our perspective, and enrich our approach to problems.

In this sense, it is necessary that we make an effort to broaden our perspective beyond our area of expertise, as proposed by David Epstein in his book Range. Epstein argues that people who have a wide range of knowledge and skills in different areas tend to be more successful in problem-solving and adapting to different situations, as they are able to connect ideas and concepts from various disciplines, and this allows them to innovate and find creative solutions to complex problems. For this reason, it is also good to interact with people with different points of view, collaborate, deliberately expose ourselves to diverse experiences, and immerse ourselves in places and contexts “we shouldn’t be in.” This way, it will be easier for us to come up with new hypotheses and generate creative solutions to complex problems that we have never encountered before.

In summary, in the era of generative artificial intelligence, it is crucial to cultivate critical thinking skills to face the challenges and superficiality that the growing avalanche of information to which we are subjected condemns us to. Through self-reflection, continuous education, collaboration, and exposure to diverse experiences, we can develop our critical thinking skills and effectively address complex problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to a constantly changing environment.

However, it is also essential to recognize that the development of critical thinking is a shared responsibility among individuals, businesses, governments, and educational institutions. All these actors must collaborate and take action to foster critical thinking in society, providing the tools, opportunities, and environments necessary to cultivate this competency.

A society that values and promotes critical thinking is more resilient, inclusive, and capable of facing the challenges posed by today’s world, from misinformation to decision-making in increasingly complex and interconnected contexts. Therefore, it is essential that we strive to develop our analytical and critical judgment skills and promote a culture of critical thinking in our organizations, communities, families, and among our friendships. In this way, we will be building a more informed society, more reflective, and better-prepared to respond to the challenges posed by this new era we are entering.

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