How emotional intelligence separates us from AI

This week my friend Allen Gannett and I spear a show of advice on creativity and work. People call our voicemail and ask questions, and each week we pick a handful of questions to explore for the show. And as luck would have it, one of our first callers asked us for a total doozy:

Will artificial intelligence end up becoming more creative than us humans? And is our desire to create inherent in having a physical body?


We had to do some research for that one. (With some existential twist of hands!) And while you certainly should watch the episode and listen to our answer to the question, something fascinating about the human brain has emerged during its exploration that I wanted to talk about here in this newsletter:

Humans versus machines: the information we can process

Our brains are now much better at parallel processing than computers. A computer can do more calculations than we can, but we can make more connections. This is the essence of creative thinking and problem solving: making connections and determining what is good and what is not.

However, one of the parts of our brain that provides us with useful information looks like a cave man’s club compared to the average computer: Our emotions.

Emotions are technically information. They make our brains pay attention to things, signaling that something important is brewing. Just as our eyes feed us information – or a computer camera feeds it – our emotions feed us information about what is happening to us. And this information was crucial for our survival.

However, in the modern world, some of our emotional inputs can easily become the equivalent of Silicon Valley “hot spot, not hot dog”Scanning application.

Emotional intelligence is about harnessing uniquely human information

For example: let’s say your roommate leaves out the dirty dishes and makes you angry. The emotion of anger tells you that something important is brewing; you wouldn’t feel angry if you didn’t care that the house is clean. But then your reaction is just … CRAZY! And so you react, sometimes disproportionately to the situation.

You’re yelling at the roommate or doing something passive aggressive, when a calm, relaxed conversation might solve the problem. But instead, the roommate gets mad at you by yelling at him, and… well, that just explains a lot of the problems in the world.

A computer, on the other hand, does not overreact to input of information.

On the other hand, computers are not endowed with emotions like us. They don’t get that information.

So an area where humans can having an advantage over machines is our ability to discern what is important, interesting, confusing, joyful, infuriating, poignant, etc. and use it to improve our life.

And that’s the heart of what emotional intelligence is: adding a layer of thinking on top of our emotional inputs, so that we can be smarter than our caveman ancestors. (And smarter than machines…!)

In other words, when we feel angry or sad or confused or surprised or excited, instead of just acting crazy, we can use the emotion as a trigger to pause and think:

  1. There is something important here.
  2. But what is it?
  3. Well what a little crazy are we?
  4. Are we frustrated? Are we bitter? Are we jealous? Are we exhausted and bored?
  5. After drilling like this, we can then identify more clearly what exactly frustrated us, in other words, what important thing here actually is.

And by the time we go through this process, we’ve often passed the point of feeling the need to react immediately. This way we can use our emotional information to make smarter decisions.

It is powerful.

So when you think of AI and the craziness ahead in our future, I hope you think about how our emotions are part of our human advantage. Combining emotional information with conscious exploration – going beyond the hot dog, not the hot dog and into more nuanced territory – allows us to be more creative, smarter, and more human.

What do you think about this? What are your tips for practicing emotional intelligence? I would love to hear it in the comments!

And don’t forget to watch our show, Creative hotline, Besides! Maybe we’ll have an entire episode exploring emotions and creativity in the future.

About Elaine Morales

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