Following the 2023 Quirks Event season, I’m still trying to piece together my thoughts surrounding a theme that seemed to arise repeatedly: "The human element.” And not just in the context of AI, but in the ways that companies interact with their customers, their employees and the world at large.

“The human element” was suffering long before AI began its exponential growth. In fact, part of the reason AI hasn’t intimidated me as much as it maybe ought to is because I already felt like our society had reached a tipping point. And while AI does perhaps threaten certain aspects of “humanness,” in large part it has acted as a foil in illuminating the dissonance that many (including me) already felt. Apparently, it takes something so starkly nonhuman to solidify our desire for all things deeply human, be that art, connection or the sense of hope that keeps people working on issues such as climate change, sustainable food systems and inequality.

In the end, maybe AI is more of a symptom of our loss of humanness than a cause.

Over the course of the 2023 Quirk’s Events, I noticed this wonderful theme of “the human element” cropping up time and time again, more than ever before – and I think it is because the severity of human disconnect has been so neatly brought to light by AI. In speaking sessions and conversations with researchers throughout the events, I heard a renewed intentionality to utilize and protect the human element, whether that’s during the research process itself, in branding and advertising, in engaging and treasuring employees or in being a steward of the earth.

Anecdotally, I’ve noticed this shift in intentionality among myself and my peers as well. We’re more people-focused, more interested in common ground, more fascinated by the weird and wonderful activities people devoted themselves to over the course of the pandemic. Crisis has the unique ability to urgently redefine prioritie...