How To NOT Get Replaced By AI: Secrets Of A Greek Bus Driver

Not Replaced By AI - Santorini Bus Drivers

This is a story about a simple bus driver from Santorini. He taught me how to prevent artificial intelligence from taking over the world – and from stealing your job.

It all started on my last summer vacation: My wife and I traveled to Naxos, the largest island of the Cyclades, located in the South of Greece.

As Naxos doesn’t have an airport, we had to fly to the neighboring island Santorini and continue our travel from there. Arrived at the Santorini airport, we went to the bus station to catch our bus which would take us to our hotel for the night.

Our bus driver was already waiting for us, next to his 1980s bus, chatting to one of his colleagues. He had a notable figure: About 6,2 feet tall, strong physique, dark curly hair, and the obligatory hairy chest you’d expect from a greek male. I guessed him around the age of 50.

He greeted every single passenger personally, then our bus journey started.

Santorini Wonderland

You could tell he was an experienced bus driver who knew Santorini like the back of his hand. He skillfully escorted us through small beautiful villages, mountainous curves, and narrow roads – in the background the endless sea of Santorini.

Although our bus drive only lasted 15 minutes, it was filled with several highlights:

One time, our bus driver had to drive backward about 100 meters because there wasn’t enough space to turn his bus.

When we crossed an intersection, he argued with other car drivers who had right of way, wildly gesticulating, arguing. Needless to say, he mostly won that argument.

Once in a while, the bus driver started to laugh without any particular reason. It was actually more of a neighing than a human laugh, but passengers still loved it.

Every time we passed a village, he randomly greeted almost every person from his driver window. It seemed as if he knew everyone – elders, children, parents, tourists.

This guy interacted with his immediate surroundings in a way only a few people are able to do.

Santorini and he have been one. Santorini needs him, and he needs Santorini.

Upcoming AI Apocalypse

This experience made a huge impression on me – even after the end of my vacation.

This guy certainly loved his job and all the people around loved him too. He absolutely owned his bus as well as the street he was driving on.

Why is he so happy and charismatic? What’s his secret?

While I was reflecting on this, my thoughts randomly drifted away … about the future … and how all jobs in transportation will be eventually replaced by AI – including the job of the Santorini bus driver.

Admittedly, I felt sad for him. I started to imagine an AI-bus driving through the streets of Santorini. But … wait a second …

  • How on earth does an AI interact with other people who have right of way? AIs can’t gesticulate.
  • Does an AI have the spontaneity to drive backward in a crowded place? Unlikely.
  • Would tourists enjoy talking to an AI while being escorted through Santorini? Most likely not.
  • Would island inhabitants allow AIs to drive through their beautiful streets? I doubt it.

All of the questions above require a high degree of soft skills like communication and spontaneity. Skills that machines don’t possess.

Say Bye To Your Hometown Bus Driver

While bus drivers on Santorini are hard to replace, the harsh truth for typical Western bus drivers looks quite different.

The chance of being replaced by AI is far more likely. The first real experiments are already in full swing.

But how did it come so far?

In comparison to an island like Santorini, western traffic is purely designed for the sake of efficiency and conformity, which is a result of steady optimization throughout the decades. Organized freeways, straight roads, traffic light systems, speed cameras, and driving rules.

While this is all beneficial from a purely logistical perspective, it opens the hell gate for AI. Because, put simply, if you know the driving rules in a heavily organized environment like western traffic, driving is (more or less) a matter of driving and stopping your car.

This is something a machine can (or soon will be able to) do because no social skills and only a tiny degree of spontaneity are needed.

But Will You Miss Him?

But that’s not all.  There’s another major reason why Western bus drivers are threatened by artificial intelligence.

Just think of a typical Western bus driver – what kind of image pops into your head?

Do you imagine a charismatic and joyful human being who inspires everyone around him? Or is it more of a grumpy man who hates his job, and waiting for the evening – and eventually his retirement?

I suspect it’s more of the latter.

The great sadness in this is that a Western bus driver isn’t expected to be interacting with his surroundings in a meaningful way. As long he does the mechanics of the job, everything is fine.

Our society doesn’t need bus drivers as individual human beings – we simply need a driver. Someone who brings us from point A to point B. Or to put it bluntly, we need a one-track specialist. And exactly this fact makes him replaceable, be it by other humans or by machines.

Why do we need a charismatic bus driver anyway? Why should we even talk to him?

We ‘d rather look at our cellphones and listen to the latest music trends.

Why Greek Bus Drivers Outsmart You

Diving deeper into the comparison of Western and Santorini bus drivers, it gets even crazier.

Assuming the Santorini bus driver would lose his job. What would happen?

Within weeks, I’d say, he’ll find his next job. And this has two major reasons:

First of all, he probably knows everyone on his island. After decades of talking and connecting to everyone around him, he has built a huge social network. So if there’s a job on his island, people will let him know.

The second reason is his skill set. He has a lot more to offer than simply bus driving. Because, on a fundamental level, he has become a master at sales. For years and years, he has been selling his island Santorini to human beings.

Besides sales, he could probably work as a translator, animator, shop owner, heck, maybe even as a comedian. I think you get my point.

How To Hack Artificial Intelligence

Given the omnipresent danger of AI, we should ask ourselves what we can learn from the Santorini bus driver. Can he help us to save our jobs?

Let’s go even further than that … perhaps … he can teach us how to live a happier, more exciting and meaningful life?

As you already guess, he can.

His secret, in my opinion, has two levels. The first level is about you. The second level is about the culture you live in.

Why You Better Get Out Of Your Cocoon

On an individual level, there’s a lot to take away from the Santorini bus driver.

The Most Important Rule: Don’t feel limited by your job description.

Only because you are called bus driver (lawyer, software engineer, etc.), doesn’t mean you can’t take on more responsibility, build deeper human connections or broaden your horizon. The Santorini bus driver didn’t let his job title get into the way of entertaining people, selling experiences and improving himself every single day.

If you want to be that person which transcends his job title, you need to look at the world through the lens of an opportunity mindset. Learn to see golden opportunities along your way.

However, in our daily rut, we tend to overview good chances in front of us because we work on autopilot. We have our blinkers on.

Please don’t be that person, you owe it to yourself. Break that restricting pattern and value experiences on your job – all of them.

A great way to identify new opportunities is by seeing cross-connections. This will help you to develop the skill-set of a generalist. Here are some examples:

  • If you are a software developer, try to get in contact with clients once in a while.
  • If you are a salesperson, try to understand the IT behind your work.
  • If you are a specialist, think about the cross-departmental processes of your company.

Don’t get fooled, this is hard. We like to stay in our little box. But if you do this, you will grow quicker than anyone you know.

Not only that, you will encounter more opportunities than ever. By having more opportunities, you will automatically have more social interaction, be it in quality or quantity. This will make you happier and you will become irreplaceable for your boss, colleagues, and clients. Besides that, you will build up your social network for even more opportunities.

Activating Your Inner Superhero Isn’t Enough

With all due respect to individuals, every single human being is limited by the culture he lives in. This can have both negative and positive consequences, depending on the values of this culture.

In the case of Santorini, its culture and uniqueness of the island (i.e. narrows streets, scary cities, communication-based traffic, open human contact) shaped the skills of the bus driver. He gained an unfair advantage by participating in Santorinis’s specific environment. An advantage that will be hard for AIs to imitate.

In conclusion: the culture and geography of Santorini work as a protection mechanism against automation & artificial intelligence as they are based on social interaction, spontaneity, and geographical peculiarities.

The Downside Of Growth And Efficiency

In contrast, western culture focuses heavily on efficiency, growth, and scalability – regardless of the negative consequences.

Western progress, including technology, social media, and globalization, led to a huge increase in complexity in every sphere of life.

Life has raised new types of questions, which previous institutions like tradition and religion couldn’t answer anymore. As a consequence, social and cultural values have started to break down.

Since civilization couldn’t handle that type of complexity anymore, it has looked for alternative ways to understand life. Science offered a simple solution for this challenge: numbers and data.

To make sense of things, everything had to be measured, be it in business, academics, politics or even sports. Understanding has been „outsourced“ to case studies, statistics, and KPIs. Meaning has been equated with data.

This increased complexity of life, coupled with a loss of meaning, opens the gateway for AI, big data and Co. Because if human life becomes a pure numbers game, machines will eat us alive.

The Only Way Civilization Can Survive

If we continue our quest as a data-driven society, AI will be our downfall.

While constant improvement is crucial, blind optimization for the sake of it leads nowhere – or even worse, way down.

Instead of relying purely on numbers and data, we need to understand our motives and goals on a deeper level.  Why do we want to be productive? What’s the point of efficiency? Is revenue under any circumstance worth it?

If we neglect these questions, meaning will get replaced by numbers. Our activities and goals will lose its meaning, and thus, we will become even more dependent on data and stats. It’s a vicious circle.

This outlook may sound pessimistic, but a ray of hope exists. Because we shouldn’t forget that human beings aren’t powerless.

We define what matters. It is us human beings who control the markets. Our demand drives the economy, business, politics, and entertainment.

The one thing that never can be replaced by machines is being human. And, as it is often the case, it starts with our thinking patterns. Please be honest if you can recognize yourself in this kind of thinking:

  • A higher salary automatically means a more successful life.
  • Good grades equal a promising future.
  • A Profitable company is always worth investing in.

This black and white thinking makes life shallow and brutal – and vulnerable for AI takeover.

The only chance is to start thinking in gray tones and to act more like the Santorini bus driver. We need to regain our trust in culture, interhuman connections, and intrinsic values.

Sure, not an easy task, but our only possibility.