True Human Intelligence (THI) at FIS

In the weeks leading up to the graduation ceremony for our esteemed Class of 2023, I thought about a variety of topics that might resonate with our seniors.

I considered talking about our emergence out of the pandemic, but somehow any talk of Covid – even in the past-tense – was too much. Like Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter series, it has become “the virus that shall not be named.”

I also thought of addressing our graduates on the ubiquitous topic of AI – its impact on their lives as students, and how it will likely be an innovative disruption to the future of education. I had planned on starting my speech using ChatGPT, then stopping half way through to tell the audience that everything I had been sharing was written by a computer. (I’m curious which half of that speech they would have enjoyed more!) But given that AI has dominated the media, I thought all of those in attendance may have had enough of the topic.

Banners with messages and photos hanging on wall
Banners hang along the FIS Boulevard with messages of encouragement for seniors taking IB exams

Instead, I opted to speak about something I call THI: “True Human Intelligence.” I doubt you will find references to THI in any scholarly journals, but it is what came to mind earlier this spring as I made rounds of our school. As I passed the many faces featured on the banners hanging along the FIS Boulevard to wish our seniors luck on their IB exams, saw groups of students huddled in the library for study sessions, and watched as others blew off steam together on the sports pitch, it dawned on me that AI will never be a threat to THI (True Human Intelligence) because it can never form the bonds that were so vividly apparent in what I witnessed.

Yes, AI can provide answers, possibly in the same way that a pill can provide vitamins and minerals to the body. But that is a very different experience than getting those vitamins and minerals by sharing a delicious meal with family or friends. True Human Intelligence is centered in our ability to nourish one another through our relationships, meeting needs that can’t be defined by a program or algorithm.

I was again struck by this idea of THI during our school’s Worldfest celebration in May. It was an incredible day – the weather was perfect, a colorful parade of students and parents carried flags from around the world, and student musicians and dancers captivated our community with their creative True Human Intelligence on outdoor stages. And, of course, the amazing dishes served at the many cultural booths were yet another form of THI art. I have no doubt that some of those dishes were made using family recipes passed down from one generation to the next, and likely also relied on a keen sense of taste – something that remains out of reach for even the most advanced computer.

FIS campus filled with people for community celebration; people carrying various country flags in parade formation
International flag parade at the 2023 FIS Worldfest

I’ve attended many FIS Worldfest celebrations, but this year there was something special that stayed with me. As I navigated among the thousands of FIS students, parents, alumni and colleagues from around the world, I realized that our school is striving to achieve something far more astounding than any of the AI accomplishments we hear so much about. While our world faces the reality of war, both between and within nations, where our planet faces the threat of climate change and depleted resources, and where political battles threaten not only to tear apart governments but also communities and families, here at FIS we are striving to show that we can both recognize these painful realities yet also productively engage them.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not so naïve to think that we can all join together in one big humanity hug. Our goal cannot be that we must like every person on the planet or applaud the beliefs of those with whom we disagree. At the same FIS Worldfest that had me in awe of our community, I know for a fact there were booths that took issue with the presence of others. I have no doubt there were also volunteers within a single Worldfest booth who completely disagreed with the politics of those they worked alongside with.

But that day was miraculous precisely because at FIS, we strive not only to recognize our differences, but to understand that such differences are inherent to the human condition. We work on suspending our need to prove that our beliefs are right while others are wrong. We choose to embrace the discomfort that comes with the acceptance that our beliefs are not the only valid beliefs.

Is our school 100% successful 100% of the time? No. But given the diversity of cultures and beliefs and values in our community of roughly 5,000 students and adults, I think we are a model international community of what our world could be.

Our graduates spent countless hours studying so they could provide the right answers on their final exams. For many of them, getting the right answers is the difference between acceptance into one college versus another. Society in general – and the IB in particular – has made the goal of “being right” a very high priority.

Here is the crux of the problem. As we grow into adults, some of us continue to think that the overriding goal in life is to be right. It is a win-lose proposition for many because they believe the only way they can be right is if someone else is wrong. When we think in that limited fashion, we are acting more like a computer bound by AI rather than using our True Human Intelligence that recognizes the nuances of human relationships.

The open-mindedness I am talking about is not moral relativism or turning your back on your family’s deeply held values. It is the belief that you do not enlighten someone by judging or condemning them or their community or their country. Instead, you make a real impact by leading your life as best as you can, allowing the example of your actions to be the way in which your light can dispel the darkness in today’s world.

While I am confident all of our seniors did well on their final exams, there are much bigger tests awaiting them beyond FIS. One could argue that passing these other tests is even more important as they will determine whether or not our world becomes more unstable or whether our graduates (and their peers) play a part in bringing about needed progress and healing. These unwritten exams will be tests of compassion, integrity and open-mindedness, and therefore will rely on their True Human Intelligence to make tomorrow better than today.

I am confident that our graduates will pass these tests of character. They have engaged in the hard work of questioning the status quo, disentangling myths from realities, and breaking barriers set before them. They have been in classes with peers who are as different from them as night is from day. They may not have become friends with all of their classmates, but they learned the importance of accepting them as having an equal right to pursue their own paths, no matter how wildly they may have diverged from their own.

AI could not have processed and replicated what our Class of 2023 achieved because it can only rely on billions upon billions of data from the past to decide how to respond. While our graduates can also learn from the past, they possess something far more powerful: empathy, compassion and creativity to envision a far brighter future, and a life grounded in True Human Intelligence.