Towards a human/AI co-creation in the digital world

Erwin Dijkstra

Head of Atos Codex Offers for IoT, analytics and AI, Distinguished Expert and member of the Scientific Community

Katinka Dijkstra

Associate professor at the Department of Psychology, Education and Child Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam

Posted on: 18 May 2018

Technological developments have led humanity to fundamentally reposition its role in a world that combines physical with virtual. In the first of our two posts, we introduced a new model for investigating humans and humanity in a digital world. In this second part, we will use our model to explore our best options for exploiting new technologies and develop some guiding principles for human/machines co-creation in the new digital era.

A hierarchy of human needs

Let’s first look at what motivates us as human beings. Abraham Maslow believed people possess a set of motivation systems that are not related to rewards or unconscious desires. He developed a ‘hierarchy of needs’ model to describe these.

The earliest and most widespread version of Maslow's hierarchy of needs includes five motivational needs (Maslow, 1943). It’s often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid (Figure 1 left).

5-layer Maslow model (1943)

8-layer Maslow model (1970)

Figure 1: Maslow pyramids of Human Needs: five-layer (1943) and eight-layer (1970) models

This five-stage model comprises of basic (or deficiency) needs (physiological, safety, love, and esteem) and growth needs (self-actualization). The deficiency needs originate in deprivation, which provides strong motivation to the individual if unmet. Once the deficiency needs are satisfied, more attention becomes available to fulfil the next one and so on, progressing towards the apex of self-actualization and transcendence. Maslow’s models simply suggest the activities and requirements needed for higher cognitive functioning and collaboration within groups of humans.

While we should not see his models as encapsulating a rigid physiological progression of an individual, many people do follow this sequential fulfillment of needs for their career and personal development. Once they have established the four deficiency needs, their attention shifts to the growth needs grouped under self-actualization. The eight-layer model in Figure 1 was published in 1970 (Maslow, 1970a), (Maslow, 1970b), and goes in further details of self-actualization, aesthetic and cognitive needs and transcendence to others’ self-actualization.

Our culture supports this model in sports, arts and education, and emphasizes it through archetypical role models in movies, television, literature and social media. However, very few people become fully self-actualized because our society rewards motivation primarily based on esteem, love and other social needs – as Maslow himself noted.

Strategies for an inclusive and sustainable world

We know disruptive technologies to create a new market and value network and eventually disrupt an existing market and value network, displacing established market leading firms, products, and alliances. Several disruptive technologies also change our way of living, our society, which can be illustrated in how these influence Maslov model. Especially Artificial Intelligence, Knowledge integration, automation and robotization, with the power of human imagination and creation, we can then examine how they affect the Maslow pyramid.

Figure 2: Target future Maslow pyramid

Derived from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Figure 2 illustrates a possible positive scenario and recommends strategies for the most optimal usage of AI technologies to:

  • benefit humanity
  • promote human behavior to create a healthy, prosperous, and sustainable future, that respects all life, and the limited resources available to all.

Our target future Maslow pyramid combines the following strategies and design principles for our planet:

  • Use new technologies (bio-technology, automation, and robotization) to solve deficiencies in human needs.
  • Use deep learning (DL) and Knowledge Integration (KI) to support a shift towards human growth.
    For example by alleviating humans from complex time-consuming tasks and supporting intuitive decisions with data-supported facts.
  • Redefine our values, purpose, how we grow as individuals and groups.
  • Move from the concept of individual success to one of collaborative creation of value and success.
  • Create a society that empowers everyone.
  • Develop and incorporate this redefinition of needs in everything we do.

We can readily see concrete examples of this future Maslow pyramid around us today, in some cases we experience negative examples which we should turn into positive outcomes:

  • Social media: People become addicted to receiving more likes and retweets. When this happens, their development stops at the Belonging or Esteem level of needs, which prevents them from developing higher needs and behaviors. It is not an option to ban social media, but it is interesting challenges to turn reduce this deprivation effect into supporting personal growth.
  • Inspirational speech: A speech can connect with people at the Cognitive or Aesthetic level of needs or can be the Transcendence that inspires Self-actualization in others.
  • High Social and Emotional Intelligence: can operate at various levels of need:
    • In the Esteem and lower levels, it provides the foundation for gang leadership in both the physical and digital virtual world, as people want to belong to a group.
    • In the Cognitive and Self-actualisation levels, it supports management, project management, and expert leadership.
    • In the Transcendence level, it serves others and life in general.

Human imagination in the digital world

At the start of this post we promised some guiding principles for co-creation in the digital world. Let us begin by using our target Maslow pyramid to identify those strategies for humankind and our planet:

  • Being the best individual requires strengthening of the basic needs of Esteem and below levels.
  • Being the best team player requires strengthening of the growth needs of Cognitive and above.
  • The best uses for bio-technology and robotic process automation (RPA) are for eliminating and solving basic needs (Biological and Physiological along with Safety needs) and enabling equal participation for all in a new virtual and real world.
  • Deep Learning and Knowledge Integration can (and should) be deployed in a co-creative manner for Cognitive needs to help reduce Esteem needs.

Maslow’s growth pyramid provides a great framework for developing optimal strategies for combining technology and human behaviors for the creation of higher-functioning and creative human cultures. While digital inclusion is necessary, we should not consider it as an isolated goal; but as a means to increase human value: human (co-)creation and social inclusion.

The inclusion of collective human values and ethical behavior into AI model development will result in not only better AI but also AI that, by gaining a better understanding, meets human requirements.


Maslow, A., 1943. A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review 50(4), pp. 370-96.

Maslow, A., 1970a. Motivation and Personality. New York: Harper and Row.

Maslow, A., 1970b. Religions, values, and peak experiences. New York: Penguin


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About Dr. Erwin Dijkstra
Head of Atos Codex Offers for IoT, analytics and AI, Distinguished Expert and member of the Scientific Community
Erwin Dijkstra is responsible for Atos Codex Offers in IoT, analytics and Artificial Intelligence. Erwin has a PhD in Solid State Physics, has worked almost a decade for a leading Oil company in drilling, petroleum engineering and field development planning. Erwin is a member of the Atos Scientific Community that is the best 135 scientific people from within the group who are “creators of change”, making sure that whenever our clients choose Atos they always get the best solutions available in their journey to digital transformation. In Erwin’s view, as a business expert, he has a duty to keep learning with its customers, to keep actively engaging with disruptive innovative ideas, to have regular exchange with his peers and expert communities, and to be open to investigating new developments. He is fully committed to help Atos and Atos’ clients anticipate and craft their vision regarding upcoming technology disruptions and the new challenges facing our industry.

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About Katinka Dijkstra
Associate professor at the Department of Psychology, Education and Child Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam
Katinka is an associate professor at the Department of Psychology, Education and Child Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam. Her research focuses on autobiographical memory and on issues related to cognitive aging.