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, Greece. He taught me how to prevent artificial intelligence (AI) from taking over the world – and from stealing your job.

It was on my last summer vacation, my wife and I traveled to Naxos, the largest island of the Cyclades, which is 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 trip from there. Once arrived at 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, and was 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. He was about 50 years old.

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 surrounding Santorini.

Although our bus drive lasted only 20 minutes, it was filled with several highlights:

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

Every time 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 the people on the bus 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 my vacation had ended.

This guy certainly loves his job and all the people around him love him too. He absolutely owns his bus as well as the streets he is driving on.

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

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

Admittedly, I felt sad for him. I started to imagine an AI-bus driving through the streets of Santorini. But … wait for 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 even allow AIs to drive through their beautiful streets? I doubt it.

The answers to all of these questions 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 the Santorini bus driver is 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. Matter of fact, the first real experiments are already in full swing.

But where’s the difference?

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. There are 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. 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 easily because no social skills and only a tiny degree of spontaneity are needed.

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 waits for the evening – and eventually his retirement?

I suspect it’s more of the latter.

The great sadness in this is the fact 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 his job.

Our society doesn’t need bus drivers as individual human beings, we just need someone who brings us from point A to point B. We need a one-track specialist, and exactly this fact makes him replaceable – 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 check out our Instagram feed.

Why Greek Bus Drivers Outsmart You

It gets even crazier when we dive deeper into the comparison of western and Santorini bus drivers.

Now, assuming the Santorini bus driver would lose his job. What would happen?

Within weeks, I’d say, he would 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 unique skill set which he has gained over time because he has a lot more to offer than simply bus driving. On a fundamental level, he has become a master at sales.

For years and years, he has been selling his island to tourists. And 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: can he teach us to live a happier, more exciting, and meaningful life?

And as you already guess, he certainly can.

In my opinion, his formula for success consists of two levels. The first level is about our individual personality, and the second level is about the culture we live in.

You Better Get Out Of Your Cocoon

On an individual level, his most important success rule can be summarized in one simple sentence:

Don’t feel limited by your job description.

The fact that you are called bus driver (or lawyer, software engineer, etc.) doesn’t mean you can’t take on more responsibility, build deeper human connections, or broaden your horizon in general. T

he 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 who transcends his job title, you need to look at the world through the lens of an opportunity mindset and learn to pick up golden opportunities along your way.

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

Now, 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 will be hard because we like to stay in our little box. But if you keep doing this, you will grow quicker than anyone you know.

Not only that, but you will encounter a lot more opportunities in your life, and by having these opportunities, you will automatically have more social interactions, be it in quality or quantity. This again will make you happier and you will become irreplaceable for your boss, colleagues, and clients.

Besides that, you will build up your social network which will provide even more opportunities. You will create a massive upward-spiral.

Activating Your Inner Superhero Isn’t Enough

With all respect to your individual power, but every single human being is limited by the culture (s)he lives in. This can have both negative and positive consequences, depending on the values of the surrounding culture.

In the case of Santorini, its culture and uniqueness, meaning its narrow streets, lively cities, communication-based traffic, and 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 and artificial intelligence because they are based on social interaction, spontaneity, and geographical peculiarities.

The Downside Of Growth & Efficiency

In contrast, there is the western culture focusing heavily on efficiency, growth, and scalability, and often neglecting its negative consequences.

Western progress, including technology, social media, and globalization, led to a huge increase in complexity in every sphere of life. Therefore, life has raised a new set of questions, which previous institutions like religion and tradition couldn’t answer anymore. 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, and science offered a simple solution for this challenge: numbers and data.

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

Life’s increased complexity, coupled with a loss of meaning, has opened the gateway for AI and big data. This is because once life becomes a pure numbers game, machines will eat us alive.

Civilization’s Only Way To Survive

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

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

So 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?

As long as we continue to neglect these questions, wisdom will get replaced by numbers. Our actions 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 after all, we shouldn’t forget that human beings are powerful.

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

The only thing that never can be replaced by machines is being human. And being human starts with our thinking patterns. So 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.

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

No easy task, but it’s our only hope.