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Yuval Noah Harari: 21 Lessons for the 21st Century

The Technological Challenge

Disillusionment

Humans were always far better at inventing tools than using them wisely. In the coming century biotech and infotech will give us the power to manipulate the world inside us and reshape ourselves. People like stories, last story that we have is liberalism with its global story. But this story is slowly fading with the likes of Donald Trump and Brexit supporters putting national interest in the core of local agendas. Liberalism has no obvious answers to the biggest problems we face: ecological collapse and technological disruption.

Work

Two particularly important non-human abilities that AI possesses are connectivity and updateability. Machines will eliminate human mistakes and in areas like driving this will lead to lower accidents and accidents mortality. AI will not totally replace workers, it will create jobs where humans and machines will need to work together. Despite the appearance of many new human jobs, we might nevertheless witness the rise of a new “useless” class. We might actually get the worst of both worlds, suffering simultaneously from high unemployment and a shortage of skilled labor. Solutions that address new challenges fall into three categories:

  • What to do in order to prevent job losses.
  • What to do in order to create enough new jobs.
  • What to do if job loses significantly outstrip job creation.

One of the ideas how to solve loss of jobs is to create either UBI (universal basic income) or potentially UBS (universal basic services) – money payed to do services like raising children, helping elderlies. Potential that AI can free people of their jobs and they can focus on doing something meaningful for communities would be good development. But there is also a threat of even bigger differences in society and potential rise of digital dictatorship.

Liberty

Free will and emotions are elements that liberalism is built on. But emotions are biochemical mechanism and it could happen that machines will be able to know us better then we know ourselves. By allowing sensors to catch our emotions and status of our body, we could improve our health and allow machines to give us better solutions, then we can give ourselves. Humans are used to thinking about life as a drama of decision-making. But once we decide to trust AI to decide for us where to study, whom to marry, what to do, drama of decision-making will go away. Machines can also implement and maintain ethnical standards better then man. Those standards will be set by humans and we still need to agree on universal ethical standards, but we can be sure that they will really be followed once we code them into machines. With ability to control machines, some of the dictatorship of modern area can be tempted to use them for controlling their citizens and with use of AI in military purposes they can avoid problems of human casualty and bad publicity. By doing so some form of digital dictatorship can arise as efficient human organization. The main handicap of authoritative regimes in the twentieth century – the attempt to concentrate all information in one place – might become their decisive advantage in the twenty-first century.

Equality

If we want to prevent the concentration of all wealth and power in the hands of small elite, the key is to regulate the ownership of data. In the 21stcentury data will eclipse land and machinery as the most important assets. But since data is very hard to regulate, this is a challenge for lawyers and politicians.

The Political Challenge

Community

Facebook announced in 2017 that they will lead a way to help people build meaningful communities with help of their application and AI used in it. Reality of today is that communities are disintegrating, and that people feel more and more alone in more and more connected world. It is hard to believe that company that earns money on placing targeted ads could lead rebuild of communities. Human have bodies and we have been distanced from them into online world. This need to be addressed.

Civilization

Human groups are defined more by the changes they undergo than by any continuity, but they nevertheless manage to create for themselves ancient identities thanks to their storytelling skills. They usually weave old and new into single yarn. Human tribes tend to coalesce over time into larger and larger groups. Some groupings don’t last. But history have tendency into merging. Today we all live in a single civilization, civilization that has its internal conflicts, but ultimately is built on common agreement about global set up. Conflicts are part of that civilization, since we usually fight with our family members. Identity is defined by conflicts and dilemmas more than with agreements. Big challenges in 21stcentury will be global. Clashes in the future will probably be inside civilizations then between civilizations. But rise of nation states and new nationalism should not be dismissed too quickly.

Nationalism

Nationalism is not a natural and eternal part of the human psyche, and it is not rooted in human biology. Nationalism is not problematic if it is based on notion that “our” nation is unique, but it is problematic if it supports notion of “superiority”. Global challenges like nuclear, ecological and technological threats can’t be handled inside national frameworks. Nation based response can actually trigger even worse development.in the 21stcentury, nations find themselves in the same situation as the old tribes: they are no longer the right framework to manage the most important challenges of the age.

Religion

When we look at religion and its capacity to create future vision in 21stcentury we need to look at it from three problems: technological, policy and identity. Religion has lost its power when people realize that it was science that solved main problems and religion was only interpreting things in their own way. Even if it lost its power in explanation field, its ability to form cohesive identification element stayed strong even today. Religions, rites and rituals will remain important as long as the power of humankind rest on mass cooperation and as long as mass cooperation rests on belief in shared fictions. Global threats like nuclear war, ecological issues and technological disruption can only be handled globally, but nationalism and religions are still providing power to local forces.

Immigration

There are three main topics in immigration that divide people. Should host country let immigration in and if yes is this seen as favor or obligation? Should immigrants assimilate totally into host culture? And how quickly should host country classify immigrants as one of them? Those three topics are important to see how immigration is treated and then to clarify what it means if some small numbers are acting differently as majority of group towards those questions. Traditional racist is vanishing, but world is today full of culturist. Since main differences between group arise from cultural differences. Prejudice from cultural differences can have negative effects since they tend to presume that local superiority is globally present, they make general claims that makes no sense, but it would make sense in specific situation and they are usually based on individual example and then generalized.

 

Despair and Hope

Terrorism

Terrorist are master of mind control. They work with fear. Their fear reach is much bigger than their actual force. With less dead then automotive crashes they have global reach and focus. Governments react to terrorism so actively and give it power, because they believe that their credibility lies in protecting their people from anything happen to them. Terrorism is directly undermining their credibility and that is why governments believe that they need to react publicly and strongly. Today terrorist don’t have actual reach, but if they get hold of nuclear weapon, biological weapon or launch full-scale cyber-attack, that can change very quickly.

War

Some people today are afraid that we are on a verge of third WW. But reality is that, since 1914 no war that was fight brought much success to the ones fighting it. It is economic power that brings more success than military. In the 21stcentury the most successful strategy is to sit on the fence and let others do the fighting for you. Even if we nations will not find a way to launch successful wars, we cannot underestimate human stupidity and its potential to lead into war. War is not inevitable, but it is also not impossible.

Humility

Most people tend to believe they are the center of the world and their culture is the linchpin of human history. One of the most self-observed religion in the world is Judaism. The believe that they are chosen from God.

God

Does God exist? Using God to justify activities and behavior is very popular. There are those who would argue that we need God to give us moral compass. But all those things can happen without presence of God.

Secularism

Secularism is usually defined as negative approach to religion, as approach of not believing in religion. But secular people see them self as very positive and actively engaged persons. Secular ethnical code accepts hybrid loyalties and identities as long as you follow main values of truth, compassion, equality, freedom, courage and responsibility. Truth means something that is based on proof rather than faith. And all other values lead to main secular dogma of humans being entitled to human right. This dogma can be challenged a lot in 21stcentury with technological and biological development.

Truth

Ignorance

Liberalism create idea of rational individuals that know best. But in reality, we tend to make decisions that are not based on ratio but on emotions and our own imbedded patterns. Humanity developed because it was able to think in large groups. This belief in knowledge and ignorance about human limitations can cause problems in future. World will become even more complex and we would now even less about it. Developing knowledge takes time and ability to waste it with missed examples and dead ends. That is why development is not happening around centers of power since they protect current status.

Justice

Justice demands not just a set of abstract values, but also and understanding of concrete cause-and-effect relations. But world has become too complex for us to know all the facts and this can lead to situation where you support something which ultimately leads to morally wrong doings. There are four methods how to deal with large-scale moral dilemmas:

  • To downsize issues.
  • To focus on touching human stories.
  • To weave conspiracy theories.
  • To create a dogma and put our trust into some all-knowing theory.

Post-truth

When thousand people believe some made-up story for one month, that’s a fake news. When a billion people believe it for a thousand years, that’s a religion. The truth is that truth was never high on the agenda of Homo Sapiens. When it comes to unifying people and motivate them for actions, myths and half-truths are more powerful then truth. If you want power, you need to give up on search for truth. If you want truth, you need to give up on power.

Science fiction

The current technological and scientific revolution implies not that authentic individuals and authentic realities can be manipulated by algorithms and TV cameras, but rather that authenticity is a myth. Your brain and you are part of matric, to escape the matrix you must escape yourself. That, however, is a possibility worth exploring. Escaping the narrow definition of self might well become a necessary survival skill in the twenty-first century.

Resilience

Education

Teachers are giving pupils lots of information today and ask them to think for themselves. But in future maybe we should focus on four C – critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. Education of 21stcentury will demand flexibility. Changes will become only stability.

Meaning

If we see life as cycles of events that connects as all, we all have a function in these cycles and if we accomplish those functions well then, we are on a good track. Homo Sapiens is a storytelling animal, that thinks in stories rather than in numbers or graphs. Good story provides people with roles, it extends over their horizons, but it is not absolutely needed to be true. If people believe in the story that is enough. Usually they believe in the story in the sacrifice something for it. In the age of Facebook and Instagram you can observe myth-making process more clearly than ever before. Author believes that if you want to find meaning, answer is not in a story.

Meditation

If we realize that we don’t control our emotions and our bodies, one way to retain as much control as possible is to meditate – according to author

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