21 Lessons for the 21st Century Summary Author says in a world deluged by irrelevant information, clarity is power. In theory, anybody can join the debate about the future of humanity, but it is so hard to maintain a clear vision. Frequently, we don’t even notice that a debate is going on, or what the key questions are. Billions of us can hardly afford the luxury of investigating, because we have more pressing things to do: we have to go to work, take care of the kids, or look after elderly parents.
21 Lessons for the 21st Century By Yuval Noah Harari
Summary of 21 lessons for the 21st Century By Yuval Noah Harari
Humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers or equations, and the simpler the story, the better. Every person, group and nation has its own tales and myths. But during the twentieth century the global elites in New York, London, Berlin and Moscow formulated three grand stories that claimed to explain the whole past and to predict the future of the entire world.
Countries that join this unstoppable march of progress will be rewarded with peace and prosperity sooner. Countries that try to resist the inevitable will suffer the consequences, until they too see the light, open their borders and liberalise their societies, their politics and their markets. It may take time, but eventually even North Korea, Iraq and El Salvador will look like Denmark or Iowa.
In the twentieth century, the masses revolted against exploitation, and sought to translate their vital role in the economy into political power. Now the masses fear irrelevance, and they are frantic to use their remaining political power before it is too late. Brexit and the rise of Trump might thus demonstrate an opposite trajectory to that of traditional socialist revolutions.
We have no idea what the job market will look like in 2050. It is generally agreed that machine learning and robotics will change almost every line of work – from producing yoghurt to teaching yoga. However, there are conflicting views about the nature of the change and its imminence.
Humans have two types of abilities – physical and cognitive. In the past, machines competed with humans mainly in raw physical abilities, while humans retained an immense edge over machines in cognition. Hence as manual jobs in agriculture and industry were automated, new service jobs emerged that required the kind of cognitive skills only humans possessed: learning, analysing, communicating and above all understanding human emotions
In the short term AI and robotics are unlikely to completely eliminate entire industries. Jobs that require specialisation in a narrow range of routinised activities will be automated. But it will be much more difficult to replace humans with machines in less routine jobs that demand the simultaneous use of a wide range of skills, and that involve dealing with unforeseen scenarios.
The liberal story cherishes human liberty as its number one value. It argues that all authority ultimately stems from the free will of individual humans, as it is expressed in their feelings, desires and choices. In politics, liberalism believes that the voter knows best.
The liberal belief in the feelings and free choices of individuals is neither natural nor very ancient. For thousands of years people believed that authority came from divine laws rather than from the human heart, and that we should therefore sanctify the word of God rather than human liberty.
What is already beginning to happen in medicine is likely to occur in more and more fields. The key invention is the biometric sensor, which people can wear on or inside their bodies, and which converts biological processes into electronic information that computers can store and analyse.
AI often frightens people because they don’t trust the AI to remain obedient. We have seen too many science-fiction movies about robots rebelling against their human masters, running amok in the streets and slaughtering everyone. Yet the real problem with robots is exactly the opposite. We should fear them because they will probably always obey their masters and never rebel.
True, AI will have to analyse human feelings accurately in order to treat human illnesses, identify human terrorists, recommend human mates and navigate a street full of human pedestrians. But it could do so without having any feelings of its own. An algorithm does not need to feel joy, anger or fear in order to recognise the different biochemical patterns of joyful, angry or frightened apes.
Those who own the data own the future.
In ancient times land was the most important asset in the world, politics was a struggle to control land, and if too much land became concentrated in too few hands – society split into aristocrats and commoners. In the modern era machines and factories became more important than land, and political struggles focused on controlling these vital means of production. If too many of the machines became concentrated in too few hands – society split into capitalists and proletarians. In the twenty-first century, however, data will eclipse both land and machinery as the most important asset, and politics will be a struggle to control the flow of data.