I have become a fan of Yuval Noah Harari since I read his first book, Sapiens. For me (not a very avid reader), it was a book that kept me hooked on every word he wrote.
His writing style is simply impeccable. His fluidity and immaculate thought process inspire me to know more about the story.
His second book, I, convinced me to become a vegetarian.
I had been thinking about giving up meat for a long time, but nothing really motivated me: not those harrowing videos showing cruelty to animals or those PETA activists trying some very creative ways to become vegan.
It’s not that they are heartless, but they lack the perspective that Yuval shares in his book: something so compelling that even a non-believer would be moved.
And I just finished reading 21 lessons for the 21st century. To say it is a masterpiece would be an understatement.
He shares his deep knowledge about the technological and political challenges that lie ahead: about terrorism, war, humility, god, secularism, ignorance, justice, truth, fiction, education, meaning and meditation .
Its lessons make me reflect, as it draws on our history to describe our future. Each book has incredible nuggets of wisdom that one can bookmark to reread each year.
Here are nine fascinating quotes from all of his books that I highlighted while reading them.
«Currently we rely on Netflix to recommend movies and Google Maps to choose whether to turn right or left. But when we start counting on AI to decide what to study, where to work and who to marry, human life will no longer be a decision-making drama.
Our decisions are not really ours, as we increasingly rely on AI.
We usually depend on Google Maps to suggest the best coffee shop around us and we depend on the algorithm to recommend the best rated one.
We trust the algorithm more than the humans around us.
Imagine that we had to survey a hundred people to rate the best restaurant in that location and then decide; I know it seems strange and we would never do it. Instead, we would rely on word of mouth. So we will not go to the highest rated restaurant, but a friend will recommend one to us. We will never be able to compete with the algorithm that has the best location filtered using several data points behind – customer comments, ratings, photos, etc.
Now imagine that AI guides us in all the important decisions of our lives: career, education and marriage. Is it bad or good?
It is not something we can answer so easily. We will debate it for decades to come.
«A common enemy is the best catalyst for forging a common identity, and humanity now has at least three such enemies: nuclear war, climate change and technological disruption. If, despite these common threats, human beings decide to privilege their particular national loyalties above all else, the results could be much worse than in 1914 and 1939..
The world has never been so divided as it is now. Nationalism has suddenly emerged in many factions around the planet. Which has led us to where we are now. One may ask: is it bad to be a patriot? Absolutely.
Patriotism gives us a sense of belonging and creates a collective identity.
However, sometimes staunch nationalists tend to ignore global problems, such as climate change, and focus exclusively on their selfish agendas (which are not always in the national interest).
It is impossible for any single nation to address these enormous challenges alone.
“What brain scientists are learning today about the amygdala and cerebellum could make it possible for computers to surpass human psychiatrists and bodyguards by 2050. AI is not only prepared to hack humans and surpass them in what until now were exclusively human skills. It also enjoys unique non-human abilities, making the difference between an AI and a human worker one of type rather than degree. “Two especially important non-human capabilities that AI possesses are connectivity and updateability.”
It’s surprising, right? Let’s imagine that AI is capable of evaluating our most intimate feelings and emotions better than we can.
We may not need to visit multiple doctors for consultation as AI would eliminate any human judgment errors.
Even though we can’t connect with other humans like AI would, we are already seeing technology that connects humans: wearable devices and the Internet of Things.
The question is not if robots will one day replace our jobs, but rather when they will do so. And will our governments, legislators and judicial systems be prepared when it becomes a reality?
«How do you get people to believe in an imagined order like Christianity, democracy or capitalism? First, it is never admitted that order is imagined.
If there is one thing we can thank European imperial emperors for, it would be capitalism.
Money is a universal truth that unites us all.
It has the power to unite us (allow trade), divide us (create a huge gap between rich and poor), govern us (finance elections to wars), and destroy us (facilitate drug trafficking and terrorism).
Money is a greater deity than Jesus, the Prophet or Lord Shiva.
However, we fight over religion. Not as much as in pre-industrialization times, but we still do it.
And what is bigger than money in today’s era? It’s the data. The most powerful entity is not the one that has accumulated the most wealth, but the one that has gathered all the information.
In this data age, where information is growing at an exponential rate, the next big religion according to Yuval is dataism.
When asked, in an interview, how misinformation or fake news can easily shake the pillar of democracy, he responded by saying
«The subjectivation of facts is not new. It has been happening for thousands of years. All major religions have organized themselves around fake news. Just think of the Bible: fake news is eternal in some cases.
“Domesticated chickens and cattle may well be an evolutionary success story, but they are also among the most miserable creatures that have ever existed. “The domestication of animals was based on a series of brutal practices that only become more cruel as the centuries pass.”
What we have done with animals is the worst thing that can be done. We are not human with them. The industrialization of meat production has only worsened their living conditions.
It’s a shame that we don’t talk about it much or discuss it on the scale we should.
Veganism is brushed aside as a fad, and most people willingly look the other way when animal cruelty is discussed. What have we become? Just because the vast majority does something, doesn’t make it right.
I hope things change in this decade and we can make the lives of our fur friends a little better.
“If the Kindle is updated with facial recognition and biometric sensors, it will be able to know what made you laugh, what made you sad, and what made you angry. Soon, books will read to you as you read them.
If that happens, would you be willing to experiment with it or would you fear for your privacy and providing such intricate data to giants like Amazon? Is it really an option?
We don’t decide the terms and conditions of data sharing: companies write them to protect their asses, and we simply obey.
We literally have no choice but to accept and move on.
We can try not to use a particular product or application, but we cannot live in isolation. If we are part of the ecosystem, we simply have to be complicit in the decisions made by these technocrats.
«It is good that the Europeans conquer the Africans and that the astute businessmen bankrupt the less enlightened.
If we follow this evolutionary logic, humanity will gradually become stronger and fitter, eventually giving rise to superhumans.
Evolution did not stop with Homo sapiens: there is still a long way to go.
However, if in the name of human rights or human equality we castrate the fittest humans, it will prevent the rise of the superman, and may even cause the degeneration and extinction of Homo sapiens.
It’s amazing when you read it and it may seem a little controversial too. But you understand the beauty of his thoughts when you read them in the context in which he speaks: conflict is an important aspect of evolution.
The fittest not only survive, but also triumph over others. It plays an important aspect in shaping 21st century culture.
Whether we like it or not, conflict is inevitable, so although protests, tensions and wars are bad at first, they will pivot us towards a better tomorrow.
«Traditional religions do not offer any real alternative to liberalism. “Their scriptures have nothing to say about genetic engineering or artificial intelligence, and most priests, rabbis and muftis do not understand the latest advances in biology and computer science.”
Even the most devout person would have to agree with Yuval’s point.
Although religion and faith offer solace to the common man, they have no answers to today’s problems: they cannot validate same-sex marriages, they cannot guide us through the complex ethical questions of biotechnology: should afford genome editing?
Religious textbooks are more of a weapon in the hands of a few powerful faith leaders.
They use it to create the business of fear and maintain their position of authority.
“History began when humans invented God, and will end when humans become gods.”
Forget what the Bible or the Koran says, we will create our scripts in the future. Once we have created a non-biological substitute for the human being, we will become divine or at least possess god-like powers.
We are constantly trying to improve the lives of humans with the ultimate goal of living longer. In his book, he explores the idea that “the organism is an algorithm.”
If in the future we can decipher this algorithm, we will be able to design emotions, thoughts, beliefs and values.
Shall we not then become gods?
But not all: only a handful of privileged technocrats. We would be second class humans. Now, does it really sound as tempting as before?
If the history is intriguing, the future seems to be quite terrifying.
We are on the cusp of some significant changes in the space of technology, artificial intelligence and dataism (as Yuval calls it).
We don’t know how we will evolve and what the planet has in store for us or what we have in store for our planet, but we know this for sure: it is an exciting time to be alive.
We are lucky to still make our own decisions, to have a job that provides for us, and to have the power to vote to elect our leaders.
We have only just begun our foray into the world of the future and there are still at least several decades (if not centuries) before we face these challenges.
We must still prepare for them, as we have to leave a happy, content and habitable planet for our children.