Tue, 24 January 2017
This week’s guest is Yuval Noah Harari, author of Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. Join us as we discuss topics such as the major threats that the human race is facing, how virtual reality is similar to religion and what the future of life is going to look like in 150-200 years.
Yuval Noah Harari is a historian, a tenured professor at the Department of History of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a bestselling author. Harari’s most recent book is, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. The book explores the opportunities and dangers humankind faces in this century and beyond.
Harari has always been one to ask questions and seek out reasons why things are the way they are. He has never just accepted the way we do things, but instead he enjoys digging further to see where his questions about life lead him. Harari believes that most of the big questions in life lead you across a wide variety of disciplines including biology, religion, history, economics and politics in order to find answers.
He began college by studying Medieval military history, however while he was in an Intro to History class he decided to abandon his narrow niche and decided to explore history more broadly. It was out of this class that he decided to write his first book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. In that book he took a look back over the last 70,000 years to show how homo sapiens have evolved over time. After he completed that book he wanted to write another book that explored the 21st century and beyond to look at what “opportunities and dangers humankind is facing in the 21st century and what is the possible future of our species”.
Harari says one of the biggest questions he is asking about the future is, “what are we going to do with ourselves?”. In the past humans have been preoccupied by overcoming three main things in life; famine, plagues and war. But in the 21st century we have been able to control these three elements to a certain extent. Harari states, “More people die from eating too much, than eating too little these days” and says there are more people who commit suicide than there are people who are dying in wars. Of course, he doesn’t deny that there are people who are starving, people who are dying from war and people who are dying from diseases. But these people are not dying because there isn’t enough food or medicine to go around; they are dying in political famines, wars and plagues.
How did we get to this point where we have these three main elements fairly under control? There are two main answers, science and technology. Due to both science and technology we have advances in medicine, food productivity and disbursement and education that have helped with famine and plagues. War, however, is a different story. As Harari mentions, “we don’t have a device that stops war”. Technology did play a part in decreasing war with the move towards nuclear weapons which changed the way the “superpowers” interacted with each other. Humankind also aided in the reduction in violence by “rising up to the challenge technology presented us with”, as Harari explains.
Harari also believes there are threats to our future including climate change and global warming and a disruptive potential of new technology (such as AI and Virtual Reality). One disruption, Harari says, is that new technology could “outperform humans in tasks and push hundreds of millions of people out of the job market” which would in turn create “a class of useless people”. Another disruption is bioengineering and how humans are manipulating “the world inside of us”.
We are used to hearing about people using bioengineering to manipulate plants and animals, but using this concept inside of our own bodies is something new that could have huge consequences if we don’t proceed wisely. There are three main ways that Harari says people can manipulate our internal realities. One is bioengineering where we “tweak” our bodies and brains. A second way would be to combine “old organic bodies with new inorganic parts”, like connecting a person’s brain to a computer and allowing them to use their mind to search something on the internet. The third way Harari mentions is a “creation of completely inorganic entities”, such as uploading human consciousness to a computer. If this third one takes place, Harari says it will be “the greatest revolution in history and biology”.
When it comes to the hot topic of AI and automation taking over human jobs, Harari says he believes that this shift in our economy will both create and take over jobs; the question is how quickly will each side progress? Will more jobs be created quicker than AI and automation can take over or vice versa? The fact is that humans have always had two abilities; physical abilities and mental abilities. Machines took over in the roles that require physical strength in the Industrial Revolution, but now machines are evolving to be able to take over the mental abilities as well. So we as humans have to learn to adapt in order to stay relevant in the workplace.
You may think that the topics we discuss in this podcast, such as bioengineering inorganic entities, AI taking over and leaving a useless class of humans or the ability of machines to read and remember human emotions while reading a book, are too futuristic or sci-fi. But I believe that science fiction gives us a good glimpse into our future. And in the grand scheme of things, I don’t believe these concepts are too far off in the future.
What you will learn in this episode:
Link From The Episode:
(Music by Ronald Jenkees)