Future of humanity, discussed at Davos

Future of humanity, discussed at Davos. By Yuval Harari.

Also (from another speech of his, at Davos):

Automation will soon eliminate millions upon millions of jobs, and while new jobs will certainly be created, it is unclear whether people will be able to learn the necessary new skills fast enough. …

Old jobs will disappear, new jobs will emerge, but then the new jobs will rapidly change and vanish. Whereas in the past human had to struggle against exploitation, in the twenty-first century the really big struggle will be against irrelevance. And it is much worse to be irrelevant than exploited.

Those who fail in the struggle against irrelevance would constitute a new “useless class” — people who are useless not from the viewpoint of their friends and family, but useless from the viewpoint of the economic and political system. …

Artificial intelligence:

Just think what will happen to developing economies once it is cheaper to produce textiles or cars in California than in Mexico.

And what will happen to politics in your country in twenty years, when somebody in San Francisco or Beijing knows the entire medical and personal history of every politician, every judge and every journalist in your country, including all their sexual escapades, all their mental weaknesses and all their corrupt dealings?

Will it still be an independent country or will it become a data-colony? When you have enough data you don’t need to send soldiers, in order to control a country. …

Digital dictatorships:

If you know enough biology and have enough computing power and data, you can hack my body and my brain and my life, and you can understand me better than I understand myself. You can know my personality type, my political views, my sexual preferences, my mental weaknesses, my deepest fears and hopes. You know more about me than I know about myself. And you can do that not just to me, but to everyone.

A system that understands us better than we understand ourselves can predict our feelings and decisions, can manipulate our feelings and decisions, and can ultimately make decisions for us.

Now in the past, many governments and tyrants wanted to do it, but nobody understood biology well enough and nobody had enough computing power and data to hack millions of people. … We humans should get used to the idea that we are no longer mysterious souls — we are now hackable animals. That’s what we are. …

Just imagine North Korea in twenty years, when everybody has to wear a biometric bracelet which constantly monitors your blood pressure, your heart rate, your brain activity twenty-four hours a day. You listen to a speech on the radio by the great leader and they know what you actually feel. You can clap your hands and smile, but if you’re angry, they know, you’ll be in the gulag tomorrow.

And if we allow the emergence of such total surveillance regimes, don’t think that the rich and powerful in places like Davos will be safe … In Stalin’s USSR, the state monitored members of the communist elite more than anyone else. The same will be true of future total surveillance regimes. The higher you are in the hierarchy — the more closely you’ll be watched. Do you want your CEO or your president to know what you really think about them? …

Algorithms to control your life — it’s already happening:

Already today billions of people trust the Facebook algorithm to tell us what is new, the Google algorithm tells us what is true, Netflix tells us what to watch, and the Amazon and Alibaba algorithms tell us what to buy.

In the not-so-distant future, similar algorithms might tell us where to work and who to marry, and also decide whether to hire us for a job, whether to give us a loan, and whether the central bank should raise the interest rate.

And if you ask why you were not given a loan, and why you the bank didn’t raise the interest rate the answer will always be the same — because the computer says no. And since the limited human brain lacks sufficient biological knowledge, computing power and data — humans will simply not be able to understand the computer’s decisions.

So even in supposedly free countries, humans are likely to lose control over our own lives and also lose the ability to understand public policy.

Already now, how many humans understand the financial system? Maybe one percent to be very generous. In a couple of decades, the number of humans capable of understanding the financial system will be exactly zero. …

The carbon dioxide theory of global warming is due to a badly designed algorithm. Sure there is some physics behind it, but the calculation of how much warming there will be is exaggerated by an order of magnitude.

Intelligent design — like covid vaccines?

In the coming decades, AI and biotechnology will give us godlike abilities to reengineer life, and even to create completely new life-forms. After four billion years of organic life shaped by natural selection, we are about to enter a new era of inorganic life shaped by intelligent design.

Our intelligent design is going to be the new driving force of the evolution of life and in using our new divine powers of creation we might make mistakes on a cosmic scale. In particular, governments, corporations and armies are likely to use technology to enhance human skills that they need — like intelligence and discipline — while neglecting other humans skills – like compassion, artistic sensitivity and spirituality. …

In the twentieth century, people used the same industrial technology to build very different kinds of societies: fascist dictatorships, communist regimes, liberal democracies. The same thing will happen in the twenty-first Century. AI and biotech will certainly transform the world, but we can use them to create very different kinds of societies.

Almost every country will say: “Hey, we don’t want to develop killer robots or to genetically engineer human babies. We are the good guys. But we can’t trust our rivals not to do it. So we must do it first”. …

War and peace:

For thousands of years, humans lived under the law of the jungle in a condition of omnipresent war. The law of the jungle said that for every two nearby countries, there is a plausible scenario that they will go to war against each other next year. Under this law, peace meant only “the temporary absence of war”.

When there was “peace” between — say — Athens and Sparta, or France and Germany, it meant that now they are not at war, but next year they might be. And for thousands of years, people had assumed that it was impossible to escape this law.

But in the last few decades, humanity has managed to do the impossible, to break the law, and to escape the jungle. We have built the rule-based liberal global order, that despite many imperfections, has nevertheless created the most prosperous and most peaceful era in human history.

“Peace” no longer means just the temporary absence of war. Peace now means the implausibility of war.

There are many countries which you simply cannot imagine going to war against each other next year – like France and Germany. There are still wars in some parts of the world. I come from the Middle East, so believe me, I know this perfectly well. But it shouldn’t blind us to the overall global picture. …

We are now living in a world in which war kills fewer people than suicide, and gunpowder is far less dangerous to your life than sugar. Most countries — with some notable exceptions like Russia — don’t even fantasize about conquering and annexing their neighbors. Which is why most countries can afford to spend maybe just about two percent of their GDP on defense, while spending far, far more on education and healthcare. This is not a jungle.

Unfortunately, we have gotten so used to this wonderful situation, that we take it for granted, and we are therefore becoming extremely careless. … The global order is now like a house that everybody inhabits and nobody repairs. It can hold on for a few more years, but if we continue like this, it will collapse – and we will find ourselves back in the jungle of omnipresent war.

We have forgotten what it’s like, but believe me as a historian – you don’t want to be back there. It is far, far worse than you imagine.