Not exactly about the writing business, but certainly about a couple of interesting, albeit overpriced, books.
Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” became a best-selling book after it was first published in 2011. He argued that people dominate life on earth because they are the only animals that can cooperate in very large groups. Such mass cooperation only became possible, he says, with the emergence of myth, in which many people believe in the same thing, regardless of whether it is a religion, a nation or an economic system or corporation.
His latest work, “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow,” published in 2017, dwells on what he believes to be the next stage of human development. Having learned to manage famine and war, he says people need a new challenge. He foresees an era in which authority shifts from humans and their myths to data and algorithms. In the foreseeable future, he argues, algorithms well may become so powerful that we will be able to program people just as we program computers, creating a superhuman species, “Homo Deus.” People might use this power to use in any number of ways, he argues. He says he wrote “Homo Deus” to spark a productive conversation about those choices.
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How much of the disorder that you see stems from technology?
For example if millions of people, especially in developing countries, lose their low-skill jobs in areas like the textile industry, because of the rise of new technologies, then we will see much more impact on political developments and also more and more influence on the ways the conflicts actually are managed.
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I imagine AI makes it easier for a smaller entity with few people to exert control and that masses of people become obsolete in a way? Does this prefigure where the rest of us are headed?
Yes. For all the talk of job loss and the impact of technology, one of the best places to look today is the military. It is a few steps ahead of the civilian economy. And what people are predicting for the civilian economy in 30 years is actually happening in the armed forces today. The armies rely on small numbers of highly professional super warriors and on sophisticated and autonomous technologies. I am not saying the civilian economy will happen in exactly the same way, but it is good testing ground for what might happen in the civilian economy.
You think people and technology will merge in a way, create literally or figuratively a new species, and that this new species, Homo Deus, is superhuman. We won’t all have super human powers but some of us will and the rest of us may become less and les relevant?
The basic insight is that nothing is deterministic. Technology is going to evolve. But the social and political outcomes are not deterministic. Just as in the 20th Century you could use electricity to build a communist dictatorship or a democracy, so in the 21st Century we have choices.
…Now one of the most important questions in the world, is who owns the data of humankind. Maybe the most important asset in the 21st Century is not land, and it’s not money, it’s really data. This is the basis for everything. And we are now accumulating the data to decipher humanity, and to change humanity, data about human behavior and even more importantly the human body.
When it comes to questions of mind, we are far less certain. Our understanding of mind is very limited and very poor.
AI will outperform humans in more and more tasks. This I think is almost a certainty. And it will not take a long time. When it comes to questions of mind, there we are far less certain where we are heading because our understanding of mind is very limited and very poor. One school of thought says that essentially minds work on the basis of electrochemical reactions in the brain, and that if we accumulate enough data on the brain, and enough computing power, we can hack humans in the same way as we hack computers. And once this happens you can start creating direct brain-computer interfaces and once you do that, you can connect several brains together into an inter-brain net, so I can access your memories … Now, personally I am skeptical about this particular idea because I think we are far from understanding the mind. But I know there are a lot of very serious people in places like Silicon Valley that think this can happen in 20, 40, 60 years. They even talk about uploading human minds into computers and so forth. As a historian, I say okay. I am just reporting that there are people who think this. But they are very serious people and they have billions of dollars invested in this.