21 Lessons for the 21st century
Yuval Noah Harari, Jonathan Cape, 318 p., 2018
After focussing on the past and the future in his previous two books, in his third one he writes about the problems and issues we are facing in the 21st century.
He divides his book in five chapters. The first is called “The Technological Challenge”, in which he mainly writes about the threats that will come with advancing artificial intelligence or the problems with Big Data. Artificial intelligence is already at a point where it understands emotions as well or even better than we do, and is doing things, we don’t fully understand. This will at least be worri-some for the future job market, in a sense that if machines can do everything better than we do, where is the need for people? Furthermore, he kind of asks worst case questions like “will humans lose control of the infrastructure of society?” or “will AI decide it doesn’t need humans at all?”.
The second part is about “The Political Challenge”. Here he criticizes that we have global economy, global science and global technology, but no global politics. For the future survival of the human race effective global politics and policies are necessary.
In his third chapter “Despair and Hope” he addresses the topics of terrorism and war. The actual numbers of deaths through terrorism are insignificantly small compared to for example deaths caused by traffic accidents, diabetes or air pollution, but still they cause a lot more fear in people. The subheading to the first section in this chapter reflects his opinion on that matter “Don’t panic”.
The worldwide present topic of fake news is the main part of the fourth chapter “Truth”. Yuval Harari states that the principle of fake news is a very old one, but that it is different nowadays, in a way that it is easier to tailor it to particular individuals, because you know their prejudices, beliefs and how they operate. Also creating a fake story isn’t penalized, but rather telling the truth is illegal nowa-days, as many whistleblowers have discovered.
In the last chapter “Resilience” he questions whether humanity has the resilience to face the level and speed of change that happens in the world. Mediation can help people to cope with the stress related to change and uncertainty. He believes that emotional intelligence, mental resilience will be needed more than anything else, especially in the new education system that needs to emerge as a result of all the changes that are happening.
Yuval Harari creates a useful framework for confronting the fears that we face nowadays. He doesn’t suggest stopping to worry but rather learning what to worry about and how much.
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