The leaderships of most advanced nations have not yet taken full stock of the transformation humanity or what will remain of it will be going through
Data war replacing oil war? That’s already a topic of debate. A revolution of dataism ahead looks most likely. At what speed and to what extent it is going to change the 21st century and reshape power dynamics at international level is beyond the grasp of average world citizens. Even the political and economic leaderships of most advanced nations have not yet taken full stock of the transformation humanity or what will remain of it will be going through. Not only algorithm of Big Data. Homo Sapiens relegated to the status of chimpanzees? Robots taking over? A lot more about a most uncertain future lying ahead.
In 2014, his first book ‘A Brief History of Humankind’ related the history of Homo Sapiens some 70,000 years ago to the development of agriculture 12,000 years ago culminating in the foundations of modern science 500 years back, and was stimulating global success. Stone Age evolution of human species till 20th century tremendous advances in every field of science is something we are quite familiar with. If we go by his latest book published in 2015 – ‘Home Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow’, forthcoming generations are likely to lose their authority as human beings and will be surpassed by superior beings. Israeli historian and essayist Yuval Noah Harari delivers thought-provoking speeches on his vision of a not-so-far-away future. He is a tenured professor in the Department of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The Useless Class
19th century Industrial Revolution created the proletariat; the 20th century brought in the political notion of class struggle and devised ways to cater for the needs and social improvement of the working class. Loss of jobs due to automation and sophisticated machinery in factories were compensated by the creation of new types of jobs and possibility of training to re-adjust and cope with new economic situations.
But with the fast development of robots, a majority of men and women will lose their economic and social value as human beings according to the Israeli academic. The new class will not be exploited but will be made irrelevant. New jobs will appear but they will be far from being enough for the vast numbers that will not have the skills to manufacture and innovate in the fields of Biotechnology and Robotics. Or will human beings have to re-invent a mental balance to adapt?
Already it is forecast that by 2021 the pharmaceutical industry will be run by robots. In the future, among the jobs that are most likely to disappear are: doctors, lawyers, judges, the services, tourist guides, cuisine chefs, bakers, construction workers, bus drivers, truck drivers and so on. To anyone alarmed by the prospect, the writer explains that we have already surrendered decision-making to computers. Algorithm decides if you can be granted a bank loan or not, for instance. So, increasingly, decisions will not be taken by people but by the system. And we will trust the system as we already trust the algorithm of smart phones.
Big Data implies that new powers given to computers will make them omniscient about human beings. They will know everything about us. What is already known in this field nowadays is the beginning of a process that is bound to gather momentum with the development of Artificial Intelligence. Biotechnonology helps to understand what happens to the human brain and it opens the way to genetic engineering.
Combined with infotech industry, it may redefine the category of beings that will overpower present-day humans. The science-fiction scenario is made to look quite real by Harari who lays much emphasis on the key question that arises: Who will win the data race ? And more importantly, who will collect enough Big Data to be the first to hack humanity?
You can’t convince chimpanzees to fight against another group of chimpanzees and tell them they will go to heaven afterwards. But the manipulation of humans, and more precisely, the super humans that can be engineered, can be a powerful tool to eliminate other human groups.
Data revolution associated with biotechnological discoveries poses a global threat to survival of some groups. The manipulation of humans for military purposes raises relevant questions on the political redefinition of the world that may reflect the winner’s vision. And the possibility of an authoritarian and dictatorial domination should not be overlooked.
The writer opines that the United States under Trump is wrong to withdraw from the world scene and go back to the former ideal of putting the nation first. On the contrary, it should be fully engaged in the Big Data race and think globally in terms of Robotics and Biotechnology. The European Union should grow stronger and cooperate more with like-minded countries to prevent Information from being monopolized by authoritarian regimes of all hues with long-term disastrous consequences for the world.
Is the future pre-ordained? A relevant question. What humanity will try to accomplish in the 21st century may be beyond our imagination today. Great scientific progress mastered diseases and transformed wars. 20th century science was deeply committed to prolonging human life. The West’s number one value is human life. Its civilization dedicated much energy to combat death.
When death becomes a technical problem, a technical solution can be envisaged. It is not an impossible dream to prolong life to the infinite in 200 years judging from how biotech may modify lifestyle in the future. Modification started today will bring mind-blowing results which we cannot comprehend in a 2017 world dominated by markets and individualism.
Yuval Noah Harari is the first academic to compile a synthesis of history of homo sapiens, evolution of species, scientific progress from Stone Age, modern technology and today’s human concerns about the future of humanity. He is certainly the first academic to express his views so clearly and voice the world’s uncertainties in clear terms, which explains the stimulating debates his books have stirred. The academic world at the university did not provide the answers to questions which he asked himself. And as a student, he reached such a degree of desperation that a friend encouraged him to go to a retreat. How to deal with anger, boredom, desperation, how little he understood how the mind works, what is happening in our mind, the reaction to sensations in our body.
How the mind can get out of control was of primary concern to him when he started a retreat under the guidance of Indian origin Burmese spiritual guru, Sri Narayan Goenka. What he learnt from S.N. Goenka and vipassana meditation gave him the fundamental tools for understanding and analysis, for discerning between reality and fiction. A meditation technique started on observing one’s breath.
The young academic lives in an agricultural community in Israel and goes to India every year in a retreat for 30 days and longer in silence, disconnected from books or social media. Vipassana meditation he started in 2010 has transformed his life and he devotes two hours daily to it. He denounces the tragedy of industrial farming of animals and its impact on the planet. A vegan himself, he reflects the aspiration of many young people who are concerned about the future. If anything, he applies to himself the ideals that he believes in.
Of course, he is fully aware that Consciousness is a far higher value than Intelligence, that too much energy and money are spent on intelligence. Our little understanding of normal everyday experience, our inability to discern between what is real and what is fantasy created by the environment, stories and beliefs invented by human beings is the source of human pain and misery. Human imagination creates stories and believes in them, and because of the beliefs, they can start a war and control the planet.
The illusion of the ego, the absence of Conscience in robots today and such topics are vividly debated in his talks. No doubt, his lifestyle gives him the cool confidence that emanates from him in his conferences.
* Published in print edition on 19 October 2017