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Notes from penguin annual lecture – 2018 – guest of honour Yuval Noah Harari (author of Sapiens, Home Deus and 21 lessons for 21 century)

Key achievements by human

  • Overcoming famine – prior to recent civilization, most humans died because of famine / starvation. Humans have been able to overcome droughts/famine etc and have steady production & supply of food. (however if you do hear somewhere people dying of starvation its mostly because of politics or politicians, there is enough food supply to quench hunger of the world, no short supply).
  • Overcoming plagues – before invention of modern medicine people rarely died of cancer, diabetes etc modern lifestyle diseases. Modern medicine has helped elongate life and delay death. Earlier humans didn’t survive this long to encounter cancer & other lifestyle diseases, most died due to famine or starvation or small pox or other kind of such plague like diseases. Humans have been able to overcome plagues and extend life.
  • Overcoming war – Since World War II, we haven’t had any big war. Unlike earlier days, when people believed war happens and ends because of god, modern humans have wisdom to understand the stress/distress/death/consequence of war and collective human wisdom have been to avert war.

In the process humans created few problems

  • These days more people die to suicide then war. Chances of you killing yourself are higher than you getting killed by soldier or terrorist.
  • Sugar is bigger threat than Gun Powder.

New Challenges

  • Return of the war – it’s often wisdom of humanity that prevails, but it takes just one stupid to start a war. Never underestimate a stupidity of Human Being.
  • Ecological collapse – global warming, climate change are all real, it needs global co-operation to be sorted out. Unfortunately goal of every government is growth, grow consumption because that’s help grow economy and that’s help everyone earn money – cycle continues. For global warming, we need to reduce our consumption, which means less economic growth – contrary, hence challenge.
  • Tech disruption – gene editing is key. Historically every living being obeyed 2 laws – 1) organic chemistry and 2) natural selection. With gene editing coming into play, humans will design living beings – meaning we will create new life form – be it human or animal.

Other discussion points

  • There is gap between power to manipulate and wisdom to understand the impact of manipulation. Humans do something without fully comprehending consequence of it, which in turn creates unbalance in ecology or collapse of ecology.
  • Humans will learn how to redesign not just externally (body parts) but internally (psychologically) as well. Humans will be able to manipulate emotions, thoughts etc. however we are far from understanding our mental capability or consequence of the same – which can create mental unbalance, we may lose compassion, spirituality which are need of the hour and also helps us our long term as human being.
  • Industrial revolution of 1760 to 1820 created a new urban class, while new AI revolution will create new Useless class. Nobody has clue how much joblessness would be there, even thought everybody says new job would be create but not sure if that can meet demand of jobless population.
  • Mantra is re-skill, re-train for new job, however change would be so fast that humans might need to upgrade every 10 years. Do we have mental stamina to do that every 10 years? Mental resilience that one has at 30 is different at 40 & at 50. Top it up, better medication will increase life span. Remember change is discomfort and we all resist it even though change is good.
  • Rise of Digital dictatorship – in past we saw the rise of Hitler, Stalin, Moa, etc totalitarian regime can make come back because of availability of tools. One needs to hack humans to control them, that can be done with help of 1) good understanding of human brain, 2) lots of data and 3) lots of computing power. All 3 are currently available and it can easily be done and manipulate humans to subvert or give away power. At the same time even little hint of thought that is against regime can be quickly known.
  • Technology is not deterministic – lots of people think, tech can solve a problem, all problems can be solved by tech and some problems require human intervention. While reality is far from it, human interaction and choices human make helps solve problem along the way. Sooner or later tech becomes commodity and everybody will have it.
  • Global Challenge, Global Solution – we have to understand no one nation can solve any of above problems; it has to be done with co-operation. Imagine one country banning gene editing but others not and we will see activity in other countries and some day first country would have to reverse its decision of ban. Hence beforehand everyone needs to come together and make rules governing use of techs like this.
  • Teaching Ethics to Software programmer – given more and more of our life is governed by technology which in turn is driven by algorithm, it is of paramount importance to teach ethics specially to software programmer given they are the one designing algo. There are tones of live example that shows discrimination is happening because of software/algo.
  • Rise of philosopher and spiritual guru – everyone has heard about trolley problem (read here or here or watch this) philosophers have been debating about this topics since ages and it looks now it would finally has practical application. There would be great demand for them in future. Imagine a situation when a person is sleeping in driverless car and 2 kids come in front of car, car has to make decision to kill kids or swirl on side & crash into oncoming truck that would kill owner. Morally we all know the right answer, but during actual decision making time we all act selfish. If this problem is left to corporation, they would simply come up with 2 models, one that kills kids and other that kills owner. Hence nations needs to take help of philosophers in framing rules/laws for new technology usage and rather than leaving it to market.
  • Religion will upgrade – due to massive technological innovation, religion will not become exactly useless, but it will just upgrade/repackage itself to remain useful.
  • Technology can help diagnose mental disease on large scale.
  • If a company wants to mine iron ore from land, it has to pay price to government. However if company wants to mine data, it’s free.
  • When a new technology comes, it is usually tested where regulation are lax or missing. So more data is generated from region/country based on which company makes/improves its product which is then sold to everybody. So region that generated data doesn’t get anything in return while region that has company headquarter earns. New kind of data colonization.


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