I read “21 Lessons for the 21st Century”

At the end of my post on Homo Deus I said I would write a small summary of a chapter when I finished it. In the end I didn’t end up doing that. I noticed that when I finished a chapter I was hesitant to read further and I stopped all together for a while. II read these book out of a mix of curiosity and fun, adding the extra work made me want to read less. I decided to not write the summaries after all. If there is a subject I want to remember better, I can always read it again.

I liked this book better than Homo Deus. It felt like a summary of the previous two books, which would make sense because they recount the history, and discuss the future of mankind. The main subjects that stuck with me was the importance of what Yuval Noah Harari calls stories. Anything that humans do, underneath is a collective story, be it religion, ideology, or fundamental ideas like human rights and money. If what Harari predicts comes true, and a large part of the population becomes economically irrelevant, what is the story that we’re going to cling to. Could an irrelevant population force change against the all powerful elite?

Of the five parts that make up this book, technology, politics, hope and despair, truth, and resilience, the first two spoke to me the most, and they are heavily intertwined. Man used machines to replace most of the need for human muscles in the work force. For the past couple of decades, speeding up since the turn of the millennium, we’ve used informational technology to augment the human mind. If AI is to keep it’s current pace who’s to say AI won’t replace most of us in the workforce. What are we to do then? The artificial minds would generate unthinkable amounts of wealth for the lucky ones that own them. This wealth is then used to create better AI which would create more wealth. I have no idea where this end, or my place in it. As a programmer I, perhaps naively, believe that it will be difficult to replace me.

These coming changes, combined with other like climate change and the ensuing refugees, are sure to put great stress on our political system. I feel that the younger generations are more drawn to the extremes of the left-right spectrum. As we collectively lose faith in the current political system, and possibly capitalism what will replace it? Falling back onto older ideologies is not the answer. As Harari notes in the book, capitalism survived by adopting the best of the ideology it defeated. If capitalism is to fall out of favour, we will need something new to replace it.

The book poses all the questions and more, and I’m happy I’m not in a position to decide the answer for any of them.