'There is worse than you think': the famous historian named the 5 main dangers of the future
Quotes from a speech by renowned historian Yuval Noah Harari in Davos leads "New Time".
The world order now looks like a house in which everyone lives, but no one is fixing it. He can hold out for several more years, but if we continue in the same spirit, we will return to the "jungle".
In the third decade of the 21st century, humanity was faced with so many problems and questions that it is now difficult to focus on them. I want to draw attention to the problems that threaten the survival of our species. This is nuclear war, environmental collapse and technological breakthrough. Nuclear war and environmental collapse are already familiar threats, so let me explain what the lesser known threat of a technological breakthrough is. We hear so much about the benefits of future technologies, and this, of course, is true, but they can also unbalance human society and change the very meaning of human life in many ways - from creating a world useless class to the emergence of colonialism of data and digital dictatorship.
1. Useless class
First, we may face shocks at the social and economic levels. Automation will soon destroy millions of jobs, and although new jobs will certainly be created, it is not known whether people will be able to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills on time.
For example, you are a 50-year-old truck driver who has lost his job due to an unmanned control system. There are options for a new job - to create software, for example, or to teach engineers yoga. But how will a 50-year-old truck driver re-create himself as a software developer or yoga teacher? And people will need to do this not once, but again and again throughout their lives, since the automation revolution is not a one-time event, after which the labor market will settle down and return to balance.
Most likely, a cascade of ever-greater changes awaits us, given that artificial intelligence has not yet reached its full potential. Jobs will disappear, new ones will appear, but then this work will change and disappear. If before people struggled with exploitation, then in the 21st century they will truly struggle with unnecessary things. And it’s much worse to be unnecessary than exploited. The losers in this struggle will join the ranks of the useless class. These people will be useless, of course, not in the eyes of family and friends, but from the point of view of the economic and political system. The worthless class will be separated by a growing abyss from an increasingly powerful elite.
2. Inequality and data colonies
The revolution of artificial intelligence (AI) can cause unprecedented inequality not only between classes, but also between countries. In the 19th century, several countries, such as Great Britain and Japan, were industrialized first, which allowed them to conquer and exploit other countries. If we are careless, the same awaits us in the 21st century thanks to AI.
Humanity is already in the midst of an arms race in the field of AI, in which the United States and China occupy leading positions, and most countries are lagging far behind. If we do not take measures to share the benefits and power of AI between us, it is likely to bring crazy wealth to several technology centers, while other countries go bankrupt and turn into exploitable data colonies.
It's not about a scenario that descended from the pages of science fiction, where robots rebel against humans. We are talking about a much more primitive AI, which is still enough to upset the global balance.
Just think about what will happen to developing economies if it is cheaper to produce fabrics or cars in California than in Mexico. And what will happen to the politics of your country if in 20 years someone in San Francisco or Beijing knows about the whole medical and personal history of every politician, judge and journalist, including all love affairs, psychological weaknesses and corruption. Does such a country remain independent or will it become a data colony? When you have enough data, you no longer need to send soldiers somewhere to control the country.
3. Digital dictatorship
The next threat we may face is the rise of digital dictatorships, tirelessly watching everyone. This threat can be stated in the form of a simple formula, in my opinion, that determines life in the 21st century: B x H x D = VHCh. In it, “B” means biological knowledge, “C” means computing power, and “D” means data. The result of the multiplication will be “VHCh” - an opportunity to hack humanity. If you have enough knowledge of biology, computing power and data, you can hack my body, brain and my whole life, you will know me even better than I know myself. You can know my personality type, my political views, sexual preferences, the weaknesses of my psyche, the deepest fears and hopes.
A system that understands us more than ourselves can predict our feelings, decisions and make decisions for us. Many tyrants and governments of the past dreamed about it, but they lacked the aforementioned knowledge, capacities and data to hack millions of people. It was beyond the power of either the Gestapo or the KGB. But soon, some corporations and governments will be able to systematically hack humanity.
It's time to get used to the idea that we are no longer mysterious souls, but animals that can be hacked. The ability to hack people, of course, can be used for the benefit, for example, in health care. But if this power falls into the hands of Stalin of the 21st century - and there are enough in the world who want to try on this role - the result will be the worst totalitarian regime in the history of mankind. Just imagine North Korea in 20 years, in which everyone will be forced to wear a biometric bracelet, constantly monitoring pressure, pulse, brain activity. If listening to the speech of a great leader, you are angry, but at the same time smiling and applauding, the authorities will know about it and may send you into the likeness of the GULAG the very next morning.
If such regimes of total surveillance exist, do not think that someone will remain safe. The power of the USSR in the Stalin period followed the communist elite more than anyone else. Future modes of total control will be similar - the higher your position in the hierarchy, the more they follow you. Do you want your CEO or president to know what you really think about them? Therefore, all of humanity, including the elite, is interested in preventing the emergence of such digital dictatorships. [...]
Even if we manage to prevent the emergence of digital dictatorships, the ability to hack people can change the very concept of human freedom. The more we rely on AI in decision making, the more power shifts to algorithms.
This is happening now: today, billions learn about the news from Facebook, believe in the authenticity of the information that Google’s algorithm brought. Now, Netflix decides what you look for, and the Amazon and Alibaba / Aliexpress algorithms decide what you buy. In the near future, similar algorithms may choose a job or a partner for you, whether they will give you a loan and the central bank will raise the interest rate. And if you ask why you were not given a loan or why the bank did not raise the interest rate, the answer will be the same: "The computer said no." Since the limited human brain lacks knowledge, processing power, and data, people simply cannot understand computer solutions.
Therefore, even, it would seem, in free countries, people will lose control of their own lives and cease to understand state policy. Even today, about 1% of people understand the financial system. In a few decades, this percentage will be zero.
4. The philosophical crisis
We humans are used to thinking of life as a drama of decision making. What will the meaning of human life turn into if most decisions are made by algorithms. We do not even have philosophical models for understanding such an existence!
The usual argument between philosophers and politicians used to look like this: philosophers share a lot of fantastic ideas, and politicians patiently explain that in order to bring these ideas to life, they lack funds. Now we are in the opposite situation, we are on the verge of philosophical bankruptcy. The twin revolutions - information and biotechnologies - gave politicians and businessmen the opportunity to create hell or paradise, and it is difficult for philosophers to conceptualize how a new paradise or hell will look, and this is a very dangerous situation.
If we fail to comprehend the idea of a new paradise in time, we can easily be misled by naive utopias. And if it is not possible to conceptualize the new hell, we may find ourselves locked in it without any opportunity to leave.
5. Reasonable design
In the decades to come, technology can not only change economics, politics and philosophy, but also biology. AI and biotechnology will give us god-like opportunities, we can even create completely new life forms. After 4 billion years of forming organic life through natural selection, we are on the verge of a new era where inorganic life is shaped by intelligent design. Our intelligent design will become the new driving force of evolution.
Therefore, using the new god-like forces of creation, we can make errors of the universal level. Governments and corporations may be using technology to enhance the human skills they need, such as intelligence and discipline, while neglecting other human skills such as empathy, artistic sensitivity, and spirituality. The result may be a race of very smart and very disciplined people who, at the same time, will lack empathy, creativity and spiritual depth.
Of course, these are not prophecies, but simply what can happen. The use of technology is by no means predetermined. In the 20th century, people used the technology of the industrial revolution to build very different societies - the fascist dictatorship, the communist regime, liberal democracy - the same thing will happen in the 21st century. AI and biotechnology will certainly change the world, but we can use them to create very different societies.
Worldwide cooperation. If you are afraid of something from what I talked about, you can do something, but for something truly effective, we need global cooperation.
All three existential problems that we have encountered are global problems that require a global solution. When any leader says, “My country is first and foremost,” we must remind this leader that the country cannot independently prevent a nuclear war or stop the environmental collapse. And there is no country that can regulate the activities of AI and bioengineering independently. Any country can say: “Hey, we don’t want to develop killer robots or engage in genetic engineering of babies, we are good! But not our enemies, they cannot be trusted, maybe they will do it, so we will do it first. ” If we allow such an arms race to go in areas like AI and bioengineering, it doesn’t matter who wins it, because humanity will be the loser.
Unfortunately, just when world cooperation is needed more than ever, some of the most powerful countries and world leaders now specifically counteract this. Leaders like US President Donald Trump tell us that there is an inherent contradiction between nationalism and globalism, so you need to choose nationalism, but this is a dangerous mistake! There is no contradiction between nationalism and globalism, because nationalism is not about hating foreigners. Nationalism is about love for one’s fellow citizens, and in the 21st century, in order to protect the safety of one’s fellow citizens, it is necessary to cooperate with foreigners.
A good 21st century nationalist should also be a globalist. Globalism is not the creation of a global government, the rejection of all popular traditions or the opening of borders for endless migrants. Globalism is submission to some global rules. Rules that do not deny the uniqueness of each nation, but only govern the relationship between them. And a good model is the World Cup. This is a competition between countries where people cheer for their national team, but at the same time it is an amazing example of world harmony. France cannot play a match with Croatia if these countries do not agree with the same rules of the game. This is globalism in action, if you like the World Cup - you are already a globalist.
I hope that countries can come to common rules not only in football, but also in how to prevent environmental collapse, resolve dangerous technologies and reduce global inequality. It's important to make sure that AI benefits textile workers in Mexico, and not just American software developers. Of course, this is much more complicated than football, but not at all impossible, because we have already achieved the impossible. We have already got out of the dangerous jungle in which our entire history lived.
Law of the jungle". For thousands of years, people lived according to the law of the "jungle", in a state of widespread war. The law of the "jungle" stated that it was highly likely that war would begin between any two neighboring countries next year. Peace meant only a temporary absence of war. When the world was, for example, between Athens and Sparta or France and Germany - this meant that now they are not at war, but next year may well begin.
For thousands of years, people thought this was inevitable, but over the past few decades, humanity has been able to do the impossible - to break the law and escape from the "jungle". We have created a liberal world order based on rules, which, despite many shortcomings, has allowed us to enter the most prosperous and peaceful era in human history. The very understanding of the word “peace” has changed; now this is not a temporary absence of war, but its improbability.
Now in the world there are many countries that are almost impossible to imagine fighting against each other next year. For example, France and Germany. In some areas of the world, of course, there is a war, but this should not distort the world picture. Now during the fighting, less dies than from suicide, and gunpowder is less dangerous than sugar. Most countries, with some exceptions, such as Russia, do not even dream of conquering and annexing their neighbors, so most countries can afford to spend only 2% of GDP on defense and spend much more on education and health.
This is not a jungle. Unfortunately, we are so used to this wonderful situation that we take it for granted, which means we have become extremely careless. Instead of doing everything in our power to strengthen the fragile world order, countries neglect it and even specifically oppose it.
The world order now looks like a house in which everyone lives, but no one is fixing it. It can last a few more years, but if we continue in the same vein, it will collapse and we will return to the “jungle”.
We forgot what it is, but believe me as a historian, you do not want to return there. There is much worse than you think. Yes, our species has evolved in this “jungle” - and even flourished for thousands of years, but having returned there with new technologies of the 21st century, we will most likely destroy ourselves. Of course, even if we disappear, it will not be the end of the world. Something will survive us, for example, rats, which in due time will be able to restore civilization. Maybe the rats will then be able to learn from our mistakes, but I believe more in the hope of world leaders, and not of rats.
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