🔖How would I describe this book in 1 sentence?
Educative and extremely thought-provoking read about what had been happening to humanity, the current state of humanity, and where humanity is headed.
🗺️What was the role of this book in my journey?
I was seeking a read to have a break from productivity/management related books and this book was highly suggested to me by multiple sources.
In this book, I found meaningful and scientifically-approached answers to the questions I had been curious about since young age. I developed clarity on the aspects such as religion, the human brain, future, biotech, politics, and history. I found the historical aspects highlighted in this book extremely interesting and the parallels drawn between different time periods fascinating.
After reading this book, I gained perspective on the important topics that I haven't paid attention to previously. It impacted my prioritization and life perception.
- 3 biggest enemies of mankind: Famine, Pandemics, and War had been almost conquered by the humans in the 21st century. So what's next? 3 primary objectives of humanity for the future: Immortality, Happiness, and Divinity
- For the first time in history, more people die today from eating too much than from eating too little; more people die from old age than from infectious diseases; and more people commit suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists, and criminals combined.
- Previously the main sources of wealth were material assets such as gold mines, wheat fields, and oil wells. Today the main source of wealth is knowledge
- The world is ruled by the most efficiently organized groups of people.
- Gods, nations, corporations are likely comparable as fictional but highly believable entities by all characteristics.
- People live in imaginary worlds and follow intersubjective beliefs. Smart elites rule masses by creating gods, nations, and corporations.
- Governments can't keep up with the developments in technology and underlying algorithms behind it. Soon the technological corporations might become the most powerful organizations in the world
- The key to happiness is neither the race nor the gold medal, but rather combining the right doses of excitement and tranquility; but most of us tend to jump all the way from stress to boredom and back, remaining as discontented with one as with the other.
- Up till now increasing human power relied mainly on upgrading our external tools. In the future it may rely more on upgrading the human body and mind, or on merging directly with our tools
- Every day millions of people decide to grant their smartphone a bit more control over their lives or try a new and more effective antidepressant drug. In pursuit of health, happiness and power, humans will gradually change first one of their features and then another, and another, until they will no longer be human.
- Medicine almost always begins by saving people from falling below the norm, but the same tools and know-how can then be used to surpass the norm. Medicine is undergoing a tremendous conceptual revolution:
- 20th century aimed to heal the sick
- 21st will increasingly aim to upgrade the healthy
1. Humans will lose their economic and military usefulness, hence the economic and political system will stop attaching much value to them. 2. The system will still find value in humans collectively, but not in unique individuals. 3. The system will still find value in some unique individuals, but these will be a new elite of upgraded superhumans rather than the mass of the population.
- Do not take "It has been always like this" for granted. Free yourself from values, beliefs, and biases imposed by distant history
- Understand the current scientific, technological, and economical realities and stay informed of new developments
- To achieve big and ambitious goals, dedicate a lot of time to organizing an effective group of people
- Learn to develop personal resilience and emotional intelligence
- Use the power of official records, documents, and statements to demonstrate your point and get to agreements on a corporate level
- Record your experiences in a way they can be processed by computer algorithms and transformed into systems
- Utilize verified technological and biotechnological developments to increase life satisfaction and longevity
- When facing a choice about learning something new, ask: "Will it still be practical in 10 years?". If the answer is no, seek other types of knowledge
More Facts and Insights
- The main cause of the extinction of Native Americans was epidemics
- During the 1770s, smallpox killed at least 30% of the West Coast Native Americans
- Terrorists are like a fly that tries to destroy a china shop. The fly is so weak that it cannot budge even a single teacup. So it finds a bull, gets inside its ear and starts buzzing. The bull goes wild with fear and anger, and destroys the china shop
- The rival squirrels, who felt hungry again five minutes after eating a nut, had much better chances of surviving and passing their genes to the next generation. For exactly the same reason, the nuts we humans seek to gather – lucrative jobs, big houses, good-looking partners – seldom satisfy us for long
- Once stem-cell research enables us to create an unlimited supply of human embryos on the cheap, you can select your optimal baby from among hundreds of candidates, all carrying your DNA, all perfectly natural, and none requiring any futuristic genetic engineering
- Altogether about 200,000 wild wolves still roam the earth, but there are more than 400 million domesticated dogs.1 The world contains 40,000 lions compared to 600 million house cats; 900,000 African buffalo versus 1.5 billion domesticated cows; 50 million penguins and 20 billion chickens. At present, more than 90 percent of the large animals of the world (i.e., those weighing more than a few pounds) are either humans or domesticated animals.
- Basic lesson of evolutionary psychology: a need shaped thousands of generations ago continues to be felt subjectively even if it is no longer necessary for survival and reproduction in the present
- The founding idea of humanist religions such as liberalism, communism and Nazism is that Homo sapiens has some unique and sacred essence that is the source of all meaning and authority in the universe. Everything that happens in the cosmos is judged to be good or bad according to its impact on Homo sapiens
- Current orthodoxy holds that consciousness is created by electrochemical reactions in the brain, and that mental experiences fulfil some essential data-processing function. However, nobody has any idea how a congeries of biochemical reactions and electrical currents in the brain creates the subjective experience of pain, anger or love. Jet engines roar loudly, but the noise doesn’t propel the airplane forward. Humans don’t need carbon dioxide, but each and every breath fills the air with more of the stuff. Similarly, consciousness may be a kind of mental pollution produced by the firing of complex neural networks. It doesn’t do anything. It is just there
- Objective, subjective, and intersubjective levels of perception. Most people presume that reality is either objective or subjective and that there is no third option. Hence once they satisfy themselves that something isn’t just their own subjective feeling, they jump to the conclusion it must be objective. If lots of people believe in God; if money makes the world go round; and if nationalism starts wars and builds empires – then these things aren’t just a subjective belief of mine. God, money, and nations must therefore be objective realities. However, there is a third level of reality: the intersubjective level. Intersubjective entities depend on communication among many humans rather than on the beliefs and feelings of individual humans. Many of the most important agents in history are intersubjective. Money, for example, has no objective value. You cannot eat, drink or wear a dollar bill. Yet as long as billions of people believe in its value, you can use it to buy food, beverages, and clothing.
- Why does a particular action – such as getting married in church, fasting on Ramadan or voting on election day – seem meaningful to me? Because my parents also think it is meaningful, as do my brothers, my neighbors, people in nearby cities and even the residents of far-off countries. And why do all these people think it is meaningful? Because their friends and neighbors also share the same view. People constantly reinforce each other’s beliefs in a self-perpetuating loop
- Each and every one of us has been born into a given historical reality, ruled by particular norms and values, and managed by a unique economic and political system. We take this reality for granted, thinking it is natural, inevitable, and immutable. We forget that our world was created by an accidental chain of events and that history shaped not only our technology, politics, and society, but also our thoughts, fears, and dreams. The cold hand of the past emerges from the grave of our ancestors, grips us by the neck, and directs our gaze towards a single future. We have felt that grip from the moment we were born, so we assume that it is a natural and inescapable part o who we are. Therefore we seldom try to shake ourselves free and envision alternative futures.
- Studying history aims to loosen the grip of the past. It enables us to turn our head this way and that, and begin to notice possibilities that our ancestors could not imagine, or didn’t want us to imagine. By observing the accidental chain of events that led us here, we realize how our very thoughts and dreams took shape — and we can begin to think and dream differently. Studying history will not tell us what to choose, but at least it gives us more options.
- This is the best reason to learn history: not in order to predict the future but to free yourself of the past and imagine alternative destinies. Of course, this is not total freedom — we cannot avoid being shaped by the past. But some freedom is better than none.
- Scribes in ancient Egypt devoted most of their time to reading, writing and calculating. Their daily reality consisted of ink marks on papyrus scrolls, which determined who owned which field, how much an ox cost and what yearly taxes peasants had to pay. A scribe could decide the fate of an entire village with a stroke of his stylus.
- The vast majority of people remained illiterate until the modern age, but the all-important administrators increasingly saw reality through the medium of written texts. For this literate elite – whether in ancient Egypt or in twentieth-century Europe – anything written on a piece of paper was at least as real as trees, oxen, and human beings.
- Prior to the invention of writing, stories were confined by the limited capacity of human brains. You couldn’t invent overly complex stories that people couldn’t remember. With writing, you could suddenly create extremely long and intricate stories, which were stored on tablets and papyri rather than in human heads. No ancient Egyptian remembered all of the pharaoh’s lands, taxes, and tithes; Elvis Presley never even read all the contracts signed in his name; no living soul is familiar with all the laws and regulations of the European Union; and no banker or CIA agent tracks down every dollar in the world. Yet all of these minutiae are written somewhere, and the assemblage of relevant documents defines the identity and power of pharaoh, Elvis, the EU, and the dollar
- Many people argue that the great building projects of ancient Egypt – all the dams and reservoirs and pyramids – must have been built by aliens from outer space. How else could a culture lacking even wheels and iron accomplish such wonders? The truth is very different. Egyptians built Lake Fayum and the pyramids not thanks to extraterrestrial help, but thanks to superb organisational skills. Relying on thousands of literate bureaucrats, pharaoh recruited tens of thousands of labourers and enough food to maintain them for years on end. When tens of thousands of labourers cooperate for several decades, they can build an artificial lake or a pyramid even with stone tools.
- When in due course the Europeans penetrated the African interior, armed with their agreed-upon map, they discovered that many of the borders drawn in Berlin did little justice to the geographic, economic and ethnic reality of Africa. However, to avoid renewed clashes, the invaders stuck to their agreements, and these imaginary lines became the actual borders of European colonies. During the second half of the twentieth century, as the European empires disintegrated and their colonies gained independence, the new countries accepted the colonial borders, fearing that the alternative would be endless wars and conflicts.
- Our modern education systems provide numerous examples of reality kowtowing to written records. When measuring the width of my desk, the yardstick I am using matters little. The width of my desk remains the same whether I say it is 200 centimetres or 78.74 inches. However, when bureaucracies measure people, the yardsticks they choose make all the difference. When schools began assessing people according to precise numerical marks, the lives of millions of students and teachers changed dramatically Originally, schools were supposed to focus on enlightening and educating students, and marks were merely a means of measuring success. But naturally enough schools soon began focusing on achieving high marks. As every child, teacher and inspector knows, the skills required to get high marks in an exam are not the same as a true understanding of literature, biology or mathematics. Every child, teacher and inspector also knows that when forced to choose between the two, most schools will go for the marks. The system has sufficient authority to influence admission standards to colleges and hiring standards in government offices and in the private sector. Students therefore invest all their efforts in getting good marks. Coveted positions are occupied by people with high marks, who naturally support the system that brought them there. The fact that the education system controls the critical exams gives it more power, and increases its influence over colleges, government offices and the job market. If somebody protests that ‘The degree certificate is just a piece of paper!’ and behaves accordingly, he is unlikely to get very far in life. The key question, though, is whether this is the right yardstick for measuring success. A school principal would say: ‘Our system works. During the last five years, exam results have risen by 7.3 per cent.’ Yet is that the best way to judge a school?
- When examining the history of any human network, it is therefore advisable to stop from time to time and look at things from the perspective of some real entity. How do you know if an entity is real? Very simple – just ask yourself, ‘Can it suffer?’ When people burn down the temple of Zeus, Zeus doesn’t suffer. When the euro loses its value, the euro doesn’t suffer. When a bank goes bankrupt, the bank doesn’t suffer. When a country suffers a defeat in war, the country doesn’t really suffer. It’s just a metaphor. In contrast, when a soldier is wounded in battle, he really does suffer. When a famished peasant has nothing to eat, she suffers. When a cow is separated from her newborn calf, she suffers. This is reality.
- It is often said that God helps those who help themselves. This is a roundabout way of saying that God doesn’t exist, but if our belief in Him inspires us to do something ourselves – it helps. Antibiotics, unlike God, help even those who don’t help themselves. They cure infections whether you believe in them or not.
- Religion cannot be equated with superstition, because most people are unlikely to call their most cherished beliefs ‘superstitions’. We always believe in ‘the truth’; only other people believe in superstitions.
- Stability and tranquility stagnates growth and development. If you had travelled to Cairo or Istanbul around 1600, you would find there a multicultural and tolerant metropolis, where Sunnis, Shiites, Orthodox Christians, Catholics, Armenians, Copts, Jews and even the occasional Hindu lived side by side in relative harmony. Though they had their share of disagreements and riots, and though the Ottoman Empire routinely discriminated against people on religious grounds, it was a liberal paradise compared with Europe. If you had then sailed on to contemporary Paris or London, you would have found cities awash with religious extremism, in which only those belonging to the dominant sect could live. In London they killed Catholics, in Paris they killed Protestants, the Jews had long been driven out, and nobody in his right mind would dream of letting any Muslims in. And yet, the Scientific Revolution began in London and Paris rather than in Cairo and Istanbul.
- Modernity is a surprisingly simple deal. The entire contract can be summarized in a single phrase: humans agree to give up meaning in exchange for power.
- In medieval Europe, the chief formula for knowledge was: Knowledge = Scriptures × Logic. If people wanted to know the answer to an important question, they would read scriptures and use their logic to understand the exact meaning of the text. The Scientific Revolution proposed a very different formula for knowledge: Knowledge = Empirical Data × Mathematics. If we want to know the answer to some question, we need to gather relevant empirical data, and then use mathematical tools to analyse them. As humans gained confidence in themselves, a new formula for acquiring ethical knowledge appeared: Knowledge = Experiences × Sensitivity. If we wish to know the answer to any ethical question, we need to connect to our inner experiences, and observe them with the utmost sensitivity. In practice, this means that we seek knowledge by spending years collecting experiences, and sharpening our sensitivity so we can understand these experiences correctly.
- There are 2 essential components of every religion: Ethical Judgements and Factual Statements. They are present in each conflict related to religion and/or science.
- The idea of free will is under question. If, thanks to its fit genes, an animal chooses to eat a nutritious mushroom and copulate with healthy and fertile mates, these genes pass on to the next generation. If, because of unfit genes, an animal opts for poisonous mushrooms and anaemic mates, these genes become extinct. However, if an animal ‘freely’ chooses what to eat and with whom to mate, then natural selection has nothing to work with. If by ‘free will’ we mean the ability to act according to our desires – then yes, humans have free will, and so do chimpanzees, dogs and parrots. When Polly wants a cracker, Polly eats a cracker. But the million-dollar question is not whether parrots and humans can act upon their inner desires – the question is whether they can choose their desires in the first place.
- Scientists observing neural activity in the brain can predict which switch the person will press well before the person actually does so, and even before the person is aware of their own intention. When a biochemical chain reaction makes me desire to press the right switch, I feel that I really want to press the right switch. And this is true. I really do want to press it. Yet people erroneously jump to the conclusion that if I want to press it, I choose to want to. This is of course false. I don’t choose my desires. I only feel them, and act accordingly.
- The single authentic self is as real as the eternal soul, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. If I look really deep within myself, the seeming unity that I take for granted dissolves into a cacophony of conflicting voices, none of which is ‘my true self’. Humans aren’t individuals. They are ‘dividuals’.
- The human brain consists of 2 parts (right hemisphere and left hemisphere) and at least 2 selves: experiencing self and narrating self.
- In an experiment the non-verbal right hemisphere was shown a pornographic image. The patient reacted by blushing and giggling. ‘What did you see?’ asked the mischievous researchers. ‘Nothing, just a flash of light,’ said the left hemisphere, and the patient immediately giggled again, covering her mouth with her hand. ‘Why are you laughing then?’ they insisted. The bewildered left-hemisphere interpreter – struggling for some rational explanation – replied that one of the machines in the room looked very funny.
- What do the patients prefer: to have a short and sharp colonoscopy, or a long and careful one? There isn’t a single answer to this question, because the patient has at least two different selves and they have different interests. If you ask the experiencing self, it would probably choose a short colonoscopy. But if you ask the narrating self, it would prefer a long colonoscopy because it remembers only the average between the worst moment and the last moment. Indeed, from the viewpoint of the narrating self, the doctor should add a few completely superfluous minutes of dull aches at the very end of the test, because it would make the entire memory far less traumatic.
- Intelligence and consciousness - the key components of human identity. Machines can be more intelligent than humans, but they will not be as conscious.
- In the twenty-first century liberalism will have a much harder time selling itself. As the masses lose their economic importance, will the moral argument alone be enough to protect human rights and liberties? Will elites and governments go on valuing every human being even when it pays no economic dividends. At least for armies and corporations, the answer is straightforward: intelligence is mandatory but consciousness is optional.
- In the twenty-first century the majority of both men and women might lose their military and economic value. Gone is the mass conscription of the two world wars. The most advanced armies of the twenty-first century rely far more on cutting-edge technology. Instead of limitless cannon fodder, you now need only small numbers of highly trained soldiers, even smaller numbers of special forces super-warriors and a handful of experts who know how to produce and use sophisticated technology. Hi-tech forces ‘manned’ by pilotless drones and cyber-worms are replacing the mass armies of the twentieth century, and generals delegate more and more critical decisions to algorithms.
- The training of a human doctor is a complicated and expensive process that lasts years. When the process is complete, after a decade or so of studies and internships, all you get is one doctor. If you want two doctors, you have to repeat the entire process from scratch. In contrast, if and when you solve the technical problems hampering Watson (computer doctor development by IBM), you will get not one, but an infinite number of doctors, available 24/7 in every corner of the world.
- In its first year of operation, the robotic pharmacist provided 2 million prescriptions, without making a single mistake.
- The most important question in twenty-first-century economics may well be what to do with all the superfluous people. What will conscious humans do, once we have highly intelligent non-conscious algorithms that can do almost everything better?
- In 2004 Professor Frank Levy from MIT and Professor Richard Murnane from Harvard published thorough research of the job market, listing those professions most likely to undergo automation. Truck driving was given as an example of a job that could not possibly be automated in the foreseeable future. It is hard to imagine, they wrote, that algorithms could safely drive trucks on a busy road. A mere ten years later Google and Tesla can not only imagine this, but are actually making it happen.
- The third threat to liberalism is that some people will remain both indispensable and undecipherable, but they will constitute a small and privileged elite of upgraded humans.
- Techno-humanism agrees that Homo sapiens as we know it has run its historical course and will no longer be relevant in the future, but concludes that we should therefore use technology in order to create Homo Deus – a much superior human model.
- Modern humanity is sick with FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out – and though we have more choice than ever before, we have lost the ability to really pay attention to whatever we choose.
- The number one humanist commandment – listen to yourself! – is no longer self-evident. As we learn to turn our inner volume up and down, we give up our belief in authenticity, because it is no longer clear whose hand is on the switch. Silencing annoying noises inside my head seems like a wonderful idea, provided it enables me to finally hear my deep authentic self. But if there is no authentic self, how do I decide which voices to silence and which to amplify?
- Science is converging on an all-encompassing dogma, which says that
- Organisms are algorithms and life is data processing.
- Intelligence is decoupling from consciousness.
- Non-conscious but highly intelligent algorithms may soon know us better than we know ourselves.
- These three processes raise three key questions:
- Are organisms really just algorithms, and is life really just data processing?
- What’s more valuable – intelligence or consciousness?
- What will happen to society, politics and daily life when non-conscious but highly intelligent algorithms know us better than we know ourselves?
Take abortion, for example. Devout Christians often oppose abortion, whereas many liberals support it. The main bone of contention is factual rather than ethical. Both Christians and liberals believe that human life is sacred, and that murder is a heinous crime. But they disagree about certain biological facts: does human life begin at the moment of conception, at the moment of birth or at some intermediate point?
When we descend from the ethereal sphere of philosophy and observe historical realities, we find that religious stories almost always include three parts:
Ethical judgements, such as ‘human life is sacred’.
Factual statements, such as ‘human life begins at the moment of conception’.
A conflation of the ethical judgements with the factual statements, resulting in practical guidelines such as ‘you should never allow abortion, even a single day after conception’.
Dataism As New Religion
- Dataism declares that the universe consists of data flows, and the value of any phenomenon or entity is determined by its contribution to data processing.
- Dataism puts the two together, pointing out that exactly the same mathematical laws apply to both biochemical and electronic algorithms. Dataism thereby collapses the barrier between animals and machines, and expects electronic algorithms to eventually decipher and outperform biochemical algorithms.
- Dataists are sceptical about human knowledge and wisdom, and prefer to put their trust in Big Data and computer algorithms.
- Data-processing considerations also explain why capitalists favour lower taxes. Heavy taxation means that a large part of all available capital accumulates in one place – the state coffers – and consequently more and more decisions have to be made by a single processor, namely the government.
- From a Dataist perspective, we may interpret the entire human species as a single data-processing system, with individual humans serving as its chips. If so, we can also understand the whole of history as a process of improving the efficiency of this system through four basic methods:
- Increasing the number of processors.
- Increasing the variety of processors.
- Increasing the number of connections between processors.
- Increasing the freedom of movement along existing connections.
- If humankind is indeed a single data-processing system, what is its output? Dataists would say that its output will be the creation of a new and even more efficient data-processing system, called the Internet-of-All-Things. Once this mission is accomplished, Homo sapiens will vanish.
- According to this view, the stock exchange is the fastest and most efficient data-processing system humankind has so far created. Everyone is welcome to join, if not directly then through their banks or pension funds. The stock exchange runs the global economy, and takes into account everything that happens all over the planet – and even beyond it. Prices are influenced by successful scientific experiments, by political scandals in Japan, by volcanic eruptions in Iceland and even by irregular activities on the surface of the sun. In order for the system to run smoothly, as much information as possible needs to flow as freely as possible. When millions of people throughout the world have access to all the relevant information, they determine the most accurate price of oil, of Hyundai shares and of Swedish government bonds by buying and selling them. It has been estimated that the stock exchange needs just fifteen minutes of trade to determine the influence of a New York Times headline on the prices of most shares
Story of Clever Horse
In the early 1900s, a horse called Clever Hans became a German celebrity. Touring Germany’s towns and villages, Hans showed off a remarkable grasp of the German language, and an even more remarkable mastery of mathematics. When asked, ‘Hans, what is four times three?’ Hans tapped his hoof twelve times. When shown a written message asking, ‘What is twenty minus eleven?’ Hans tapped nine times, with commendable Prussian precision. In 1904 the German board of education appointed a special scientific commission headed by a psychologist to look into the matter. The thirteen members of the commission – which included a circus manager and a veterinarian – were convinced this must be a scam, but despite their best efforts they couldn’t uncover any fraud or subterfuge. Even when Hans was separated from his owner, and complete strangers presented him with the questions, Hans still got most of the answers right. In 1907 the psychologist Oskar Pfungst began another investigation that finally revealed the truth. It turned out that Hans got the answers right by carefully observing the body language and facial expressions of his interlocutors. When Hans was asked what is four times three, he knew from past experience that the human was expecting him to tap his hoof a given number of times. He began tapping, while closely monitoring the human. As Hans approached the correct number of taps the human became more and more tense, and when Hans tapped the right number, the tension reached its peak. Hans knew how to recognise this by the human’s body posture and the look on the human’s face. He then stopped tapping, and watched how tension was replaced by amazement or laughter. Hans knew he had got it right. Clever Hans is often given as an example of the way humans erroneously humanise animals, ascribing to them far more amazing abilities than they actually possess. In fact, however, the lesson is just the opposite. The story demonstrates that by humanising animals we usually underestimate animal cognition and ignore the unique abilities of other creatures. As far as maths goes, Hans was hardly a genius. Any eight-year-old kid could do much better. However, in his ability to deduce emotions and intentions from body language, Hans was a true genius. If a Chinese person were to ask me in Mandarin what is four times three, there is no way that I could correctly tap my foot twelve times simply by observing facial expressions and body language. Clever Hans enjoyed this ability because horses normally communicate with each other through body language. What was remarkable about Hans, however, is that he could use the method to decipher the emotions and intentions not only of his fellow horses, but also of unfamiliar humans.
Story of AI That Creates Classical Music
David Cope is a musicology professor at the University of California in Santa Cruz. He is also one of the more controversial figures in the world of classical music. Cope has written programs that compose concertos, chorales, symphonies and operas. His first creation was named EMI (Experiments in Musical Intelligence), which specialised in imitating the style of Johann Sebastian Bach. It took seven years to create the program, but once the work was done, EMI composed 5,000 chorales à la Bach in a single day. Cope arranged a performance of a few select chorales in a music festival at Santa Cruz. Enthusiastic members of the audience praised the wonderful performance, and explained excitedly how the music touched their innermost being. They didn’t know it was composed by EMI rather than Bach, and when the truth was revealed, some reacted with glum silence, while others shouted in anger. EMI continued to improve, and learned to imitate Beethoven, Chopin, Rachmaninov and Stravinsky. Cope got EMI a contract, and its first album – Classical Music Composed by Computer – sold surprisingly well. Publicity brought increasing hostility from classical-music buffs. Professor Steve Larson from the University of Oregon sent Cope a challenge for a musical showdown. Larson suggested that professional pianists play three pieces one after the other: one by Bach, one by EMI, and one by Larson himself. The audience would then be asked to vote who composed which piece. Larson was convinced people would easily tell the difference between soulful human compositions, and the lifeless artefact of a machine. Cope accepted the challenge. On the appointed date, hundreds of lecturers, students and music fans assembled in the University of Oregon’s concert hall. At the end of the performance, a vote was taken. The result? The audience thought that EMI’s piece was genuine Bach, that Bach’s piece was composed by Larson, and that Larson’s piece was produced by a computer.
Growth on a Finite Planet
Modern politicians and economists insist that growth is vital for 3 principal reasons:
- Firstly when we produce more, we consume more, raise our standard of living and live a happier life
- Secondly, as long as humankind multiplies, economic growth is needed merely to stay where we are
- Thirdly, we need growth to grow the pie for the poor
The obsession with economic growth might appear self-evident, but only because we live in the modern world.
Yet can the economy actually grow forever? Won’t it eventually run out of resources?
In order to rely on perpetual growth we must somehow discover an inexhaustible store of resources. One solution is to conquer new lands, however there are only so many islands and continents on Earth. We can conquer new planets, but that’s too far away, so we need a better method of expanding.
There are three kinds of resources to grow the economy – raw materials, energy and knowledge. With each passing generation science helps us discover new sources of energy or raw material, better machinery or production methods.
In order to provide every person in the world with the same standard of living as affluent Americans we would need a few more planets
But we only have this one.
If progress and growth do end up destroying the ecosystem, the cost will be dear to all species. An ecological meltdown will cause economic ruin, and might even threaten the existence of human civilisation. We could lessen the danger by slowing the pace of progress and growth.
If this year investors expect 6% return on their portfolios, in 10 years they could learn to be satisfied with 3%, in 20 years 1%, and then the economy will stop growing, yet the creed of growth rejects this idea.
Humankind finds itself locked in a double race. On one hand, we feel compelled to speed up scientific progress and economic growth.
A billion Chinese and Indians want to live like middle class Americans, and they see no reason why they should put their dreams on hold when the Americans are unwilling to give up their SUVs and shopping malls.
On the other hand, we must stay at least one step ahead of ecological Armageddon. Managing the double race becomes more difficult year by year, because every stride the Delhi slum dwellers get closer to the American Dream, it brings the planet closer to the brink.
In 2015 more ambitious targets were set in the Paris Agreement, which calls limiting temperature increases to 1.5 degrees. But many of the painful steps to reach this goal have conveniently been postponed to after 2030, effectively passing the hot potato to the next generation.
Current administrations are able to reap immediate political benefits from looking green, while the heavy political price of reducing emissions and slowing growth is bequeathed to future administrations.
Why Capitalism Will Never Stop
From its belief in the supreme value of growth, capitalism deduces its number one commandment: thou shalt invest thy profits in increasing growth. For most of history princes and priests wasted their profits on flamboyant carnivals, sumptuous palaces and unnecessary wars. Alternatively, they put gold coins in an iron chest, sealed it and buried it in a dungeon. Today, devout capitalists use their profits to hire new employees, enlarge the factory or develop a new product.
If they don’t know how to do it themselves, they give their money to somebody who does, such as bankers and venture capitalists. The latter lend the money to various entrepreneurs. Farmers take loans to plant new wheat fields, contractors build new houses, energy corporations explore new oil fields, and arms factories develop new weapons. The profits from all these activities enable the entrepreneurs to repay the loans with interest. We now have not only more wheat, houses, oil and weapons – but also more money, which the banks and funds can again lend. This wheel will never stop, at least not according to capitalism. We will never reach a moment when capitalism says: ‘That’s it. You have grown enough. You can now take it easy.’ If you want to know why the capitalist wheel is unlikely ever to stop, talk for an hour with a friend who has just earned $100,000 and wonders what to do with it. ‘The banks offer such low interest rates,’ he would complain. ‘I don’t want to put my money in a savings account that pays hardly 0.5 per cent a year. You can make perhaps 2 per cent in government bonds. My cousin Richie bought a flat in Seattle last year, and he has already made 20 per cent on his investment! Maybe I should go into real estate too; but everybody is saying there’s a new real-estate bubble. So what do you think about the stock exchange? A friend told me the best deal these days is to buy an ETF that follows emerging economies, like Brazil or China.’ As he stops for a moment to breathe, you ask, ‘Well, why not just be satisfied with your $100,000?’ He will explain to you better than I can why capitalism will never stop.
- Humans will become Gods. Homo Sapiens (wise humans) is evolving into Homo Deus (god humans) with god-like mastery over our environment and the ability to create (and destroy) life.
- Wellness and Wellbeing will Dominate. With problems of human survival (pandemics, famine and violence) solved, humans will increasingly focus on the god-like pursuits of chasing immortality (wellness) and enduring happiness (wellbeing). Google’s Calico offshoot has the modest mission to solve the problem of immortality.
- The Rise of the “Useless Class”. The cost of upgrading the human condition will be expensive and reserved for a tiny elite. Meanwhile, the masses will see jobs disappear as they are replaced by ever more effective and ever more efficient technology. Unlike the lumpen proletariat of yesteryear, the new “useless class” will not even be able to sell their labour.
- The Death of Humanism. The dominant religion of the early 21st Century – humanism (celebrating human intelligence, human experience (sensations, emotions and thoughts) and human values) – will be eroded by advances in science and technology. Specifically, the human sciences will challenge the human superiority and human exceptionalism that is implicit in humanism, including erroneous beliefs in the uniqueness of human sentience (feelings), human sapience (reason) and free-will. We are just animals with a God-complex.
- For Harari, the implications for human democracy, human freedom and human rights will be significant. Think of the challenges to humanist politics (the voter knows best), humanist economics (the customer is always right), humanist aesthetics (beauty is in the eye of the beholder), humanist ethics (if it feels good – do it!) and humanist education (think for yourself!).
- Famine, War, and Disease do not affect humanity anymore, but it does affect humans.
- Humans will focus on advancement on new goals: Immortality, Happiness, and, ultimately, Divinity.
- To complete these goals, we will upgrade from Homo-Sapiens through biological, cybernetic or/and inorganic engineering.
- We demand growth and improvement.
- We owe much to religion for improving our lives, but Science is disputing it, arguing its non-ethical fact based rules.
- New structures for growth began, in the form of Socialism, Fascism, and Liberalism — the latter being most compatible with growth.
- Liberalism will undergo the same fate as religion, as science goes on to prove that non-ethical fact based rules are false, such as a free will.
- As Liberalism’s ideas are questioned by science, a new types of dogma for growth will start.
- These dogmas will be concerned with either expanding what humans can understand, do and process, or it will skip humans altogether and simply focus on processing data by way of increasing life.
- Religion served us to organize, Liberalism served us to accelerate tech, something new may take us to the next stage, but the final stage may not need humans.