The New Yorker February 17 & 24, 2020 pp48-59. Profiles “The Really Big Picture”. “Yuval Noah Harari, the author of ‘Sapiens’, suggests that many of our political struggles barely matter” by Ian Parker.
Initially published by Yuval Harari in Hebrew as “A Brief History of Humankind” the non-fiction work became “Sapiens” an international best seller. According to Harari, three key revolutions shaped our world; the cognitive revolution (t-70,000 years), the agricultural revolution (t-12,000 years) and the scientific revolution (t-500 years). “History teaches us that what seems to be just around the corner may never materialize” but because of advances in computing, computing power, robotics and biological engineering “we may be fast approaching a new singularity, when all the concepts that give meaning to the world-me, you, men, women, love and hate-will become irrelevant”. Using these technologies corporations and governments may come to know us better than we know ourselves. “A life under such scrutiny,…is liable to become ‘one long, stressing job interview'".
Harari’s mission statement is “Keep your eyes on the ball. Focus on the main global problems facing humanity”. “Learn to distinguish reality from illusion and care about suffering”. According to Harari, “humanity faces three primary threats: nuclear war, ecological collapse and technological disruption”. He is particularly concerned about artificial intelligence (AI) overcoming our own “mental autonomy”. “Think about a situation where someone in Beijing or San Francisco knows what every citizen in Israel is doing at every moment…”. The world we will be controlled by those that can marshal data. “A government that can see your blood boiling during a leader’s speech can identify you as a dissident.” Harari learned much from Buddhism about the “basic realities of the universe”; 1) everything changes, 2) nothing “has any enduring essence”, 3) nothing is completely satisfying and 4) the “inevitability of suffering”.
Harari developed a simple equation summarizing the dangers facing us today; B*C*D=AHH or BiologicalKnowledge*ComputingPower*Data=Ability to Hack Humans. An example might be applying this to art. “If we think about art as kind of playing on the human emotional keyboard, then I think AI will very soon revolutionize art completely”. Harari believes these tools have been available but not generally pursued as free governments were largely not interested and they would have faced pushback. He cautions though there’s evidence for misuse in places like Israel and China. So, the keys are twofold, know thyself better than AI could know you and avoid becoming a country that exploits these technologies to control humanity.