Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Uncertain Future

From a review of Yuval Noah Harari's Homo Deus, a book about how genetic manipulation and artificial intelligence will change the future of humanity:
We are just at the start of this process of data-driven transformation and Harari says there is little we can do to stop it. Homo Deus is an “end of history” book, but not in the crude sense that he believes things have come to a stop. Rather the opposite: things are moving so fast that it’s impossible to imagine what the future might hold. In 1800 it was possible to think meaningfully about what the world of 1900 would be like and how we might fit in. That’s history: a sequence of events in which human beings play the leading part. But the world of 2100 is at present almost unimaginable. We have no idea where we’ll fit in, if at all. We may have built a world that has no place for us.

Given what an alarming thought this is, and since we aren’t there yet, why can’t we do more to stop it from happening? Harari thinks the modern belief that individuals are in charge of their fate was never much more than a leap of faith. Real power always resided with networks. Individual human beings are relatively powerless creatures, no match for lions or bears. It’s what they can do as groups that has enabled them to take over the planet. These groupings – corporations, religions, states – are now part of a vast network of interconnected information flows. Finding points of resistance, where smaller units can stand up to the waves of information washing around the globe, is becoming harder all the time.
I share the view that the world of 2100 is simply unimaginable. Part of my mind says that change is always less sweeping than we think, continuity greater;  but the other part says no, it just has always been that way before, and this time it could really be very different.

2 comments:

David said...

I certainly share Harari's thoughts on the future, and in fact it was reading Sapiens, his history of humanity, that in part inspired me in this way of thinking (along with CGP Grey's and Stephen Hawking's ideas on the matter). Sapiens ends with a chapter on the idea of the uncertain future, with one of the possibilities being that humans could become like what we always thought gods were. It sounds like he's taken up that theme in a new book.

G. Verloren said...

One thing is becoming increasing likely - in 2100, a staggering number of major global cities are probably going to be underwater, at the same time that our ability to grow enough food to feed everyone is probably going to be severely destabilized by changing weather patterns and loss of arable land.

And we're currently preparing to let a woefully unqualified known conman and pathological liar take an axe to the only government programs and international agreements we've been able to devise which even have a chance of helping to prevent that future from coming to pass.