21 Lessons for the 21st Century is truly a depressing, disturbing, frightening book. If Mr. Harari is right, the 21st century is not something I want to experience. As challenging as things are right now, he predicts they will get much worse in so many ways. If he is right, there is virtually nothing we can do about it. (I sincerely hope he is dead wrong.)
The first section of this book is called The Technological Challenge. It is horrific. I attended a conference in March at which a speaker on Artificial Intelligence predicted that large percentages of jobs that exist today would be gone in the next 7-15 years. Mr. Harari agrees, but says it will not stop there. He predicts constant and continuing disruption in the job market for the foreseeable future, such that most people will not have jobs at all (because many jobs will be replaced by machines, and the few jobs that exist will be too sophisticated for most people to do), and those that do have jobs will have to reinvent themselves every few years (which will screw up their mental health). Cheap unskilled labor will be worthless. How will people survive? He talks about universal basic income, but that is challenging to implement, especially where it may be most needed. After all, could people agree on what is basic? And what is universal?
What will give purpose to people’s lives? Why will people want to get up in the morning if there is no meaningful work (or even unmeaningful work)?
Bad as that is, it was not the worst thing he predicts. He thinks humans will give up any illusion of free will and personal decision-making (he argues that we do not really have free will anyway, that we are controlled by our biology), and all our decisions will be made for us by algorithms. We will all be required to wear biometric sensors that are monitored by tech companies, insurance companies, the government, etc. They will know everything we do, and everything we do can be manipulated. Humans will end up like domesticated farm animals. As overreaching as the tech companies are today, things will get worse (even worse than China and its existing social credit system, which is scary already).
There will be even worse economic inequality than today. And people will have no way to fight back, because they are essentially irrelevant. Machines and AI (and the rich people who own them) will control everything. The average person will have no power even over his or her own life.
The author also tears down anything we might believe in or anything that might give our lives meaning today, whether it be religion, education, knowledge, philosophy, one’s nation, creativity, art, music, etc.
His personal solution appears to be his two hours a day of meditation (which is his last chapter). Two hours a day!! That sounds unbearable to me!
Basically, he appears to predict that we will all end up a lot like the Borg on Star Trek: The Next Generation. We will be part of a collective, and “Resistance is futile.”
My response to this is:
1. I hope he is dead wrong about the future.
2. If he is right, I am glad I am as old as I am, so I will not have to live through all of this. It sounds miserable.
3. I am going to focus on enjoying every minute of my life right now, as “these are the good old days”. Whether or not he is right about the future, that is a good strategy! For now, we can still make our own choices about our own lives.