Derek Sivers

21 Lessons for the 21st Century - by Yuval Noah Harari

21 Lessons for the 21st Century - by Yuval Noah Harari

ISBN: 9780525512172
Date read: 2018-12-15
How strongly I recommend it: 2/10
(See my list of 200+ books, for more.)

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

His book “Sapiens” was amazing, so I read this new one. It’s just some thoughts on our present and near future. Not so different from what you find in every-day articles. I’m personally averse to news commentaries, so I shouldn’t have read this. Still, some interesting ideas, and the last chapter was great.

my notes

I don’t have lessons to teach people in such situations. I can only hope to learn from them.

Philosophers are very patient people, but engineers are far less so, and investors are the least patient of all.

Panic is a form of hubris. It comes from the smug feeling that one knows exactly where the world is heading: down.
Bewilderment is more humble and therefore more clear-sighted.

Computers aren’t individuals, and it is easy to integrate them into a single flexible network.
So compare the abilities of a collection of human individuals to the abilities of an integrated network.

Armed forces need thirty people to operate every unmanned drone. Analyzing the resulting information occupies at least eighty people more.
In 2015 the U.S. Air Force lacked sufficient trained humans to fill all these positions.

It took AlphaZero Four hours to learn chess from scratch, by playing against itself.
Since AlphaZero had learned nothing from any human, many of its winning moves and strategies seemed unconventional.

Government regulation can successfully block new technologies even if they are commercially viable and economically lucrative. For example, for many decades we have had the technology to create a marketplace for human organs, complete with human “body farms” in underdeveloped countries and an almost insatiable demand from desperate affluent buyers. Such body farms could well be worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Yet regulations have prevented free trade in human body parts, and though there is a black market in organs, it is far smaller and more circumscribed than what one might have expected.

In Scandinavia, governments follow the motto “Protect workers, not jobs.”

When people design web pages, they often cater to the taste of the Google search algorithm rather than to the taste of any human being.
The most important customer of all is an algorithm: the Google search algorithm.
If we can just catch the eye of the algorithm, we can take the humans for granted.

Referendums and elections are always about human feelings, not about human rationality.

In the future, people will enjoy the best healthcare in history, but for precisely this reason they will probably be sick all the time. There is always something wrong somewhere in the body. There is always something that can be improved.

Human emotions override philosophical theories.
Seminarians in a rush will ignore people in distress.
This disjunction between the seminary and the road is one of the biggest practical problems in ethics.

Philosophers' skills put into computer algorithms could follow ethical guidelines much better than humans - provided we find a way to code ethics in precise numbers and statistics. If we could teach Kant, Mill, and Rawls to write code, they would be able to program the self-driving car to stop and help strangers in distress.

We have seen too many science-fiction movies about robots rebelling against their human masters, yet they will probably always obey their masters and never rebel.
Since robots have no emotions, they could be trusted to always adhere to the dry letter of the military code, and never be swayed by personal fears and hatreds.
The massacre at My Lai never would have occurred.
Yet if the code is ruthless and cruel, the results will be catastrophic.
A ruthless dictator armed with such killer robots will never have to fear that his soldiers will turn against him, no matter how heartless or crazy his orders.

Humans easily develop loyalty to small intimate groups such as a tribe, but not millions of utter strangers.

Since there is no *national* answer to the problem of global warming, some nationalist politicians prefer to believe the problem does not exist.

They are not racist. They are “culturist.”
Traditional racism is waning, but the world is now full of “culturists.”
Norms and values that are appropriate in one country just don’t work well under different circumstances.
Saying that people tend to commit crimes because they have substandard genes is out; saying that they tend to commit crimes because they come from dysfunctional subcultures is very much in.

Culturist arguments might occasionally make good sense, as in the case of different styles of human relations. Since human relations are crucial to many jobs, is it unethical for a Warmlander firm to penalize Coldians for behaving in accordance with their cultural legacy?

Culturists often confuse local superiority with objective superiority.

If you really want to understand Samoan culture, you will have to pack your bags and visit Samoa.

When you clearly define a yardstick, a time, and a place, culturist claims may well be empirically sound. But all too often people adopt very general culturist claims that make little sense.

The claim is just far too vague. What do we mean by “intolerant”? Intolerant of whom, or what? A culture can be intolerant toward religious minorities and unusual political views while simultaneously being very tolerant toward obese people or the elderly.

Terrorists resemble a fly that tries to destroy a china shop. The fly is so weak that it cannot move even a single teacup. So how does a fly destroy a china shop? It finds a bull, gets inside its ear, and starts buzzing. The bull goes wild with fear and anger, and destroys the china shop. This is what happened after 9/11, as Islamic fundamentalists incited the American bull to destroy the Middle Eastern china shop. Now they flourish in the wreckage. And there is no shortage of short-tempered bulls in the world.

The less political violence in a particular state, the greater the public shock at an act of terrorism.
Killing a few people in Belgium draws far more attention than killing hundreds in Nigeria or Iraq.
Paradoxically, then, the very success of modern states in preventing political violence makes them particularly vulnerable to terrorism.
Citizens have become used to zero political violence. That is why the theater of terror generates visceral fears of anarchy, making people feel as if the social order is about to collapse.

People confidently replied that they understood zippers very well - after all, they use them all the time. They were then asked to describe in as much detail as possible all the steps involved in the zipper’s operation. Most people had no idea.
This is the knowledge illusion.
We think we know a lot, even though individually we know very little, because we treat knowledge in the minds of others as if it were our own.

When a thousand people believe some made-up story for one month, that’s fake news. When a billion people believe it for a thousand years, that’s a religion.

Humans prefer power to truth. We try to control the world than on trying to understand it - and even when we try to understand it, we usually do so in the hope that understanding the world will make it easier to control.

If you want reliable information, pay good money for it. (Paid news sources instead of free.)

If some issue seems exceptionally important to you, make the effort to read the relevant scientific literature.

Whenever you see a movie about an AI in which the AI is female and the scientist is male, it’s probably a movie about feminism rather than cybernetics. For why on earth would an AI have a sex?

Everything you will ever experience in life is within your own mind.
Traveling to Fiji won’t make any difference.
There are not special emotions and feelings that you can have only in Fiji.
Whatever you can feel in Fiji, you can feel anywhere.

The last thing people need is more information.
Instead, people need the ability to make sense of information, to tell the difference between what is important and what is unimportant, and above all to combine many bits of information into a broad picture of the world.
Critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity.
The ability to deal with change, learn new things, and preserve your mental balance in unfamiliar situations - to reinvent yourself again and again.

Immemorial life was divided into two complementary parts: a period of learning followed by a period of working.
In the first part of life you accumulated information, developed skills, constructed a worldview, and built a stable identity.
In the second part of life you relied on your accumulated skills to navigate the world, earn a living, and contribute to society.
You continued to learn, just small tweaks to your well-honed abilities.

“Who am I?” will be a more urgent and complicated question than ever before.
If you try to hold on to some stable identity, job, or worldview, you risk being left behind as the world flies by you with a whoosh.
Past experiences will become less reliable guides.

To survive and flourish in such a world, you will need a lot of mental flexibility and great reserves of emotional balance. You will have to repeatedly let go of some of what you know best, and learn to feel at home with the unknown.

If you don’t know what you want in life, it will be all too easy for technology to shape your aims for you and take control of your life.
As it will become easier to manipulate people’s deepest emotions and desires, and it will become more dangerous than ever to just follow your heart.

Work very hard at getting to know your operating system better - to know what you are and what you want from life.
You have to run faster than the algorithms - get to know yourself before they do.
To run fast, don’t take much baggage with you. Leave all your illusions behind.

When people ask about the meaning of life, they expect to be told a story.
To give meaning to my life, a story needs to satisfy just two conditions.
First, it must give me some role to play.
Second, it must extend beyond my horizons.
The story must provide me with an identity and give meaning to my life by embedding me within something bigger than myself.
It takes surprisingly little to exhaust our imagination.
The meaning of life is thus a bit like playing with a live hand grenade. Once you pass it on to somebody else, you are safe.

When you are in love, by connecting with a single body here and now, you feel connected with the entire cosmos.
If you are really in love with someone, you never worry about the meaning of life.

Any story is wrong, simply for being a story. The universe just does not work like a story.

“Hoc est corpus!” got garbled into “Hocus-pocus!”

Men sacrifice their lives for a colorful ribbon.

If you want to know the ultimate truth of life, rites and rituals are a huge obstacle.
But if you are interested in social stability and harmony, truth is often a liability, whereas rites and rituals are among your best allies.

Most people don’t like to admit that they are fools.
The more they sacrifice for a particular belief, the stronger their faith becomes.

The universe is only a meaningless hodgepodge of atoms. Nothing is inherently beautiful, sacred, or sexy; human feelings make it so.

The real enigma of life is not what happens after you die but what happens before you die.

You want to know what anger is? Well, just observe the sensations that arise and pass through your body while you are angry.
Whenever I was angry, I focused on the object of my anger - something somebody did or said - rather than on the sensory reality of the anger.