The James Altucher Show – Yuval Noah Harari

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Key Takeaways
  • Yuval doesn’t own a smart phone -“I’m trying to conserve my time and attention. It can be such a distraction.”
  • “The most important thing to know about humans in the 21st century, is that we are now hackable animals”
  • “If you don’t get to know yourself better, there is someone out there who will and they are trying to hack you. And it’s not just one person. Amazon is trying to hack you , Google is trying to hack you, and Coca-Cola, and the Russians, and the American government. They are all trying to hack you.”
  • Homo Sapiens control the planet, because we are the only species that can collaborate on large scale –¬†“We can cooperate with millions of strangers, because we all believe in the same fictional stories about Gods, nations, money, and corporations – things that only exist in imagination”
  • Humans have 3 big problems in the 21st century – Nuclear War, Climate Change, and Technological Disruption
  • AI and automation, may just create a useless class
Intro
21 Lessons for the 21st Century
  • Sapiens was about the past, Homo Deus was about the future, and 21 Lessons takes the insights from these books, and brings them to light in the present moment
  • Yuval describes it as a book of questions, a book about things we need to focus on..NOW
  • Bill Gates wrote a great review
Yuval Doesn’t Own a Cell Phone
  • He only has a land line
  • “I’m trying to conserve my time and attention. It can be such a distraction. I wouldn’t have the time to write books if I had a smart phone.”
    • “Attention is maybe the most important resource at present, and smart phones are designed to take over your attention.”
Yuval’s Reading Habits
  • “If I really want to understand something, I try to find a good book about it.”
  • Yuval says he starts a lot of books, but drops 90% of them after 10 pages if he hasn’t learned anything¬†
    • “You need to get some new insight, some new perspective, from the first few pages, or it’s unlikely to come later on
  • On picking books – Try to stick to, and read things that change the way you see the world
The Agricultural Revolution
  • This was actually a negative for the species in many ways
    • Humans began eating more wheat, as opposed to plants/vegetables and animals
    • Wheat domesticated humans, we didn’t domesticate it
  • For most people (peasants and farmers), life actually became harder
    • Physically they were forced to work much more, from sunrise to sunset, plucking weeds, carrying water buckets to and from the river, and harvesting and grinding corn
    • People began experiencing more physical ailments
  • Life as a hunter/gather was much more interesting
  • As a hunter/gatherer, you had to be aware of every sound or smell, in order to avoid danger from something like a tiger
    • You also had to be very observant, in order to identify certain plants which were, or were not okay, to eat
      • Now we browse our phones while we wait in line for someone to make our food
    • Think about how different the process is of getting food is today
      • “There are no tigers lurking in between cereal boxes at the grocery store”
You Are Hackable
  • Think about how a big data algorithm will view us
    • “We look like a huge biochemical algorithm that can be hacked and deciphered”
      • “The most important thing to know about humans in the 21st century, is that we are now hackable animals”
      • From the perspective of an algorithm, something like love is just a biochemical process. – “If the computer can diagnose cancer, it can diagnose love”
  • Advertisers have been “hacking” us for quite some time
  • What will advertising look like in the future?
    • You won’t show the same ad to everyone, you’ll tailor the ad to the unique weaknesses, biases, and cravings of the individual
    • You’ll “hack” the individual, instead of relying on statistics
Algorithms Are Beginning to Know You, Better Than You Know Yourself
  • People know very little about themselves, both on a psychological and mental level
    • Therapists exist to help us get in touch with ourselves, because it’s so difficult
  • “The myth of free will serves as a curtain which hides the reality about ourselves, that dampens our curiosity”
    • If you believe in free will – then in theory, you know everything and there is nothing to investigate
    • But your desires don’t reflect free will, they reflect all kinds of biological and psychological processes which we won’t understand
  • In the 21st century, there is a competition
    • “If you don’t get to know yourself better, there is someone out there who will and they are trying to hack you. And it’s not just one person. Amazon is trying to hack you , Google is trying to hack you, and Coca-Cola, and the Russians, and the American government. They are all trying to hack you.”
    • What does this really mean?
      • For example with Amazon – based on your buying habits, and data Amazon has collected from billions of people, they’ll start to suggest products that you have a very high change of purchasing
So how will this affect us?
  • The same methods that are used to sell you products on Amazon, may be used to sell you politicians
  • Instead of just fulfilling your desires, perhaps Amazon will start manipulating them
    • “Yes he wants this, but we can actually make him want that instead”
  • A good analogy
    • A thousand years ago, a priest preached to get people to listen to him
    • In 10-50 years, something like this will become much more invasive with all kinds of brain computer interfaces and direct biological interventions (better pills to change your mind all the way to genetic engineering)
What made sapiens succeed in taking over the world?
  • “What made homo sapiens different, and what transformed us from a species of unimportant apes, into the rulers of the planet, were minor changes in our DNA, which resulted in a restructuring, on a small scale, of the human brain. The brain didn’t get bigger, it just got connected or wired in a slightly different way.”
    • Chance mutations resulted in small changes in the internal structure of the brain which gave rise to new cognitive abilities, such as the ability to create and believe fictional stories
  • “We control the planet, because we are the only mammal that can collaborate on a large scale”
    • How do we do this? – Through story telling and gossip, by believing in shared fictions/myths (like religions, corporations etc.)
    • “We can cooperate with millions of strangers, because we all believe in the same fictional stories about Gods, nations, money, and corporations – things that only exist in imagination”
  • Why didn’t other species of humans develop this ability? – Pure chance
  • We can trade within our species, and trust one another, because we believe in the same fictional stories
Looking Forward
  • Humans have 3 big problems we’re facing in the 21st century – Nuclear War, Climate Change, and Technological Disruption
    • Each, alone, could destroy civilization, but when you combine them….uh oh
  • “We are far more united, than ever before on a global level…but we are not united enough”
    • In order to deal with any of the big 3 mentioned above, we need significant global cooperation
      • It’s tough because global warming and significant fossil fuel use, actually benefits some economies (Qatar, Saudi Arabia etc.)
    • “None of these problems can be solved on a national level”
  • We are in the midst of an AI arms race
    • “At the rate China is developing their AI, in 10 years, we could be completely overtaken by them”
  • “For the first time in history, you will be able to translate economic inequality into biological inequality”
    • The wealthy will be able to afford biological upgrades like genetic engineering, brain computer interfaces etc.
    • But the poor won’t, and this may result in the splitting of humans into two different classes – super humans and normal homo sapiens

The Rise of a Useless Class
  • AI and automation will render some people useless
  • There will be new jobs created, but most will be high skills jobs that demand specialized professional skills, and for many people it will be impossible to retrain themselves to fit these roles
    • A shelf stocker at Wal-Mart, or a truck driver, will have a very very difficult time learning to code or design software
So what can we do, knowing all this?
  • It’s limited what you can do as an individual, but Yuval recommends building your skills and increasing your self-knowledge through things like meditation
  • Join an organization to fight the 3 big problems (like climate change) – people can accomplish more in groups
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