No doubt the new technologies will empower the human collective. But we may end up again with a tiny elite reaping all the benefits, taking all the fruits, and the masses of the population finding themselves worse than they were before, certainly much worse than this tiny elite.
CHRIS ANDERSON: And those elites might not even be human elites. They might be cyborgs or –
YUVAL NOAH HARARI: Yeah, they could be enhanced super humans. They could be cyborgs. They could be completely nonorganic elites. They could even be non-conscious algorithms. What we see now in the world is authority shifting away from humans to algorithms. More and more decisions — about personal lives, about economic matters, about political matters — are actually being taken by algorithms.
If you ask the bank for a loan, chances are your fate is decided by an algorithm, not by a human being. And the general impression is that maybe Homo sapiens just lost it. The world is so complicated, there is so much data, things are changing so fast, that this thing that evolved on the African savanna tens of thousands of years ago — to cope with a particular environment, a particular volume of information and data — it just can’t handle the realities of the 21st century, and the only thing that may be able to handle it is big-data algorithms. So no wonder more and more authority is shifting from us to the algorithms.
CHRIS ANDERSON: So we’re in New York City for the first of a series of TED Dialogues with Yuval Harari, and there’s a Facebook Live audience out there. We’re excited to have you with us. We’ll start coming to some of your questions and questions of people in the room in just a few minutes, so have those coming Yuval, if you’re going to make the argument that we need to get past nationalism because of the coming technological danger, in a way, presented by so much of what’s happening we’ve got to have a global conversation about this.
Trouble is, it’s hard to get people really believing that, I don’t know, AI really is an imminent threat, and so forth. The things that people, some people at least, care about much more immediately, perhaps, is climate change, perhaps other issues like refugees, nuclear weapons, and so forth. Would you argue that where we are right now that somehow those issues need to be dialed up? You’ve talked about climate change, but Trump has said he doesn’t believe in that. So in a way, your most powerful argument, you can’t actually use to make this case.
YUVAL NOAH HARARI: Yeah, I think with climate change, at first sight, it’s quite surprising that there is a very close correlation between nationalism and climate change. I mean, almost always, the people who deny climate change are nationalists. And at first sight, you think: Why? What’s the connection? Why don’t you have socialists denying climate change? But then, when you think about it, it’s obvious — because nationalism has no solution to climate change. If you want to be a nationalist in the 21st century, you have to deny the problem. If you accept the reality of the problem, then you must accept that, yes, there is still room in the world for patriotism, there is still room in the world for having special loyalties and obligations towards your own people, towards your own country.
I don’t think anybody is really thinking of abolishing that. But in order to confront climate change, we need additional loyalties and commitments to a level beyond the nation. And that should not be impossible, because people can have several layers of loyalty. You can be loyal to your family and to your community and to your nation, so why can’t you also be loyal to humankind as a whole? Of course, there are occasions when it becomes difficult, what to put first, but, you know, life is difficult. Handle it.
CHRIS ANDERSON: OK, so I would love to get some questions from the audience here. We’ve got a microphone here. Speak into it, and Facebook, get them coming, too.
HOWARD MORGAN: One of the things that has clearly made a huge difference in this country and other countries is the income distribution inequality, the dramatic change in income distribution in the US from what it was 50 years ago, and around the world. Is there anything we can do to affect that? Because that gets at a lot of the underlying causes.
YUVAL NOAH HARARI: So far I haven’t heard a very good idea about what to do about it, again, partly because most ideas remain on the national level, and the problem is global. I mean, one idea that we hear quite a lot about now is universal basic income. But this is a problem I mean, I think it’s a good start, but it’s a problematic idea because it’s not clear what “universal” is and it’s not clear what “basic” is. Most people when they speak about universal basic income, they actually mean national basic income.
But the problem is global. Let’s say that you have AI and 3D printers taking away millions of jobs in Bangladesh, from all the people who make my shirts and my shoes. So what’s going to happen? The US government will levy taxes on Google and Apple in California, and use that to pay basic income to unemployed Bangladeshis? If you believe that, you can just as well believe that Santa Claus will come and solve the problem. So unless we have really universal and not national basic income, the deep problems are not going to go away. And also it’s not clear what basic is, because what are basic human needs? A thousand years ago, just food and shelter was enough. But today, people will say education is a basic human need, it should be part of the package. But how much? Six years? Twelve years? PhD?