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TRANSCRIPT: AI And The Future Of Humanity – Yuval Noah Harari

This is the full text and audio of Yuval Noah Harari’s talk titled “AI And The Future Of Humanity” at Frontiers Forum Live 2023 conference.

In his keynote at Frontiers Forum Live 2023, Yuval discusses the rapid development of artificial intelligence (AI) and its potential implications for society. He spoke on the potential for artificial intelligence to become the first inorganic lifeform on our planet, and how it might change the very make-up or meaning of the world’s ecological system.

Listen to the audio version here:


Yuval Noah Harari – Author

Hello, everybody. Thank you for this wonderful introduction. And yes, what I want to talk to you about is AI and the future of humanity.

Now, I know that this conference is focused on the ecological crisis facing humanity. But for better or for worse, AI, too, is part of this crisis. AI can help us in many ways to overcome the ecological crisis, or it can make it far, far worse.

The Emergence Of Inorganic Agents

Actually, AI will probably change the very meaning of the ecological system. Because for four billion years, the ecological system of planet Earth contained only organic life forms. And now, or soon, we might see the emergence of the first inorganic life forms, so four billion years, or at the very least, the emergence of inorganic agents.

Now, people have feared AI since the very beginning of the computer age, in the middle of the 20th century. And this fear has inspired many science fiction classics, like The Terminator or The Matrix. Now, while such science fiction scenarios have become cultural landmarks, they haven’t usually been taken seriously in academic and scientific and political debate, and perhaps for a good reason.

Because science fiction scenarios usually assume that before AI can pose a significant threat to humanity, it will have to reach or to pass two important milestones. First, AI will have to become sentient and develop consciousness, feelings, emotions. Otherwise, why would it even want to take over the world?

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Secondly, AI will have to become adept at navigating the physical world. Robots will have to be able to move around and operate in houses and cities and mountains and forests, at least as dexterously and efficiently as humans. If they cannot move around the physical world, how can they possibly take it over?

And as of April 2023, AI still seems far from reaching either of these milestones. Despite all the hype around ChatGPT and the other new AI tools, there is no evidence that these tools have even a shred of consciousness, of feelings, of emotions.

As for navigating the physical world, despite the hype around self-driving vehicles, the date at which these vehicles will dominate our roads keeps being postponed.

However, the bad news is that to threaten the survival of human civilization, AI doesn’t really need consciousness and it doesn’t need the ability to move around the physical world.

Over the last few years, new AI tools have been unleashed into the public sphere, which may threaten the survival of human civilization from a very unexpected direction. And it’s difficult for us to even grasp the capabilities of these new AI tools and the speed at which they continue to develop.

Fundamental Abilities Of The New AI Tools

Indeed, because AI is able to learn by itself, to improve itself, even the developers of these tools don’t know the full capabilities of what they have created and they are themselves often surprised by emergent abilities and emergent qualities of these tools.

I guess everybody here is already aware of some of the most fundamental abilities of the new AI tools, abilities like writing text, drawing images, composing music, and writing code. But there are many additional capabilities that are emerging, like deepfaking people’s voices and images, like drafting bills, finding weaknesses both in computer code and also in legal contracts and in legal agreements.

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But perhaps most importantly, the new AI tools are gaining the ability to develop deep and intimate relationships with human beings. Each of these abilities deserves an entire discussion, and it is difficult for us to understand their full implications.

So let’s make it simple. When we take all of these abilities together as a package, they boil down to one very, very big thing: The ability to manipulate and to generate language, whether with words or images or sounds. The most important aspect of the current state of the ongoing AI revolution is that AI is gaining mastery of language at a level that surpasses the average human ability.

And by gaining mastery of language, AI is seizing the master key, unlocking the doors of all our institutions, from banks to temples. Because language is the tool that we use to give instructions to our bank and also to inspire heavenly visions in our minds.

Another way to think of it is that AI has just hacked the operating system of human civilization. The operating system of every human culture in history has always been language.

In The Beginning Was The Word.

We use language to create mythology and laws, to create gods and money, to create art and science, to create friendships and nations. For example, human rights are not a biological reality. They are not inscribed in our DNA. Human rights is something that we created with language by telling stories and writing laws.

Gods are also not a biological or physical reality. Gods too is something that we humans have created with language by telling legends and writing scriptures. Money is not a biological or physical reality. Banknotes are just worthless pieces of paper, and at present more than 90% of the money in the world is not even banknotes. It’s just electronic information in computers passing from here to there.

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What gives money of any kind value is only the story that people like bankers and finance ministers and cryptocurrency gurus tell us about money. Sam Bankman-Fried, Elizabeth Holmes and Bernie Madoff didn’t create much of real value, but unfortunately they were all extremely capable storytellers.

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