Yuval Noah Harari: Well, in the end, there isn’t such a big difference between the corporations and the governments, because, as I said, the questions is: Who controls the data? This is the real government. If you call it a corporation or a government — if it’s a corporation and it really controls the data, this is our real government. So the difference is more apparent than real.
Chris Anderson: But somehow, at least with corporations, you can imagine market mechanisms where they can be taken down. I mean, if consumers just decide that the company is no longer operating in their interest, it does open the door to another market. It seems easier to imagine that than, say, citizens rising up and taking down a government that is in control of everything.
Yuval Noah Harari: Well, we are not there yet, but again, if a corporation really knows you better than you know yourself — at least that it can manipulate your own deepest emotions and desires, and you won’t even realize — you will think this is your authentic self.
So in theory, yes, in theory, you can rise against a corporation, just as, in theory, you can rise against a dictatorship. But in practice, it is extremely difficult.
Chris Anderson: So in “Homo Deus,” you argue that this would be the century when humans kind of became gods, either through development of artificial intelligence or through genetic engineering. Has this prospect of political system shift, collapse impacted your view on that possibility?
Yuval Noah Harari: Well, I think it makes it even more likely, and more likely that it will happen faster, because in times of crisis, people are willing to take risks that they wouldn’t otherwise take. And people are willing to try all kinds of high-risk, high-gain technologies. So these kinds of crises might serve the same function as the two world wars in the 20th century. The two world wars greatly accelerated the development of new and dangerous technologies. And the same thing might happen in the 21st century. I mean, you need to be a little crazy to run too fast, let’s say, with genetic engineering. But now you have more and more crazy people in charge of different countries in the world, so the chances are getting higher, not lower.
Chris Anderson: So, putting it all together, Yuval, you’ve got this unique vision. Roll the clock forward 30 years. What’s your guess — does humanity just somehow scrape through, look back and say, “Wow, that was a close thing. We did it!” Or not?
Yuval Noah Harari: So far, we’ve managed to overcome all the previous crises. And especially if you look at liberal democracy and you think things are bad now, just remember how much worse things looked in 1938 or in 1968. So this is really nothing, this is just a small crisis. But you can never know, because, as a historian, I know that you should never underestimate human stupidity. It is one of the most powerful forces that shape history.
Chris Anderson: Yuval, it’s been an absolute delight to have you with us. Thank you for making the virtual trip. Have a great evening there in Tel Aviv. Yuval Harari!
Yuval Noah Harari: Thank you very much.