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21 Lessons for the 21st Century

By Yuval Noah Harari
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21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari
Synopsis

21 Lessons for the 21st Century (2018) is a hard-hitting investigation of civilization’s most pertinent challenges. Humankind is moving deeper into uncharted technological and social territory. These blinks explore how best to navigate our lives in this century of constant change, using fascinating examples from current affairs along the way.

Key idea 1 of 7

Computer technology is disrupting our financial, economic and political systems.

Throughout the twentieth century, three distinct political ideologies vied for world supremacy – communism, fascism and liberalism. Fast-forward to the late twentieth century and liberalism, which celebrates democracy, free enterprise and individual freedoms, was the clear winner. But how will the West’s liberal-democratic system cope in the twenty-first century?

Disturbingly, its vital signs aren’t good – and the revolution in information technology is to blame.

From the 1990s onward, computer technology has arguably transformed our world more than any other force. But despite its massive impact, most politicians seem hardly able to comprehend this new innovation, and are even less capable of controlling it.

Just consider the world of finance. Computers have already made our financial system fiendishly complicated – so much so, that very few humans are now able to understand how it works. As the twenty-first century continues and artificial intelligence advances, we may reach a stage where no human will be able to make any sense of financial data. The implications of this scenario for our political process are disturbing. Just imagine a future where governments have to patiently wait for algorithms to give them the green light on their budget or their tax-reform plans.

Unfortunately, for many twenty-first-century politicians, technological disruption isn’t at the top of the agenda. For instance, during the 2016 American presidential election, neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton discussed the implications of automation on job losses. In fact, disruptive technology was only really discussed in the context of the Hillary Clinton email scandal.

This wall of silence is causing many voters to lose faith in established governments. Ordinary people in liberal democracies across the Western world are feeling more and more irrelevant in this brave new world of artificial intelligence, globalization and machine learning. And this fear of becoming irrelevant has made them desperate to wield whatever political power they still have, before it becomes too late. Not convinced? Just take a look at the political earthquakes of 2016. Both Brexit in the United Kingdom and Donald Trump’s election in the United States were supported by ordinary people, worried that the world and its dominant liberal political systems were leaving them behind.

Throughout the twentieth century, ordinary workers worried about their labor being exploited by economic elites. But these days, the masses are more afraid of losing their economic status in a high-tech economy that no longer needs their labor at all.

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