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WILSON WHITE: Good afternoon, everyone, especially
for those of you who are here in California.
My name is Wilson White, and I'm on the public policy
and government relations team here in California.
We have an exciting talk for you today as part of our Talks
at Google series, as well as a series of conversations
we're having around AI ethics and technology ethics more
So today, I'm honored to have Professor Yuval Noah
Harari with us.
Yuval is an Israeli historian and a professor at the Hebrew
University of Jerusalem.
He is a dynamic speaker, thinker, and now
an international bestselling author.
He's the author of three books.
We're going to talk about each of those books today.
The first book he published in 2014, "Sapien," which explored
some of our history as humans.
His second book in 2016 had an interesting take on our future
as humans.
It was "Homo Deus."
And then recently published a new book,
the "21 Lessons for the 21st Century,"
which attempts to grapple with some of the issues,
the pressing issues that we are facing today.
So we'll talk about some of the themes in each of those books
as we go through our conversation.
But collectively, his writings explore very big concepts
like free will and consciousness and intelligence.
So we'll have a lot to explore with Yuval today.
So with that, please join me in welcoming Professor Yuval
to Google.
WILSON WHITE: Thank you, Professor, for joining us.
Before getting started, I have to say
that when the announcement went out
across Google about this talk, I got several emails
from many Googlers around the world who told me
that they had either read or are currently reading
one or multiple of your books.
So if you are contemplating a fourth book,
maybe on the afterlife, no spoilers
during this conversation.
I want to start with maybe some of the themes in both
your current book, "21 Lessons," as well
as "Homo Deus," because I'm the father of two young kids.
I have two daughters, a five-year-old
and a three-year-old.
And the future that you paint in "Homo Deus" is interesting.
So I'd like to ask you, what should I
be teaching my daughters?
YUVAL NOAH HARARI: That nobody knows
how the world would look like in 2050,
except that it will be very different from today.
So the most important things to emphasize in education
are things like emotional intelligence
and mental stability, because the one thing
that they will need for sure is the ability
to reinvent themselves repeatedly
throughout their lives.
It's really first time in history
that we don't really know what particular skills to teach
young people, because we just don't
know in what kind of world they will be living.
But we do know they will have to reinvent themselves.
And especially if you think about something like the job
market, maybe the greatest problem they will face
will be psychological.
Because at least beyond a certain age,
it's very, very difficult for people to reinvent themselves.
So we kind of need to build identities.
I mean, if previously, if traditionally people built
identities like stone houses with very deep foundations,
now it makes more sense to build identities like tents that you
can fold and move elsewhere.
Because we don't know where you will have to move,
but you will have to move.
WILSON WHITE: You will have to move.
So I may have to go back to school now
to learn these things so that I can teach the next generation
of humans here.
In "21 Lessons for the 21st Century,"
you tackle several themes that even we at Google,
as a company who are on the leading edge of technology
and how technology is being deployed in society,
we wrestle with some of the same issues.
Tell me a bit about your thoughts
on why democracy is in crisis.
That's a theme in the current book,
and I want to explore that a bit.
Why you think liberal democracy as we knew
it is currently in crisis.
YUVAL NOAH HARARI: Well, the entire liberal democratic
system is built on philosophical ideas we've inherited
from the 18th century, especially the idea
of free will, which underlies the basic models
of the liberal world view like the voter knows best,
the customer is always right, beauty
is in the eye of the beholder, follow your heart,
do what feels good.
All these liberal models, which are
the foundation of our political and economic system.
They assume that the ultimate authority is the free choices
of individuals.
I mean, there are, of course, all kinds of limitations
and boundary cases and so forth, but when
push comes to shove, for instance,
in the economic field, then corporations
will tend to retreat behind this last line of defense
that this is what the customers want.
The customer is always right.
If the customers want it, it can't be wrong.
Who are you to tell the customers that they are wrong?
Now of course, there are many exceptions,
but this is the basics of the free market.
This is the first and last thing you learn.
The customer is always right.
So the ultimate authority in the economic field
is the desires of the customers.
And this is really based on a philosophical and metaphysical
view about free will, that the desires of the customer, they
emanate, they represent the free will of human beings,
which is the highest authority in the universe.
And therefore, we must abide by them.
And it's the same in the political field
with the voter knows best.
And this was OK for the last two or three centuries.
Because even though free will was always a myth and not
a scientific reality--
I mean, science knows of only two kinds
of processes in nature.
It knows about deterministic processes
and it knows about random processes.
And their combination results in probabilistic processes.
But randomness and probability, they are not freedom.
They mean that I can't predict your actions
with 100% accuracy, because there is randomness.
But a random robot is not free.
If you connect a robot, say, to uranium, a piece of uranium,
and the decisions of the robot is determined
by random processes of the disintegration of uranium
atoms, so you will never be able to predict exactly
what this robot will do.
But this is not freedom.
This is just randomness.
Now this was always true from a scientific perspective.
Humans, certainly they have a will.
They make decisions.
They make choices.
But they are not free to choose the will.
The choices are not independent.
They depend on a million factors,
genetic and hormonal and social and cultural and so forth,
which we don't choose.
Now up till now in history, the humans
were so complicated that for a practical perspective,
it still made sense to believe in free will,
because nobody could understand you better
than you understand yourself.
You had this inner realm of desires and thoughts
and feelings which you had privileged access
to this inner realm.
WILSON WHITE: Yeah, but that hasn't changed today, right?
Like, that--
YUVAL NOAH HARARI: It has changed.
There is no longer--
the privilege access now belongs to corporations like Google.
They can have access to things happening ultimately
inside my body and brain, which I don't know about.
There is somebody out there-- and not just one.
All kinds of corporations and governments that maybe not
today, maybe in five years, 10 years, 20 years, they
will have privileged access to what's happening inside me.
More privileged than my access.
They could understand what is happening in my brain
better than I understand it, which means-- they will never
be perfect.
But you will, as a free person, like, you
will have delegated that access or that ability
to this corporation or this machine or this--
YUVAL NOAH HARARI: No, you don't have to give them permission.
I mean, in some countries maybe you have no choice at all.
But even in a democracy like the United States,
a lot of the information that enables an external entity
to hack you, nobody asks you whether you
want to give it away or not.
Now at present, most of the data that
is being collected on humans is still from the skin outwards.
We haven't seen nothing yet.
We are still just at the tip of this revolution,
because at present, whether it's Google and Facebook and Amazon
or whether it's the government or whatever, they all
are trying to understand people mainly
on the basis of what I search, what I buy, where I go,
who I meet.
It's all external.
The really big revolution, which is coming very quickly,
will be when the AI revolution and machine
learning and all that, the infotech revolution,
meets and merges with the biotech revolution
and goes under the skin.
Biometric sensors or even external devices.
Now we are developing the ability, for example,
to know the blood pressure of individuals
just by looking at them.
You don't need to put a sensor on a person.
Just by looking at the face, you can
tell, what is the blood pressure of that individual?
And by analyzing tiny movements in the eyes, in the mouth,
you can tell all kinds of things from the current mood
of the person--
are you angry, are you bored--
to things like sexual orientation.
So we are talking about a world in which humans
are no longer a black box.
Nobody really understands what happens inside, so we say, OK.
Free will.
No, the box is open.
And it's open to others, certain others more
than it is open to-- you don't understand what's
happening in your brain, but some corporation
or government or organization could understand that.
WILSON WHITE: And that's a theme that you
explore in "Homo Deus" pretty--
YUVAL NOAH HARARI: They're both in "Homo Deus"
and in "21 Lessons."
This is like, maybe the most important thing to understand
is that this is really happening.
And at present, almost all the attention goes to the AI.
Like, now I've been on a two-week tour of the US
for the publication of the book.
Everybody wants to speak about AI.
Like, AI.
Previous book, "Homo Deus" came out, nobody cared about AI.
Two years later, it's everywhere.
WILSON WHITE: It's the new hot thing.
And I try to emphasize, it's not AI.
The really important thing is actually the other side.
It's the biotech.
It's the combination.
It's only the combination-- it's only with the help of biology
that AI becomes really revolutionary.
Because just do a thought experiment.
Let's say we had the best, the most developed AI in the world.
But humans, we're not animals.
We're not biochemical algorithms.
But they were something like transcendent souls
that make decisions through free will.
In such a world, AI would not have mattered much,
because AI in such a world could never have replaced teachers
and lawyers and doctors.
You could not even build self-driving cars
in such a world.
Because to put a self driving car on the road,
you need biology, not just computers.
You need to understand humans.
For example, if somebody's approaching the road,
the car needs to tell, is this an eight-year-old,
an 18-year-old, or an 80-year-old,
and needs to understand the different behaviors
of a human child, a human teenager, and a human adult.
And this is biology.
And similarly, to have really effective self-driving taxis,
you need the car to understand a lot of things
about human psychology.
The psychology of the passengers coming in, what they want,
and so forth.
So if you take the biotech out of the equation AI by itself
won't really go very far.
WILSON WHITE: So I want to push you there,
because I think it's easy to arrive at a dystopian
view of what that world would look
like with the bio and AI and cognitive abilities of machines
when they meet.
Like, how that can end up, right?
And we see that in Hollywood, and that dystopian view
is well documented.
But I want to explore with you, like,
what are some of the benefits of that combination?
And how can that lead to an alternative world view
than what's explored more deeply in "Homo Deus?"
YUVAL NOAH HARARI: Well, it should
be emphasized that there are enormous benefits.
Otherwise, there would be no temptation.
If it was only bad, nobody would do it.
Google won't research it.
Nobody would invest in it.
And it should also be emphasized that technology is never
You can build either paradise or hell with these technologies.
They are not just--
they don't have just one type of usage.
And as a historian and as a social critic and maybe
philosopher, I tend to focus more
on the dangerous scenarios, simply
because for obvious reasons, the entrepreneurs
and the corporations and the scientists and engineers
are developing these technologies.
They naturally tend to focus on the positive scenarios,
on all the good it can do.
But yes, definitely technology, it
can do a tremendous amount of good
to humanity, to take the example of the self-driving cars.
So at present, about 1.25 million people
are killed each year in traffic accidents.
More than 90% of these accidents are because of human errors.
If we can replace humans with self-driving cars,
it's not that we'll have no car accidents.
That's impossible.
But we'll probably save a million lives every year.
So this is a tremendous thing.
And similarly, the combination of being
able to understand what's happening inside my body, this
also implies that you can provide people with the best
health care in history.
You can, for example, diagnose diseases
long before the person understands
that there is something wrong.
At present, the human mind or human awareness
is still a very critical junction in health care.
Like, if something happens inside my body
and I don't know about it, I won't go to the doctor.
So if something like, I don't know, cancer
is now spreading in my liver and I still don't feel anything,
I won't go to the doctor.
I won't know about it.
Only when I start feeling pain and nausea and all kinds
of things I can't explain.
So after some time, I go to the doctor.
He does all kinds of tests.
And finally, they discover, oh, something's wrong.
And very often, by that time, it's
very expensive and painful.
Not necessarily too late, but expensive
and painful to take care of it.
If I could have an AI doctor monitoring my body
24 hours a day with biometric sensors and so forth,
it could discover this long before I feel anything
at this stage when it's still very
cheap and easy and painless to cure it.
So this is wonderful.
WILSON WHITE: But in that world, it's
an AI doctor, and not a human doctor.
And I think one of the potential outcomes
that you warn about is AI or machines or that combination
of bio and AI replacing us, replacing us as humans.
And I'd like to think that one thing that makes us human
is having meaning in life or having a purpose for living.
That's kind of a unique thing that humans have.
And I don't think it's something that we would readily
want to give up, right?
So as this technology is evolving
and we're developing it, it's likely
something that we'll bake in this need
to have meaning and purpose in life.
You talk about in "21 Lessons" this notion that God is dead,
or is God back?
And the role that religion may play
in how we progress as humans.
Is there a place for that notion of God
or religion to capture and secure
this notion of meaning in life or purpose in life?
YUVAL NOAH HARARI: Well, it all depends on the definitions.
I mean, there are many kinds of gods,
and people understand very different things
by the word religion.
If you think about God, so usually people
have very two extremely different gods in mind
when they say the word God.
One god is the cosmic mystery.
We don't understand why there is something rather than nothing,
why the Big Bang happened.
What is human consciousness?
There are many things we don't understand about the world.
And some people choose to call these mysteries
by the name of God.
God is the reason there is something rather than nothing.
God is behind human consciousness.
But the most characteristic thing of that god
is that we know absolutely nothing about him,
her, it, they.
There is nothing concrete.
It's a mystery.
And this is kind of the god we talk
about when late at night in the desert we sit around a campfire
and we think about the meaning of life.
That's one kind of god.
I have no problem at all with this god.
I like it very much.
Then there is another god which is the petty lawgiver.
The chief characteristic of this god,
we know a lot of extremely concrete things about that god.
We know what he thinks about female dress code, what kind
of dresses he likes women to wear.
We know what he thinks about sexuality.
We know what he thinks about food, about politics,
and we know these tiny little things.
And this is a god people talk about when they stand around,
burning a heretic.
We'll burn you because you did something
that this god-- we know everything about this god,
and he doesn't like it that you do this, so we burn you.
And it's like a magic trick that when
you come and talk about God-- so how
do you know that God exists, and so forth?
People would say, well, the Big Bang and human consciousness,
and science can't explain this, and science can't explain that.
And this is true.
And then like a magician swapping one card for another,
they will, shh!
Take out the mystery god and place the petty lawgiver,
and you end up with something strange like,
because we don't understand the Big Bang,
women must dress with long sleeves
and men shouldn't have sex together.
And what's the connection?
I mean, how did you get from here to there?
So I prefer to use different terms here.
And it's the same with religion.
People understand very different things with this word.
I tend to separate religions from spirituality.
Spirituality is about questions.
Religion is about answers.
Spirituality is when you have some big question about life
like, what is humanity?
What is the good?
Who am I?
WILSON WHITE: Our purpose in life.
Like, why are we here?
YUVAL NOAH HARARI: What should I do in life?
And this is kind of-- and you go on a quest,
looking deeply into these questions.
And you're willing to go after these questions
wherever they take you.
WILSON WHITE: You could just Google it.
Maybe in the future.
But so far, at least some of these questions,
I think when you type, like, what is the meaning of life,
you get 42.
Like, it is the number one result in Google search.
So you go on a spiritual quest.
And religion is the exact opposite.
Religion is somebody comes and tells you, this is the answer.
You must believe it.
If you don't believe this answer,
then you will burn in hell after you die,
or we'll burn you here even before you die.
And it's really opposite things.
Now I think that at the present moment in history,
spirituality is probably more important
than in any previous time in history,
because we are now forced to confront spiritual questions,
whether we like it or not.
WILSON WHITE: And do you think that confrontation
with those questions, that will inform how we allow technology
to develop and be deployed?
YUVAL NOAH HARARI: Exactly Now throughout history,
you always had a small minority of people
who was very interested in the big spiritual
and philosophical questions of life,
and most people just ignored them and went along with their,
like, you know, fighting about who owns this land
and who this goad herd, to whom it belongs, and so forth.
Now we live in a very unique time in history
when engineers must tackle spiritual questions.
If you are building a self-driving car, by force,
you have to deal with questions like free will.
By force, you have to deal with the example everybody gives.
The self-driving car.
Suddenly two kids jump--
running after a ball jump in front of the car.
The only way to save the two kids is to swerve to the side
and fall off a cliff and kill the owner of the car who
is asleep in the backseat.
What should the car do?
Now philosophers have been arguing
about these questions for thousands of years
with very little impact on human life.
But engineers, they are very impatient.
If you want to put the self-driving car on the road
tomorrow or next year, you need to tell
the algorithm what to do.
And the amazing thing about this question
now is that whatever you decide, this will actually happen.
Previously, with philosophical discussions, like you had,
I don't know, Kant and Schopenhauer and Mill
discussing this issue, should I kill the two kids
or should I sacrifice my life?
And even if they reach an agreement--
and very little impact on actual behavior.
Because even if you agree theoretically,
this is the right thing to do, at a time of crisis,
philosophy has little power.
You react from your gut, not from
your philosophical theories.
But with a self-driving car, if you program the algorithm
to kill the driver--
and not the driver, the owner of the car, and not
the two kids, you have a guarantee,
a mathematical guarantee that this is
exactly what the car will do.
So you have to think far more carefully than ever before,
what is the right answer?
So in this sense, very old spiritual and philosophical
questions are now practical questions of engineering,
which you cannot escape if you want, for example,
to put a self-driving car on the road.
WILSON WHITE: I want to go back to this concept of religion
versus spirituality and the role they play
in "Sapiens," your first book.
You talk about this concept of human fictions or stories
that we create as humans, I guess to get us through life
and to get us through our interactions with each other.
Those fictions, those stories, as you put it,
they've served us well.
They've resulted in a lot of good for humankind,
but have also been the source of wars and conflict
and human suffering.
How do you square that with this moment
we're in where spirituality is an integral part in how
we think about integrating technology in our lives?
That's a big question.
Well, so far in history, in order
to organize humans on a large scale,
you always had to have some story, some fiction which
humans invented, but which enough humans believed in order
to agree on how to behave.
It's not just religion.
This is the obvious example.
And even religious people would agree
that all religions except one are fictional stories.
Except for, of course, my religion.
If you ask a Jew, then he will tell you, yes.
Judaism is the truth.
That's for sure.
But all these billions of Christians
and Muslims and Hindus, they believe in fictional stories.
I mean, all this story about Jesus rising from the dead
and being the Son of God, this is fake news.
WILSON WHITE: Wait, that's not true?
YUVAL NOAH HARARI: If you ask a Jew, like a rabbi.
Even though rabbis tend to be, like-- to hedge their bets.
So maybe not.
But then you go to the Christians.
They will say, no, no, no, no, no no.
This is true.
But the Muslims, they believe in fake news.
All this story about Muhammad meeting
the archangel Gabriel and the Quran coming from Heaven,
this is all fake news.
And then the Muslims, they'll tell you this about Hinduism.
So even in religion, it's very clear.
The more interesting thing is that the same
is true in something in the economy.
Corporation, you can't have a modern economy
without corporations like Google and without money,
like dollars.
But corporations and currencies, they
are also just stories we invented.
Google has no physical or biological reality.
It is a story created by the powerful shamans
we call lawyers.
Even if you ask a lawyer, what is Google,
like, you push them to, what is it,
they will tell you it's a legal fiction.
It's not this chair.
It belongs to Google, I think.
But it's not it.
It's not the money.
It's the manager.
It's not the workers.
It's a story created by lawyers.
And for example, I mean, if somehow
with some natural calamity destroys--
like, there is an earthquake and the Googleplex collapses,
Google still exists.
Even if many of the workers and managers are killed,
it just hires new ones.
And it still has money in the bank.
And even if there is no money in the bank, they can get a loan
and build new buildings and hire new people,
and everything is OK.
But then if you have the most powerful shaman
like the Supreme Court of the United States comes and says,
I don't like your story.
I think you need to be broken into different fictions.
Then that's the end.
WILSON WHITE: So-- so you--
That's a lot to unpack.
So the advent that we're in now with fake news
and really seriously questioning what veracity means
and how veracity impacts these kind of foundational things
that you laid out earlier in your remarks that have allowed
us to work with each other, work across borders, et cetera,
with this, where you are on this notion of stories and fictions
that we have, is this advent of fake news, is that a reality?
Is that where we should be in terms of questioning what's
true and what's not true?
YUVAL NOAH HARARI: On the one hand, fake news is old news.
We've had them throughout history,
and sometimes in much worse form than what we see today.
WILSON WHITE: But is there such thing as truth?
YUVAL NOAH HARARI: Yes, there is absolutely.
I mean, there is reality.
I mean, you have all these stories
people tell about reality.
YUVAL NOAH HARARI: But ultimately, there is reality.
The best test of reality that I know is the test of suffering.
Suffering is the most real thing in the world.
If you want to know whether a story is
about a real entity or a fictional entity,
you should just ask, can this entity actually suffer?
Now Google cannot suffer.
Even if the stock goes down, even if a judge comes and says,
this is a monopoly, you have to break it up, it doesn't suffer.
Humans can suffer like the managers,
the owners of the stocks, the employees, they can suffer.
They can certainly suffer.
But we know, we can very easily that Google is just a story
by this simple test that it cannot suffer.
And it's the same of nations.
It's the same of currencies.
The dollar is just a fiction we created.
The dollar doesn't suffer if it loses its value.
WILSON WHITE: Let me push you on that, right?
So oftentimes, like just in the US,
they say kind of the system we set up in the US
is an experiment.
It's often styled as an experiment democracy
with checks and balances, et cetera.
Under one view of that, you can say that that's kind of a story
that we've created in America, right?
We've created this kind of really nice story.
But if that was broken apart, like,
that entity is not suffering.
But if that experiment is the thing, the proper functioning
of those institutions and the things
that support that-- so that's the thing.
YUVAL NOAH HARARI: We know that it functions properly
because it alleviates suffering.
It provides health care, it provides safety.
And if it doesn't, then we would say
the experiment doesn't work.
The experiment--
WILSON WHITE: So would you say that experiment is a fiction?
Or is that experiment reality?
Is it a thing?
YUVAL NOAH HARARI: The experiment
is a story that we share.
It's things that we humans have invented and created
in order to serve certain needs and desires that we have.
It is a created story, and not an objective reality.
But it is nevertheless one of the most powerful forces
in the world.
When I say that something is a fiction or a story,
I don't mean to imply it's bad or that it's not important.
Some of the best things in the world
and the most powerful forces in the world
are these shared fictions.
Nations and corporations and banks and so forth,
they are all stories we created, but they
are the most powerful forces today in the world,
far more powerful than any human being or any animal.
And they can be a tremendous force for good.
The key is to remember that we created them to serve us,
and not that we are here in order to serve them.
The trouble really begins when people
lose sight of the simple reality that we are real, they are not.
And a lot of people throughout history and also
today, they kind of take it upside down.
They think the nation is more real than me.
I am here to serve it, and not it is here
to serve me and my fellow humans.
WILSON WHITE: Very interesting.
So we're going to open it up for questions
from the audience in a few minutes here,
but I want to try to get an easy win.
So in "21 Lessons," you tackle really big challenges
and questions that we're wrestling with today.
Of those questions, which do you think is the easiest to solve?
And what should we be doing to go about solving them?
What is the easiest to solve?
WILSON WHITE: Trying to get quick wins on the board here.
I'll address the fake news question,
not because it's the easiest to solve, but also
maybe because it's one of the most relevant to what
you're doing here in Google.
And I would say that the current incarnation of the fake news
problem has a lot to do with the model of the news
and information market, that we have constructed a model which
basically says, exciting news for free
in exchange for your attention.
And this is a very problematic model,
because it turns human attention into the most scarce resource,
and you get more and more competition for human attention
with more and more exciting news that-- again,
and some of the smartest people in the world
have learned how to excite our brain,
how to make us click on the next news story.
And truth gets completely pushed aside.
It's not part of the equation.
The equation is excitement, attention.
Excitement, attention.
And on the collective level, I think
the solution to this problem would
be to change the model of the news market
to high-quality news that costs you a lot of money,
but don't abuse your attention.
It's very strange that we are in a situation when people
are willing to pay a lot of money
for high-quality food and high-quality cars,
but not for high-quality news.
And this has a lot to do with the architecture
of the information market.
And I think there are many things that you here in Google
can do in order to help society change the model of the news
WILSON WHITE: I'd want to continue to explore that,
and whether that would create, like, an economic divide
or exacerbate the current divide,
but I'm going to open it up now for audience questions.
We have a microphone here on the side.
Start with you.
Thank you so much for writing your books.
They are completely wonderful, and I've
had a joy reading them.
So one of the things that you kind of explored here
is we are facing a couple of global problems.
And historically, we have never created global organizations
which are responsible for solving global problems who had
any ability to enforce them.
And even when we've created them,
they have come after great tragedies.
So how can we sort of make that happen and make somebody
responsible, and have the ability
to have those organizations enforce those solutions?
I mean, it's not going to be easy.
But I think the most important thing
is to change the public conversation
and focus it on the global problems.
If people focus on local problems,
they don't see the need for effective global cooperation.
So the first step is to tell people again and again
and again, look.
The three biggest problems that everybody on the planet
is now facing are nuclear war, climate change,
and technological disruption.
And even if we are able to prevent nuclear war and climate
change, still AI and biotech are going
to completely disrupt the job market and even the human body.
And we need to figure out how to regulate this
and how to prevent the dystopian consequences,
and make sure that the more utopian
consequences materialize.
And for that, we need global cooperation.
So it would be obvious to everybody,
you cannot prevent climate change on a national level,
and you cannot regulate AI on a national level.
Whatever regulation the US adopts,
if the Chinese are not adopting it, it won't do much help.
So you need cooperation here.
And then it goes into practical political issues.
I mean, you have elections coming up,
mid-term elections in the US.
So if you go to a town meeting with an inspiring congressman
or congresswoman, so you just ask them, if I elect you,
what will you do about the danger of climate change,
about the danger of nuclear war, and about getting
global regulations for AI and for biotech?
What's your plan?
And if they say, oh, I haven't thought about it,
then maybe don't vote for that person.
AUDIENCE: Hi, Yuval.
Thanks for coming here today.
So in one of your talks, you suggested
that to avoid getting our hearts hacked,
we need to stay ahead by knowing ourselves better.
And it seems to me that the process of knowing yourself
needs a lot of intelligence.
And in some ways, it's a skill that needs to developed.
I mean, the intellect that we have as humans
seems fairly new when compared to other properties
like we got evolutionarily.
So how do you suggest that we can
learn to think and use our intelligence better, and also
do that at a scale?
Because if only some people know themselves
but millions around you or billions or on the
don't, then you can only go so far.
YUVAL NOAH HARARI: No, I don't think that knowing yourself
is necessarily all about intelligence.
Certainly not in the narrow sense of intelligence.
If you include emotional intelligence and so forth,
then yes.
But in the more narrow sense of IQ, I think this is not--
there are many very intelligent people
in the world who don't know themselves
at all, which is an extremely dangerous combination.
Now some people explore themselves through therapy.
Some use meditation.
Some use art.
Some use poems.
They go on a long hike, go for a month to the Appalachian Trail
and get to know themselves on the way.
There are many ways to do it, which are not necessarily
about intellect.
It's not like reading articles about brain science.
That's going to help in some ways.
And in this sense, I think it's a very kind
of democratizing ability or force to get to know yourself.
After all, you-- you're always with yourself.
It's not like you need some special observatory and to get
some very rare machines from, I don't know,
that cost millions of dollars.
You just need yourself.
But what about the art of thinking?
AUDIENCE: The art of thinking.
YUVAL NOAH HARARI: The art of thinking.
AUDIENCE: I mean, people are very intelligent,
but they don't really use their intelligence
to understand themselves [INAUDIBLE]..
Again, there is no easy way to do it.
If it was easy to get to know yourself better,
everybody would do it long ago, and we
would be living in a very, very different world.
WILSON WHITE: We have folks joining us
from around the world as well, so I have a question
from the question bank.
Compassion is the critical underpinning
of any successful society, yet I believe
that technology is reducing our capacity for empathy.
It feels that we no longer value compassion, perhaps even seeing
compassion as weak.
What are, in your view, effective ways
to motivate members of society to develop their compassion?
YUVAL NOAH HARARI: No, I don't think
that technology is inherently undermining compassion.
It can go both ways.
Certainly, communication technology
can make you aware of the plight of people
on the other side of the world.
And without that, you may be extremely
compassionate about your immediate, like, family members
and neighbors, and won't care at all about people
on the other side of the world.
So I don't think there is an inherent contradiction
or collision between technology and compassion.
But it is true that the way we design technology
can make us less compassionate, and even the way
that we design ourselves.
For most of history, you had economic and political systems
trying to shape people.
And in the past, they did it with education
and with culture.
And in the present and future, we
are likely to do it more and more
with biotech and with brain computer interfaces.
So our ability to manipulate ourselves is growing.
And therefore, it's extremely important
to remember to take compassion into account.
Otherwise, the danger is that armies and corporations
and government in many cases, they
want something like intelligence.
They want more intelligent workers and soldiers.
They want more decisive workers.
And sort of, don't take a whole day to decide.
I want you to decide this in half an hour.
And as our ability to manipulate humans--
and I mean manipulate--
re-engineer the body and the brain as it grows--
we might engineer more decisive and intelligent humans
at the price of compassion.
Which many corporations and armies and governments
find either irrelevant or even problematic,
because it causes people to be hesitant
and to take more time about the decisions,
and so on and so forth.
So we need to remember the enormous importance
of compassion.
And again, it goes back also to the question
about getting to know yourself, which
I think is the key to developing compassion.
Not just because when you understand your own,
that this makes me miserable, then you understand, oh.
The same thing may make other people also miserable.
It's even much deeper than that.
When you really get to know yourself,
you realize that when you ignore others
and when you mistreat others, very often, it harms you
even before it harms them.
It's a very unpleasant experience to be angry.
So your anger may harm other people, or maybe not.
Maybe you're boiling with anger about somebody,
and you don't do anything about it because she's your boss.
But you don't harm her, but your anger harms you.
So the more you understand yourself, the greater incentive
you have to do something about my anger, about my hatred,
about my fear.
And most people discover that as they develop more compassion
towards others, they also experience far more peace
within themselves.
Another live question.
AUDIENCE: Thank you.
After reading your books, it occurs to me
that you've most likely educated yourself both broadly
and deeply to be the foundation for your ideas.
For those of us that are interested in cultivating
our mind similarly, wondering if you could share
a little bit about your reading habits
and how you choose what to consume.
YUVAL NOAH HARARI: My reading habits.
I read very eclectically.
Like, no book is barred from entering the book list.
But then I tend to be extremely impatient about the books I
actually read.
I would begin, like, 10 books and drop nine of them
after 10 pages.
It's not always the wisest policy,
but it's my policy that if a book didn't really teach me
something new, had some interesting insight
in the first 10 pages, the chances it will--
it could be that on page 100 there
will be some mind-blowing idea that I'm now missing.
But there are so many--
I keep thinking, there are so many books,
wonderful books out there that I will never read,
so why waste time on the less optimal book?
So I will try, like, a book on biology and then economics
and then psychology and then fiction and whatever,
and just go through them quite quickly until I find
something that really grabs me.
WILSON WHITE: Another live question.
AUDIENCE: Hi, Mr. Harari.
Thanks for being here.
Fascinating talk as always.
I do a little bit of meditation myself,
and I've heard that you do a lot of meditation
on the order of hours a day.
Is that right?
YUVAL NOAH HARARI: I try to do two hours every day,
and I try to go every year to a long retreat of 45 or 60 days.
AUDIENCE: So I was wondering, how
do you feel that has influenced your life and the ideas
that you have?
YUVAL NOAH HARARI: Oh, it's had a tremendous influence,
I think both on my inner peace of mind,
but also on my work as a scientist.
And maybe the two most important influences
is that first it enabled me to have
more clarity and more focus.
And certainly when you write about such big subjects
like trying to summarize the whole of history in 400 pages.
So having a very, very focused mind
is very important, because the great difficulty
is that everything kind of distracts you.
You start writing about the Roman Empire
and you say, well, I have to explain
this and this and this and this, and you end up
with 4,000 pages.
So we have to be very-- what is really important,
and what can be left outside?
And the other thing is that at least the meditation
that I practice, which is with passive meditation,
it's all about really knowing the difference
between the fictions and stories generated
by our mind and the reality.
What is really happening right now?
And when I meditate, the thing that happens
is that constantly, the mind is like a factory that constantly
generates stories about myself, about other people,
about the world.
And they are very attractive.
Like, I get identified with them.
And the meditation is constantly, don't.
It's just a story.
Leave it.
Just try to stay with what is really happening right now.
And this is the central practice in meditation.
It's also a guiding principle when I study history
or when I study what's happening in the world.
Thank you.
WILSON WHITE: Let's take another question from the Dory.
With inequality rising across most nations
in the last few decades, what is your perspective
on how we can use technological growth to solve this problem
and create a more equitable world?
Do we need a different economic paradigm to achieve this?
YUVAL NOAH HARARI: Yes, we probably
need a different economic paradigm, because we
are entering kind of uncharted waters,
especially because of the automation revolution
and the growing likelihood that more and more people might
be completely pushed out of the job market,
not just because there won't be enough jobs,
but simply because the pace of change in the job market
will accelerate.
So even if there are enough jobs,
people don't have the psychological balance
and stamina to constantly retrain, reskill, or reinvent
And so I think the biggest problem in the job market
is really going to be the psychological problem.
And then what do you do when more and more people are
left out?
And there are explorations of new models
like universal basic income and so forth, which
are worth exploring.
I don't have the answers.
I will just say that anybody who thinks
in terms like universal basic income
should take the word universal very, very seriously,
and not settle for national basic income.
Because the greatest inequality we
are facing will probably be inequality between countries,
and not within countries.
Some countries are likely to become extremely wealthy
due to the automation revolution,
and California is certainly one of these places.
Other countries might lose everything,
because their entire economy depends
on things like money or labor, which will lose its importance,
and they just don't have the resources
and the educational system to kind of turn themselves
into high-tech hubs.
So the really crucial question is not,
what do we do about, I don't know,
Americans in Indiana who lose their jobs?
The really important question is,
what do we do about people in Guatemala or Bangladesh
who lose their jobs?
This should be, I think, the focus
of this question of inequality.
We'll take another live question.
AUDIENCE: Hello, Mr. Harari.
Thank you for doing this Q&A. So at Google,
we have a responsibility to build products and services
which not only achieve results for our shareholders,
but also that actually benefit our end users.
So in order to spend less time hacking humans
and spend more time reducing suffering,
we need to understand what type of future we want to build.
So what I wanted to ask you is, what
are your personal methodologies for making predictions
about the future?
And what suggestions would you give
to Googlers who want to have a more versed understanding
of the future?
YUVAL NOAH HARARI: As I said in the very beginning,
I don't think we can predict the future,
but I think we can influence it.
What I try to do as a historian-- and even
when I talk about the future, I define myself as a historian,
because I think that history is not the study of the past.
History is the study of change, how
human societies and political systems and economies change.
And what I try to do is to map different possibilities
rather than make predictions.
This is what will happen in 2050.
And we need to keep a very broad perspective.
One of the biggest dangers is when
we have a very narrow perspective,
like we develop a new technology and we think,
oh, this technology will have this outcome.
And we are convinced of this prediction,
and we don't take into account that the same technology might
have very different outcomes.
And then we don't prepare.
And again, as I said in the beginning,
it's especially important to take into account
the worst possible outcomes in order to be aware of them.
So I would say whenever you are thinking
about the future, the future impact of a technology
and developing, create a map of different possibilities.
If you see just one possibility, you're not looking wide enough.
If you see two or three, it's probably also not wide enough.
You need a map of, like, four or five different possibilities,
WILSON WHITE: Let's take another live question.
AUDIENCE: Hey, Mr. Harari.
So my question is--
I'll start very broad, and then I'll
narrow it down for the focus.
I'm really interested in, what do
you think are the components that
make these fictional stories so powerful in how
they guide human nature?
And then if I narrow it down is, I'm
specifically interested in the self-destruction behavior
of humans.
How can these fictional stories led by a few people
convince the mass to literally kill or die
for that fictional story?
YUVAL NOAH HARARI: It again goes back to hacking the brain
and hacking the human animal.
It's been done throughout history, previously just
by trial and error, without the deep knowledge of brain science
and evolution we have today.
But to give an example, like if you
want to convince people to persecute
and exterminate some other group of people, what you need to do
is really latch onto the disgust mechanisms in the human brain.
Evolution has shaped homo sapiens
with very powerful disgust mechanisms in the brain
to protect us against diseases, against all kinds of sources
of potential disease.
And if you look at the history of bias and prejudice
and genocide, one recurring theme
is that it repeatedly kind of latches
onto these disgust mechanisms.
And so you would find things like women are impure,
or these other people, they smell bad
and they bring diseases.
And very, very often disgust is at the center.
So you'll often find comparison between certain types of humans
and rats or cockroaches, or all kinds
of other disgusting things.
So if you want to instigate genocide,
you start by hacking the disgust mechanisms in the human brain.
And this is very, very deep.
And if it's done from an early age,
it's extremely difficult afterwards.
People can-- they know intellectually
that it's wrong to say that these people are disgusting,
that these people, they smell bad.
But they know it intellectually.
But when you place them, like, in a brain scanner,
they can't help it.
If they were raised--
I mean, so we can still do something about it.
We can still kind of defeat this.
But it's very difficult, because it really
goes to the core of the brain.
WILSON WHITE: So I'll end on a final question,
because we're at time.
When Larry and Sergey, when they founded Google,
they did so with this deep belief
in technology's ability to improve people's lives
So if you had a magic wand and you could give Google
the next big project for us to work on, in 30 seconds or less,
what would you grant us as our assignment?
YUVAL NOAH HARARI: An AI system that
gets to know me in order to protect me and not in order
to sell me products or make me click on advertisements and so
WILSON WHITE: All right.
Mission accepted.
Thank you, guys.
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Yuval Noah Harari: "21 Lessons for the 21st Century" | Talks at Google

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林雲淡 published on February 6, 2019
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