Homo Deus

A Brief History of Tomorrow

by Yuval Noah Harari

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For the first time in history, more people die today from eating too much then from eating too little; more people die from old age than from infectious disease is; and more people commit suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists and criminals combined.

If we are indeed bringing famine, plague and war under control, what will replace them at the top of the human agenda?

In a healthy, prosperous and harmonious world, what will demand our attention and ingenuity? But this question becomes doubly urgent given the immense new powers that bio technology and information technology are providing us with. What will we do with all that power?

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In 1974 the first World Food Conference was convened in Rome, and the delegates were treated to apocalyptic scenarios. They were told that there was no way for China to feed its billion people, The world’s most populous country was heading towards catastrophe. In fact, it was heading towards the greatest economic miracle in history. Since 1974 hundreds of millions of Chinese have been lifted out of poverty, and though hundreds of millions more still suffer greatly from privation and malnutrition, for the first time and its recorded history China is now free from famine.

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The main sources of wealth were material assets such as gold mines, wheatfields and oil wells. Today the main source of wealth is knowledge. And whereas you can conquer oil fields through war, you cannot acquire know. As a became most important economic resource became increasingly restricted to those parts of the world— such as the Middle East and Central Africa—where the economies are still old-fashioned material based economies.

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Previous generations thought about peace as the temporary absence of war. Today we think about peace as the implausibility before.

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Just as nuclear weapons made the new piece possible in the first place, so future technological developments might set the stage for new kinds of war. In particular, cyber warfare may destabilize the world by giving even small countries and nonstate actors the ability to fight superpowers effectively.

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Throughout history, kings and emperors acquired some new weapons, sooner or later they were tempted to use it. Since 1945, however, humankind has is last year is this this temptation.

For the average American Coca-Cola poses a far deadlier threat than al-Qaeda.

In essence, terrorism is a show. Terrorists stage for terrifying spectacle violence that captures our imagination makes us feel as if we are sliding back into medieval chaos. Consequently states often feel obliged to react to the theater of terrorism with a show of security, orchestrating immense displays of force, such as the persecution of entire populations or the invasion of foreign countries. In most cases, this overreaction to terrorism poses a far greater threat to our security than the terrorists themselves.

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This is what happened in the Middle East in the last decade. Islamic fundamentalists could never have toppled Saddam Hussein by themselves. Instead they enraged the USA by the 9/11 attacks, and the USA destroyed the Middle Eastern china shop for them. Now they flourish in the wreckage.

By themselves, terrorists are too weak to drag us back to the Middle Ages and reestablish the Jungle Law. They may provoke us, but in the end, it’ll depends on our reactions.

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Success breeds ambition, and our recent achievements are now pushing humankind to set itself even more daring goals. Having secured a unprecedented levels of prosperity, health and harmony, and given our past record and our current values, humanity’s next targets are likely to be immortality, happiness and divinity. Having reduced mortality from starvation, disease and violence, we will now aim to overcome old age and even death itself. Having save people from abject misery, we will now aim to make them positively happy. And having raised humanity above the beastly level of survival struggles, we will now aim to upgrade humans into gods, and turn Homo sapiens into Homo deus.

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Our ideological commitment to human life will never allow us simply to accept human death. As long as people die of something, we will strive to overcome it.

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If and when science makes significant progress in the war against death, the real battle will shift from the laboratories to the parliaments, courthouses and streets. Once the scientific efforts are crowned with success, they will trigger bitter political conflicts. All the wars and conflicts of history might turn out to be but a pale prelude for the real struggle ahead of us: the struggle for eternal youth.

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We are not here to serve the state —it is here to serve us. The right to the pursuit of happiness, originally envisaged as a restraint on state power, has imperceptibly morphed into the right to happiness — as if human beings have a natural right to be happy, and anything that makes us dissatisfied is a violation of our basic human rights, so the state should do something about it.

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When Epicurious defined happiness as the supreme good, he warned his disciples that it is hard work to be happy. Material achievements alone will not satisfy us for long. Indeed, the blind pursuit of money, fame and pleasure will only make us miserable.

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In the Stone Age, the average human had at his or her disposal about 4,000 calories of energy per day. This included not only food, but also the energy invested in preparing tools, clothing, art and campfires. Today Americans use on average 228,000 calories of energy per person per day, to feed not only their stomachs but also their cars, computers, refrigerators and televisions.

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It appears that our happiness bangs against some mysterious glass ceiling that does not allow it to grow despite all our unprecedented accomplishments. … Achieving real happiness is not going to be much easier than overcoming old age and death.

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Perhaps the key to happiness is neither the race nor the gold medal, but rather combining the right doses of excitement and tranquility; but most of us tend to jump all the way from stress to boredom and back, remaining is discontented with one as with the other.

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To attain real happiness, humans need to slow down the pursuit of pleasant sensations, not accelerate it.

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Up till now increasing human power relied mainly on upgrading our external tools. In the future it may rely more on upgrading the human body and mind, or on merging directly with our tools.

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Breaking out of the organic realm could also enable life to finally break out of planet earth.

Hosting Conversations

For almost a year now, Joell and I have been hosting a series of events at our home to explore important ideas in a group conversation setting. We call it Salon. It’s been a great experience and we intend to do more of these events in the coming months.

But we’re also experimenting with something new: hosting arts events as a spark to the conversation.

Our friends Llysa Holland and Andrew Litzky run a theater program in Seattle called theater simple. For 27 years they’ve been producing wonderful theatrical experiences — over 1100 performances on three continents. (Including work with Make A Wish foundation producing fantasy experiences for the Make A Wish kids.)

One of their recent productions caught our eye. The Fever is solo play by Wallace Shawn. (My Dinner with Andre’ as co-writer and actor; and a long list of credits as playwright and actor, from All That Jazz and Taxi to Toy Story and The Princess Bride)

In the theater simple production, Llysa Holland plays the lead, an American sick with fever in a hotel in an unnamed small country in the middle of a revolution.

My hope is that this is the beginning of a series of events in our home where we use theater, music, and other arts as a catalyst for meaningful conversation. Please join us.

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/joell-and-darius-dunlap-present-the-fever-by-wallace-shawn-tickets-40153324675

Know-How

From Hobbies to Trade Skills to Artistic Expression, developed knowledge and improved craft is the mark of accomplishment — Coding is no different.

– Darius Dunlap

I wish schools still had Shop, and Band, and Art. I believe there is a kind of mental development that’s missing without them. And I believe that these kinds of classes — focused on doing and making — support and expand the skills of reading, writing, arithmetic, problem solving, and other key skills we all want kids to develop.

These days there is a lot of talk about “Learning to Code.” And that would be great, except for this aura of magic around it. Because learning to code is really a lot like learning carpentry, or photography, or learning to cook. The basics are pretty simple, though that is not evident to the uninitiated. And full expertise is a lifetime pursuit. And most of us are content with a modest competence.

Learning to code is easier than it has ever been. Not because it’s become simpler, but because the tools have become better, specifically in that they allow you to do something useful more easily and with less knowledge and skill.

Photography is undergoing and transformation in a similar way. It’s not that the pictures we take with our phones and fancy digital cameras are better than film for the expert photographer, but that these new tools provide immediacy. You can take a picture and instantly see it. You can learn from every photograph taken, right there, right then, and take another and another until you get the photo you want. You take more photos, too. Your photography improves at a pace and in ways that would have required much more patience, organization, focus, and effort a couple decades ago when the turn-around was so much slower.

Deep expertise still takes years, but the basics are more accessible than ever.

It’s the same for coding.

Mastering coding, or more properly Software Engineering and Computer Science, is not something every needs to do. it’s probably not something every could do, even if they tried. It’s a deep field and the complexity of the most advanced techniques are beyond those without an aptitude. At the very highest level, it requires not just superior mathematics and problem solving, but also philosophy and compassion — designing systems requires thinking beyond the immediate technical problem to understand how the system fits into the world and how people are going to use it. The people who can do all of this well are rare.

But for the rest of us, our needs are simpler. We can create something that solves a straightforward problem, using the excellent tools developed over the last several decades, and never have to think about the mathematics of drawing the curve at the corner of our icon or the physics of making our animation look natural, or the details of setting up a server and keeping it reliable and secure.

So “Learning to Code” is a lot like learning to cook. It doesn’t mean we will all become master chefs with Michelin-rated restaurants. But it does mean we can learn to make a good loaf of hand-made bread from natural starter that’s better than what you can get off the shelf at the grocers.

Most importantly, learning to code, like taking shop or joining the band in high school, helps you get better at other things. It helps you solve problems in other domains, and it develops your mind.

Education and Learning with Joi and Mimi Ito

This is a great listen for parents, educators, and anyone interested in how kids (and adults) learn. It’s a conversation between Joi Ito and his remarkable sister Mimi about learning, education, digital media and more. You can find it on YouTube and Soundcloud and Joi’s website:

Youtube —  https://youtu.be/P0CxCR9Uj60

SoundCloud — https://soundcloud.com/joi-ito/33-conversation-with-mimi-ito

Joi’s website — http://podcast.ito.com/33-conversation-with-mimi-ito

If you’re not familiar with Joi and Mimi, here’s a good start:

Mimi Ito — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mizuko_Ito
Joi Ito — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joi_Ito

Hour of Code

Computers are not magical or mysterious. Their amazing abilities are built up from simple ideas. That’s what’s surprising. How did we arrive at today, with these devices in our pocket and a (nearly) global network connecting them, and with software running that allows it all to do so many useful and entertaining things?

Lady Ada, Countess of Lovelace wikipedia, was the first to get it. She understood, before any computers existed, that a machine with a few simple arithmetic abilities could do much more. (Notably, the men who were designing these calculating machines didn’t get it.) It would be about 100 years before the programmable computers she envisioned would be “invented”.

Continue reading “Hour of Code”

Feed That Wolf

The One You Feed is a show I often listen to on my hikes or while doing chores around the house.  It starts with the parable of the two wolves. You know the one. They have great guests and it’s always an interesting conversation.

The guest this week is our friend Kristin Neff, who my wife and I met because of our work at Square Peg Foundation — especially with Autism.

Continue reading “Feed That Wolf”

Square Peg Ranch On TV

For the next few months, our work at Square Peg Ranch is featured on America’s Best Racing and Fox Sports. The first short video in the series was shown today during the horse racing coverage of the United Nations Stakes at Monmouth Park, NJ. Joell and I watched at a local pizza place with some of our families. 

You can watch an extended version of this first video on the America’s Best Racing Website. 

In the video you’ll see several of our kids featured, plus Davis Finch, our Grantwriter who also keeps our horse and lesson records — tracking everything that goes on with the horses, including all training, exercise, injuries, medications and preventive care. (For more information about Square Peg Foundation and our work at Square Peg Ranch, check out our website, SquarePegFoundation.org or reach out directly to me.)

The team at Fox Sports and America’s Best Racing have done a really beautiful job on this video. They were a joy to work with and we’re eagerly looking forward to seeing the rest of the series!

Beware Adults…

Many have heard me say “grownups can suck the fun out of anything”. There’s a lot of history to that insight, for me. And it’s a cornerstone of our teaching philosophy at Square Peg Foundation. So when I saw the latest print from Hugh McLeod at Gaping Void Art, Of course I loved it!

 

That one teacher

I was lucky – I had several. Not all of them were perfect, but each was perfect for me. They made a difference for lots of kids, and for me, they made all the difference.

I was never an easy kid to teach. I was called precocious, which I think was a nice way of saying “pain in the ass.” School was boring and sitting still was impossible. I never got impressive grades, but would test well. If a subject captivated me, I would devour everything I could find about it, but this happened far too infrequently for most teachers.

Except for the few. Each of them found a way to keep me engaged, to expose the fascinating detail of a subject, or bring meaning and relevance to it. Science became a study of the way things work, rather than just facts and formulae. History showed stories of struggle and redemption, rather than just dates and names. Math became shape and motion, rather than anonymous patterns to manipulate with set procedures.

Teachers are not interchangeable parts of a machine. But then again, neither are kids.