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21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

What can be the best approach researcher of any field should adopt who wants to add something valuable to this world? One exceptionally efficient method is that you zoom out of the field of your research to see the bigger picture, and then focus where you find attention is needed. Yuval Noah Harari followed the same aforementioned strategy by carefully zooming out of the present to past and future times in his previous two books, “Sapiens” and “Homo Deus”, and then shed some light on the most worth-considering aspects in the form of “21 lessons for the 21st century”. He simplifies the intricate concepts, elaborates with examples, laughs at us, and, of course, warns us.

Harari starts with the ability of humans to create and believe in fiction. The concept of fiction can be elaborated on almost in every domain, whether it is religion, government, finance, or a moment. A chimpanzee will not trade his banana for seventy bananas in heaven, a pride performance award, a currency bill, or for the sake of communism. This great ability of humans made us collaborate on a large scale and believe in each other’s stories. The stories of the 21st century are related to Artificial Intelligence (AI) that may make us superhuman in near future. He goes on commenting on versatile topics: our working system; equality we need; the community we heading; where we stand as civilization; how religion, nationalism, terrorism, fake news may rule us; and, at the end he tells us about relevance we need to implement in future education.

The sum of benefits we getting from technology pales in comparison to the loads of fears we absorbed from it. Segregation between the underprivileged and superhuman—what Harari calls to people who will have almost everything they need—will increase as AI-based automation in health or industry strengthens. A social network campaign can dramatically change people’s opinion for voting, as what happened in the Cambridge Analytica data scandal. The community will be reshaped as we can witness a glimpse of it from present-day online schooling and work-from-home concepts. A war fought with robots may last longer as fewer humans are involved, considering it is not a nuclear war. Educated people of the present will become irrelevant in the future, not just unemployed.

Moral philosophy seems to have scope in the future, as the modern age will heavily mess things up. For instance, suppose you are in a self-driving car, and you are having the same situation as in a trolley problem; you have to choose the mode to kill one or six, based on your philosophy either is deontological in nature or consequentialist. Maybe we will fix basic pay or services for every human on earth, to decrease the disparities; maybe we need to relook into the philosophy of the policy country government or citizens adopt; maybe we have to choose between accepting a benign nationalism or eradicating borders. Harari critically analyses the problems and solutions, however, the choice is ours to make.

This book, in summary, is a revelation and a prophecy of apparently 21 lessons, but actually numerous, we have to consider to make this world a better place. I would rather call it a catalog of the problems we need to ponder, not a comprehensive survey of them. Harari’s bird eyes view of the past, present, and future is not good news for developing or underdeveloped nations. The superhuman, knowingly or unknowingly, will do the same with these nations what European settlers did to Africa and America or what Athenians said once: “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must”. I hope it is not the case and we are heading to a prosperous, globalized, and beautiful future.

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