The Residential Library

The sometimes demented, frequently irreverent, and occasionally stupid musings of Ron Hargrove

21 Lessons for the 21st Century

By Yuval Noah Harari   [2018]

  1. In liberal democracies around the world, more and more people fear being left behind in a world of automation, globalization and AI that will no longer need their labor.  They are losing faith in their governments because politicians don’t offer any plans for how to deal with this. This has led to Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump.
  2. Until recently it was thought that AI would not be able to replicate “human intuition”.  We now know that this is not true. Even the most cognitively demanding jobs will not be safe from AI.
  3. Terrorist groups are masters of manipulation.  Since 9/11 an average of 10 people a year are killed by terrorists in the US.  By contrast, 40,000 a year die in traffic accidents. And yet most of us are more fearful of terrorists than cars.
  4. 9/11 was carried out by about 20 terrorists with very few resources.  They killed fewer than 4,000 people, and did no damage to our roads, railways nor our military.  In response we’ve waged wars in the Middle East that have killed 180,000+ Iraqi and Afghan civilians and over 7,000 coalition troops, not to mention 10 times as many injured.  The cost of these wars will exceed $3 trillion. In addition, we have all but destroyed much of the Middle East. Fundamentalists are flourishing in the carnage left behind. Terrorists win when mighty governments over-react.
  5. Modern humans know appallingly little about how the world works.  This applies to government officials and voters alike. Both groups fail to realize how complex the world is and how ignorant they are.  Thus we have people who know almost nothing about meteorology proposing climate change policies and politicians forcefully espousing solutions to conflicts in Iraq even though they couldn’t find it on a map.
  6. Schools need to give students LESS information and MORE critical thinking abilities.  The current model of education worked well when there was a lack of information in the 1800s and part of the 1900s. Now the problem is TOO MUCH information and misinformation.  Students need to learn the difference between important information and irrelevant information / fake news.
  7. Leaders are often less well informed than the average person.  This is because as people become more and more powerful, those around them are less and less likely to tell them hard truths.  Also, experts tend to have very little time to inform the most powerful people so they tend to keep their views simple, free of ambiguity and nuance. The best information comes from those at the periphery of power.
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