in collaboration with Audible
If I had to pick only one book to recommend, from the entire, gigantic Audible library, I’d probably choose this one (which is why I’m writing about it today). In my opinion, this book is among the most important writings of our time. In “21 Lessons for the 21st Century”, Harari engages with essential questions of the future, but even more crucially, he offers clarity in these tumultuous times. As the author puts it: “clarity is power”. It makes for powerful prose, that it is for sure. Hariri manages to refocus his readers, by questioning our values. This confrontation is an eye-opener. The impact of this book was so profound, that it inspired me to write this text, in which I reflect on and adapt his questions.
What will our future look like?
Pretty grim, if we give credence to the opinions of a great many scientists. We, as humanity, are heading downhill at full throttle, unsure whether we’ll make it around the crucial bend below. The rate of change has been staggering over the past few years. We are, indeed, moving at high speed. Change has never been as relentless as it is now.
Where are we heading?
And for how much longer can we sustain our current lifestyle? What good is all our money, and all the stuff we buy with it, if we’re draining earth of its resources, if the oceans are fished empty, and if huge swathes of land become uninhabitable due to catastrophic environmental conditions? The price we’re paying for the status quo is enormous. But who will pay it? It appears that – especially – baby-boomers in high positions don’t really care, let alone step up to the responsibility. They won’t be presented with the bill, Generation Alpha will be. Generation Alpha – the term refers to the children of the so-called and much-referred-to millennials. Generation Alpha kids may not even be born yet. The Australian social scientist who coined the term calls the leap from Gen Z to Generation Alpha the most significant generation change in history. It has to be, for change is absolutely crucial at this point.
Our generation is slowly realizing what globalization and consumer culture means for the future. But how much of the bigger picture do we see yet?
Do we understand, for example, the implications of artificial intelligence, a technology that will form part of our daily lives very soon? We are talking about an intelligence that grows and expands at exponential rates, with computing power that could, for example, take the financial markets out of the hands of humans and into territory that is so complex that no human has access to it anymore. Who needs a financial advisor, if an algorithm does the job so much better, and so much faster?
Another area is the labour market. A great many jobs, including jobs that were considered particularly secure until recently, will simply evaporate. Who is going to need doctors, lawyers or civil servants for standardized tasks, if an AI is readily available to do a much better job? Who needs a human, when diagnosis will be possible from afar, when paperwork will be phased out, when the conquest of digitization finally concludes? The only demand that will remain may be for a handful of highly trained specialists. This makes it all the more important that our children, the humans that will form Generation Alpha, receive an education that reflects both their desires and strengths and equips them well for the world they will live in.
The future belongs to philosophers, designers, nurses, educators and all the artistic and social professions that were deemed economically unviable up until now. Real interest will be key, in whatever task or topic is at hand. The only area that AI won’t be able to outdo us is our humanity and our moral core.
But what will happen to all those who chose the path of briefcases and suits? Well, it remains to be seen, but the future doesn’t look particularly bright for the foot-soldiers of capitalism. Consider this challenge: how can a state survive, whose population is unemployed?Unconditional basic income will likely be a logical consequence of the current development projected into the future, where increasingly artificial intelligences generate most of the income and tax revenue. We don’t need to look into the future to see the writing on the wall, this is already in place today.
A new problem will arise, which will affect a great, maybe the greatest part of humanity
How will we handle a reality where our existence will suddenly seem devoid of purpose and effect? What happens when the individual is stripped of their role in society? This constitutes a major problem that no one is able to propose solutions for right now.
Our entire education system will have to change from the ground up to buffer at least some of the adverse effects of these changes. We need to move away from drill and force-fed information, towards nurturing creativity and the faculties of critical thinking. How, for example, do we distinguish real and fake news? Contextualizing and connecting snippets of information, and developing original ideas will be among the most important skills in this millennium. We are heading for the future at mind-boggling speed, and the future at us. We will be swept up by a wave of change, one way or another. The only question is:
do we want to choose our direction?
Yuval Harari is a historian and one of the most important writers of our time. His books, all of them eye-openers, are world-wide bestsellers. Harari demonstrates how important it is to properly contextualize our own existence, and how crucial it is to engage with the questions of tomorrow today. He presents a range of arguments that stimulate the reader’s own engagement with these questions. Moreover, his books are amazing for fans of audiobooks. I found them perfect to listen to during tasks that don’t require mental attention, be it household chores or a train ride. I warmly recommend all of his books, have a listen, you won’t regret it.