Continued. from yesterday: Writer Huval Noah Harari sees three broad directions for humankind:
1. Humans will lose their economic and military usefulness, and the economic system will stop attaching much value to them.
2. The system will still find value in humans collectively but not in unique individuals.
3. The system will, however, find value in some unique individuals, “but these will be a new race of upgraded superhumans rather than the mass of the population”.
By “system”, he means the new kind of society that will evolve as bioscience and information technology progress at their current breakneck pace. As before, this society will be based on a deal between religion and science, but this time humanism will be displaced by what Harari calls “dataism” – a belief that the universe consists of data flows, and the value of any entity or phenomenon is determined by its contribution to data processing.
It is quite possible that massive and indigestible “Big Data” will eventually collapse under its own weight. But in two other areas, Harari is perceptive. The first is that our confident belief that we cannot be superseded by machines – because we have consciousness and they cannot have it – may be naive, because machine consciousness will be possible but because for Harari’s dystopia to arrive, we will need super-intelligent machines. and consciousness will not be necessary or required.
The second is the potential of bioscience. Even the Economist recently ran a cover story entitled: “Cheating death: the science that can extend your lifespan.” But the exciting new possibilities offered by genetic technology will be expensive and available only to elites. So the long century in which medicine had a “levelling up” effect on human populations, bringing good healthcare within the reach of most people, has come to an end. Even today, rich people live longer and healthier lives. In a couple of decades, that gap will widen into a chasm. (Part of an article by John Naughton, The Guardian, 28 August 2016, commenting on Yuval Noah Harari’s book, “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow”.
My comment: Not a lot of this is new. Some years ago my wife and I were talking to someone from the OECD. He let slip that planning was afoot to create a giant “living bubble“ a massive dome under which elite, chosen human beings could live while climate change laid waste to the outside world, a world consumed with famine, mass migration and warfare. (Ihave to point out that, meeting him some years later he denied ever having said anything of the sort!) But maybe it is not so far-fetched. It can only happen when the mass of humanity have “lost their economic and military usefulness” and where a tech-savvy crowd of super- humans have arranged to live in safety, each for 150 years.