I recently began reading a book by Yuval Noah Harari in which Harari shares his predictions for the future of homo sapiens. He calls this “the rise of the useless class” and says it’s one of the more dire threats of the 21st century. In a nutshell, as technology advances and artificial intelligence gets smarter, basic human skills will become irrelevant and our continued evolution will be redefined by technological advances. Jobs will begin to rely on AI technology and humans will be forced to learn new skills to keep up. His idea implies that humans will no longer run the world, AI technology will. In a recent interview with The Guardian he shared:
“What might be far more difficult is to provide people with meaning, a reason to get up in the morning,” Harari says. For those who don’t cheer at the prospect of a post-work world, satisfaction will be a commodity to pay for: our moods and happiness controlled by drugs; our excitement and emotional attachments found not in the world outside, but in immersive VR.”
This idea that Harari is presenting goes hand in hand with McLuhan’s technological determinism, which is the idea that extensions such as technology can change “the way people relate to their environment and each other, altering the social structure in the process”.
Harari’s insights showcase an altered social structure. Even Elon Musk agreed with the idea in a recent Forbes article.
“If one company or small group of people manages to develop god-like superintelligence, they could take over the world.”
Technological determinism doesn’t sound far off in the 20th century. Many of us already rely on smartphones for much of our communication. But the initial concept was developed in the 1960s when this wasn’t the norm. It came with much criticism for being too radical as McLuhan became an influential figure in the media.
While Harari and Musk’s foreshadowing sounds like The 100 and the “City of Light”, technological determinism offers a new look at the evolution of communication and homo sapiens. Technology has impacted society in many positive ways including AI-teaching assistants that teach children math skills, hospitals that employ AI-diagnosing assistance to help save more lives, and farming robots to help farmers.
What was originally a radical theory by McLuhan has suddenly become our reality. Technology will continue to advance and soon enough, homo sapiens will find ways to upgrade and modify themselves, just like you would a smartphone.
For more insights on Harari’s thinking, check out this video.