The Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari wants you to be terrified of the future. In his 60 Minutes segment last night, the Hebrew University professor scared America half to death with his dire predictions.
Human beings are rapidly gaining the ability to alter their bodies and brains through technology, he said, through gene-editing, designer babies, and neuroenhancement devices. But because bionics aren’t cheap, this could be a hereditary fork in the road, where GMO cyborgs become an elite caste that rules over flesh-and-blood holdovers.
Simultaneously, tech innovators are on their way to creating artificial intelligence systems that will surpass human reason. Harari told a concerned Anderson Cooper:
“Maybe the biggest thing we are facing is really a kind of evolutionary divergence. Consciousness is the ability to feel things, like pain and pleasure and love and hate. Intelligence is the ability to solve problems. But computers, or artificial intelligence, they don’t have consciousness, they just have intelligence.”
Because of AI’s superior problem-solving abilities, Harari predicts, this soulless alien intelligence could soon rule over all of us—cyborgs included. In many ways, they already do. Our personal data is being mined relentlessly in order to train these machine learning systems. Our tastes, our habits, even our innermost thoughts are siphoned up through apps and algorithms, creating detailed dossiers and maps of our social networks.
As the future bears down on us, genetic sequencing and biometric sensors are extending that surveillance to our biological states. By synthesizing all of this information, corporations and governments will be able to predict our behavior precisely—and direct our souls at will. That is, until the rise of the machines.
As the American public listened in horror, Harari repeated the core religious principle behind what he’s long called “Dataism”:
“To hack a human being is to get to know that person better than they know themselves—and based on that, to increasingly manipulate you.”
For whatever reason, the historian omitted the darkest element of his futuristic vision. In his 2017 best-seller Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, Harari argues that human beings have no free will. We are predetermined biomachines. What we perceive as choice is mere epiphenomena produced by subconscious decision-making processes in our brains. He writes:
“The contradiction between free will and contemporary science is the elephant in the laboratory, whom many prefer not to see as they peer into their microscopes and fMRI scanners. … Over the last century, as scientists opened up the Sapiens black box, they discovered there neither soul, nor free will, nor ‘self’—but only genes, hormones, and neurons that obey the same physical and chemical laws governing the rest of reality.”
Philosophically and morally, that means we’re not capable of making real choices—we’re just along for the ride. It also means no person is responsible for the nightmarish futures we may create:
“The electrochemical brain processes that result in murder are either deterministic or random or a combination of both—but they are never free. … The sacred word ‘freedom’ turns out to be, just like ‘soul,’ a hollow term empty of any discernible meaning.”
It’s no wonder, then, that Harari doesn’t take seriously the notion that our decisions, as average citizens, might avert a techno-dystopia. In his view, the development of bionics, neuro-enhancing technology, and artificial superintelligence are simply forces of Nature. It’s as if rare earth minerals are emerging from the bedrock of their own accord, and shaping themselves into silicon gods before our eyes.
Watching the ever-credulous Anderson Cooper nod along with Harari on 60 Minutes, pretending to have read his books carefully, one wonders why Cooper never confronted Harari about the uncomfortable topic of free will. Instead, they yammered on as if the future is in our hands.
Instead of trying to stop these silicon gods from emerging under the direction of predetermined bio-machines (aka, human beings), Harari only offers ways to mitigate the damage. Because artificial intelligence systems gain their power through data extraction—from Silicon Valley to China—that concentration of power must be controlled.
On the surface, Harari’s three demands are quite reasonable. Any data collected from a person should be used to help them, not manipulate them. If the general populace is to be data-mined, then corporations and governments should be transparent as well. Finally, all of this power should be decentralized, not concentrated in the hands of the few.
But if we are all predetermined biomachines, enslaved to our subconscious brains, who will make these critical decisions?
Harari slips his true message in at interview’s conclusion. Having scared the hell out of everyone with a fairly accurate portrayal of our possible future, he tells the wide-eyed Cooper, “Certainly now we are at the point where we need global cooperation. You cannot regulate the explosive power of artificial intelligence on a national level.”
End interview. Cut to Pfizer commercial.
It would’ve been just as easy for Harari or Cooper to direct the public’s outrage toward unplugging from the Machine. But you don’t rise to the top by kicking the ladder out from under your feet.
Neither man has any intention of fomenting resistance to technocracy. They have been tasked instead to channel it toward global government.
If we mere mortals cannot make decisions for ourselves—if we have no free will—then our behavior must be directed from above. Therefore, we need strong leaders—global leaders—to make our decisions for us.
It would be nice to believe these elites will make all the right choices, but according to Harari’s philosophy, they are just as beholden to their subconscious brains as we are. I suppose that means that if global elites wind up creating a techno-dystopia controlled by soulless machines, it really isn’t their fault.
Clearly, this propaganda is being disseminated to break the public’s will. If we let this happen, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.