Nautilus

Yuval Noah Harari Is Worried About Our Souls

Just a few years ago Yuval Noah Harari was an obscure Israeli historian with a knack for playing with big ideas. Then he wrote Sapiens, a sweeping, cross-disciplinary account of human history that landed on the bestseller list and remains there four years later. Like Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel, Sapiens proposed a dazzling historical synthesis, and Harari’s own quirky pronouncements—“modern industrial agriculture might well be the greatest crime in history”— made for compulsive reading. The book also won him a slew of high-profile admirers, including Barack Obama, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg.

In his new book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Harari offers a grab bag of prognostications on everything from new technology to politics and religion. Although he’s become a darling of Silicon Valley, Harari is openly critical of how Facebook and other tech companies exploit our personal data, and he worries that online interactions are replacing actual face-to-face encounters. Much of the book speculates on the revolutionary impact of artificial intelligence. If computer algorithms can know you better than you know yourself, is there any room left for free will? And where does that leave our politics?

Harari is a rapid-fire conversationalist who seems to have an opinion about everything. He’s remarkably self-assured and clearly enjoys the role of provocateur. We began by agreeing that something feels very different about this moment in history. We are on the precipice of a revolution that will change humanity for either our everlasting benefit or destruction—it’s not clear which. “For the first time in history,” Harari said, “we have absolutely no idea how the world will look in 30 years.”

We are no longer afraid of the machine, Harari says, we have become it: “We no longer search for information. We Google. We trust the Google algorithm and we lose the ability to

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