The world can be a very scary place. When I wrote Sapiens and Homo Deus I had no idea they would both become worldwide bestsellers. So I was totally unprepared when my publishers immediately demanded a follow-up. For a few hours I was in a state of panic, before inspiration came to me. If my previous books had dealt with the past and the future, why didn’t I just recycle a whole load of articles I had written for other publications and try to present them as my take on the present. Even though they also invariably dealt with the future. So here we go…
Disillusionment: No one knows what the future will look like. Humans like to tell themselves stories, be they in the form of religion or political ideologies, such as nationalism, communism and liberalism. But none of these can adequately prepare us for what may happen in the next 50 years. New technology and climate change might make the world more different than we can possibly imagine. So we had better keep an open mind and hope for the best.
Work: We have no idea what the job market will look like in 2050. Some people believe that machine learning and robotics will make humans economically redundant and that we should prepare for the future by lying on sun loungers on the beach. Others think that automation will generate new types of employment possibilities that we have not considered. My own hope is that AI and humans will learn to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. Fingers crossed.
Liberty: The liberal story cherishes human freedom as its number one value. The triumph of reason and free will. The reality is that we are as much products of what we feel as what we think. And computers now know that. Already algorithms control much of our daily lives, and in 50 years’ time, who knows what may happen? I don’t, but I’m not that hopeful as Google and Facebook could be ruling the world.
Equality: In the past few decades, people all over the world have been told that humankind is on the path to equality. Yet the world has never felt more unequal with vast wealth and power concentrated in the hands of the few while others have nothing. This is very bad and may well get worse unless we do something about it.
Civilisation: We all like to have a sense of belonging. We like to feel we have both national and social identities – even if many of our online communities are being spied on by Facebook. In the past wars have been clashes between civilisations. This still may happen in the future but we may also face more global challenges like ecological catastrophes and computers taking over the world. It is tricky to know what to do about this.
Religion: There are many good things about religions. Belief systems comfort us and bind us together. But ultimately they are all just stories to make us feel better. So it is probably not a good idea to expect religion to provide us with too much guidance about how to prepare for the future.
Immigration: A lot of countries are having a backlash against immigrants at a time when the economy is faltering and traditional jobs are under threat. But immigration can be a force for good, both economically and socially in helping different cultures to understand one another better. The key is to find the balance between bad immigration and good immigration before everyone is either controlled by Google or wiped out by a natural disaster. This is not easy and we have not yet found the answers.
Israel: Some of you might be wondering why there is a random chapter on why Israel should be more humble about its achievements. This is because it was lifted straight from an article I wrote for an Israeli newspaper and was intended just for a home audience. The rest of you can ignore it.
Terrorism: We shouldn’t be too scared of terrorism. Far fewer people die in terrorist incidents than die of drinking fizzy drinks. And no one is scared of sugar. Though if terrorists got their hands on nuclear weapons that would be a bit scary. What should worry us is if computers start global conflicts of their own accord and try to wipe us all out. Hopefully, though, we will have invented a failsafe mechanism to prevent this but no one should take anything for granted.
Justice: We all like to think we have a sense of right and wrong, but it is becoming far harder to have a natural sense of justice. Am I moral if I do nothing when there is a refugee crisis, computers are taking over the world and we are on the brink of a climate change catastrophe? Perhaps I am, perhaps I’m not.
Self-help: In the future everyone will write their own self-help books that have no answers and largely consist of statements of the obvious.
Resilience: See above.
Post-truth: See above.
See above: See above.
Meditation: I meditate for two hours or longer every day. I think you should give it a try. Though it may not work for you.