Sunday, March 08, 2015

Dialogue between Yuval Noah Harari and Daniel Kahneman

This is a fascinating, thought-provoking dialogue about the future of humanity, but it's heavy on speculation, and light on evidence. 

For example, here is Yuval Noah Harari speculating about a future in which advances in technology have rendered most humans worthless as workers:
Yes, the social side is the more important and more difficult one. I don't have a solution, and the biggest question maybe in economics and politics of the coming decades will be what to do with all these useless people. I don't think we have an economic model for that. My best guess, which is just a guess, is that food will not be a problem. With that kind of technology, you will be able to produce food to feed everybody. The problem is more boredom, and what to do with people, and how will they find some sense of meaning in life when they are basically meaningless, worthless.
Harari makes a lot of assumptions. The fundamental assumption is that many or most people will not find ways to make their labor a useful complement to the labor of machines and computers.

This assumption is present in most discussions about Our Robotic Future, or Our Future after the Singularity. And for all I know it may be true. But surely it isn't the only possible scenario. By analogy, the Industrial Revolution didn't render manual laborers obsolete--it just required them to gain the skills necessary for working with machines in factories.

Now, there's certainly no guarantee that many or most workers will be able to gain the skills necessary to make their labor valuable in Our Robotic Future. And Tyler Cowen and other economists have presented evidence that income inequality is currently on the rise precisely because only some workers have managed to gain the skills and training necessary to make their labor a useful complement to the labor of computers. But I don't see a discussion of this or other evidence by Harari and Kahneman, which makes most of their comments pretty speculative.
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