Sapiens 2.0: Homo Deus?
May 24, 2016 8:42 AM   Subscribe

In his follow-up to Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari envisions what a 'useless class' of humans might look like as AI advances and spreads - "I'm aware that these kinds of forecasts have been around for at least 200 years, from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and they never came true so far. It's basically the boy who cried wolf, but in the original story of the boy who cried wolf, in the end, the wolf actually comes, and I think that is true this time."

posted by kliuless (23 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
 
What a useless class might look like? The unnecessariat is already here.
posted by gusandrews at 8:46 AM on May 24, 2016 [9 favorites]


Well, we should worry whenever someone is applying the label "useless" to people. An emphasis on the use value of human beings is the central, evil core of the agendas of technocrats and corporate capitalists.
posted by aught at 8:57 AM on May 24, 2016 [6 favorites]


Harari, it turns out, has a specific definition of useless. “I choose this very upsetting term, useless, to highlight the fact that we are talking about useless from the viewpoint of the economic and political system, not from a moral viewpoint,” he says.
posted by kliuless at 9:00 AM on May 24, 2016 [9 favorites]


I just assume they'd all look like the World of Warcraft guy.
posted by happyroach at 9:04 AM on May 24, 2016


An emphasis on the use value of human beings is the central, evil core of the agendas of technocrats and corporate capitalists.

You may be surprised to learn that Harari agrees with you:
“I choose this very upsetting term, useless, to highlight the fact that we are talking about useless from the viewpoint of the economic and political system, not from a moral viewpoint,” he says. Modern political and economic structures were built on humans being useful to the state: most notably as workers and soldiers, Harari argues. With those roles taken on by machines, our political and economic systems will simply stop attaching much value to humans, he argues.

posted by Sangermaine at 9:05 AM on May 24, 2016 [3 favorites]


It's interesting, but I think he is discounting how much 'work' it's going to take to adapt to the changing climate. We are a long way from being able to rely on algorithms to solve future problems, so we're a long way from tech-ing our way out of the disaster that is about to befall us.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:26 AM on May 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


Thanks for this, kluiless! So many links to read, but this post is first on my queue

>useless from the viewpoint of the economic and political system, not from a moral viewpoint

This seems to be a bit of a cop out, imo. I'm not saying that Harari is making a moral judgement, rather that most folks I know (americans) make moral judgements based on economics and politics. These economic/political judgements are largely products/drivers of prejudice as well- "vagrancy" was a crime for most of US history, and being unemployed is still seen as a moral failing in most places.

This seems especially true when looking at the age and wealth gap. I'm a "millennial," graduated college in december 08, and this shit has been staring me and my cohort in the face for at least a decade. We all know that the machines are better suited for the jobs out there- we see how braindead and repetitive the economy is. We also know that the older generations don't give a flying fuck about any of us. All the public infrastructure got destroyed to enrich some boomers back before we had any say; why should we be surprised when the (already inhumane) private sector also gets scrapped to enrich those same folks? Of course Wendy's blames their automation on the specter of a $15 minimum wage, but that same bottom line thinking makes even formerly "prestigious" jobs too costly to give to a human. But still I hear condemnation from boomers about the "laziness" of my generation.

The Boomers nuked our schools and called us uneducated. They nuked our unions and civil institutions then called us disconnected and selfish. They sold our churches out to political hacks, then got mystified and upset by our atheism. Of course they're going to nuke the jobs and call us useless. And like all the insults that capital lobs at the powerless, they will mean it in a moralistic way.
posted by DGStieber at 9:31 AM on May 24, 2016 [23 favorites]


You may be surprised to learn that Harari agrees with you:

Well, maybe, in a kind of detached and antiseptic way, maybe. But then I get ticked off when the underwriter message from Microsoft during NPR's Morning Edition says something like, "dedicated to the right of all people to become productive members of society." (I tried to look it up but the Goog failed me.)

Of course they're going to nuke the jobs and call us useless.

I don't think what's being talked about is specifically about Millennials.
posted by aught at 9:51 AM on May 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


You could argue that this has already happened multiple times. For example, in WWI and WWII we proved that massive industrial production could be maintained without the help of millions of conscripted men. When they came back, they were economically unnecessary people. As societies we made decisions to make them economically necessary again, and we carried out those decisions. Sometimes for better (the G.I. Bill and all that) and sometimes for worse (pushing women back to the home whether or not they wanted to go). We can make the same sorts of decisions no matter what happens with AI, if we want to.
posted by clawsoon at 10:09 AM on May 24, 2016 [4 favorites]


The Boomers nuked our schools and called us uneducated....Of course they're going to nuke the jobs and call us useless.

The Boomers? They're all going into retirement, and this is going to happen in the future. This is what Millenials will do (are doing) to their children. Although, in fairness, I see this as merely the latest stage in the Industrial Revolution. Either way you cut it, the Baby Boomers are not a key generation, here.
posted by Edgewise at 10:10 AM on May 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


They kind of are, because of their numbers. They voted to lower the drinking age to 18; then, when their children turned 18, they voted it back up again to 21.

I think the Boomers, along with everyone else, got spoiled by the prosperity after WWII, and don't want to give it up. But their numbers do make a difference.
posted by Melismata at 10:13 AM on May 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


>I don't think what's being talked about is specifically about Millennials.

Totally right! This shouldn't get threadjacked into a thing about Millenials v Boomers or whatever, because that erases tons of other criteria (race, gender, class, location) that will play a huge part in this dynamic.

Just replace "Boomers" with "Capital" and "Millenials" with "people who will have to live in the future that Capital makes."
posted by DGStieber at 10:16 AM on May 24, 2016 [7 favorites]


Our nation has seldom if ever been prepared to make changes that are needed in a time when such needs become apparent, and so I think one can suggest things will get fairly bad before much is done. That said, the author ignores the coming serious consequences of global climate change, with its potential for massive numbers of climate refugees, serious and frequent storms that are very disruptive, and areas now populated that will become vacated as uninhabitable.
posted by Postroad at 10:40 AM on May 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


we're a long way from tech-ing our way out of the disaster that is about to befall us.

The disaster may well end up reducing the practical carrying capacity of the planet. I just hope we do it strategically with family planning rather than war though I'm expecting the latter, particularly in areas where there's insufficient usablle water. A reduced population would take care of some of the problem of surplus human labor.
posted by Candleman at 11:08 AM on May 24, 2016


Even so, jobless humans are not useless humans. In the US alone, 93 million people do not have jobs, but they are still valued.

I question the premise.

There have always been plenty of people, whole communities of them, who either stop being useful to the economically powerful or never were. You can literally grind them into paste and no one will stop you. All AI brings to this is that it makes the raft smaller, thus forcing more of those who are succeeding in the current social and economic environment (i.e., people like us) into the water.
posted by Naberius at 11:12 AM on May 24, 2016 [4 favorites]


This is an astonishingly dense post, and I'm gleefully digging my way through it.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 12:53 PM on May 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


potential for massive numbers of climate refugees

Investment tip: put your money into companies that are capable of building automated weapons platforms that can be deployed at sea to eliminate unidentified small craft while they are still well off the coastline. A refugee that gets blown into chunks while still 100km from land is a refugee that didn't ever really exist. I mean, who's to say what happened, whatever the case it's not something we can really investigate now so let's all just move on.
posted by aramaic at 2:25 PM on May 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


The optimist in me says, "So....this is how we get to the Star Trek future." What do we do with our time? Why does it have to be reduced to watching VR helmets and consuming drugs? Why can't it be greater explorations of the arts and sciences? Why assume we must degrade into Wall-e's humans of the future?
posted by Atreides at 2:27 PM on May 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


"Investment tip: put your money into companies that are capable of building automated weapons platforms that can be deployed at sea to eliminate unidentified small craft while they are still well off the coastline. "

Yeah, I already have a Samsung phone. They're a pretty diverse company.
posted by I-baLL at 3:04 PM on May 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


The optimist in me says, "So....this is how we get to the Star Trek future." What do we do with our time? Why does it have to be reduced to watching VR helmets and consuming drugs? Why can't it be greater explorations of the arts and sciences? Why assume we must degrade into Wall-e's humans of the future?

Well, in the Star Trek future, first all the "useless" people are herded into internment camps
posted by rodlymight at 7:13 PM on May 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


Tangentially related to Harari's follow up: a thorough review of Sapiens. Not very positive, but definitely worth a read.
posted by kmt at 3:42 AM on May 25, 2016


holy shit I really need to go back and watch deep space nine and get a primer on what's about to happen in san francisco
posted by gusandrews at 9:30 PM on May 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


fwiw...
  • Challenges in engineering with machine learning - "Peter Norvig, Director of Research for Google, on developing state-of-the-art AI solutions for building tomorrow's intelligent systems."
  • The Race Between Machine and Man: Implications of Technology for Growth, Factor Shares and Employment - "Under reasonable conditions, there exists a stable balanced growth path in which the two types of innovations go hand-in-hand. An increase in automation reduces the cost of producing using labor, and thus discourages further automation and encourages the faster creation of new complex tasks. The endogenous response of technology restores the labor share and employment back to their initial level. Although the economy contains powerful self correcting forces, the equilibrium generates too much automation. Finally, we extend the model to include workers of different skills. We find that inequality increases during transitions, but the self-correcting forces in our model also limit the increase in inequality over the long-run."
  • History cycle:* globalization --> crisis/depression --> extremism --> war --> protectionism --> liberalization --> globalization?
  • The role of the state in the economy - "Stop crying about the size of government. Start caring about who controls it."*
also btw!
-On DAO and cryptocurrency tax issues (via)
-vox's DAO/ethereum writeup (economist on same)
-Platforms are the future—but not for everyone
-Blockchain technology could improve the reliability of medical trials
-Goldman Sachs: Here are 5 ways blockchain can change the world :P
posted by kliuless at 12:21 AM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


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