The Lakewood Democratic Book Club met on Monday February 5, 2018 at 6:30 p.m. to discuss the book “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.” The following is a synopsis of that discussion.
Unlike other authors we have read, Yuval Noah Harari does not particularly advocate saving our planet per se. Rather he warns about the very real possibility of the destruction of the human race and possibly of all organic life forms. He argues we are oblivious to the dangers big data increasingly pose. Both artificial intelligence and biotechnology use the same underlying mathematical algorithms. This could he argues “collapse(s) the barrier between animals and machines”. Their merger could spell our doom.
The majority of us really liked the book because again it was an eye-opener. The author was invited to lecture and to participate in panel discussions at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland so it would seem he is on to something important.
Two of us did not like the book at all and refused to finish it. We all agreed that this was a very uncomfortable even upsetting book.
Two of us prepared long lists of quotes to discuss but, of course, we only got to a few of those. For instance, from Chapter 8 (The Time Bomb in the Laboratory) discussion of over reliance on artificial intelligence. Ïn the twenty-first century we might witness the creation of a massive new unworking class: people devoid of any economic, political or even artistic value, who contribute nothing to the prosperity, power and glory of society. This useless ‘class' will not merely be unemployed — it will be unemployable” and from Chapter 3 (The Human Spark) “Corporations, money and nations exist only in our imaginations. We invented them to serve us; why do we find ourselves sacrificing our lives in their service?" triggered a discussion about the value, the distribution, and the nature of work. What will be its place in the future? Why work? Why is work so precious? One of us mentioned that the notion of a guaranteed living stipend already exists.
Technology is supposed to serve mankind. Technology is not being used to democratize the social good. Why are we slaves to technology? Our economy is driven by growth. We need to manage growth. We are not correcting quickly enough. We perceive efficiency as a positive component of our society, but is it? From Chapter 3 (The Human Spark) "It is dangerous to trust our future to market forces, because these forces do what’s good for the market rather than what’s good for humankind or for the world.”
(Chapter 11, The Data Religion) reminded us of the possible perils that the indiscriminate use of the internet of all things and our eagerness to share our health status, our likes and dislikes on all components of our lives from trivial to life changing on Facebook and other social media could very well bring about. "Present-day democratic structures just cannot collect and process the relevant data fast enough and most voters don’t understand biology and cybernetics well enough to form any pertinent opinions.” “The algorithms know the underlying neurological reasons of how a person will vote.” (Chapter 8, Time Bomb in the Laboratory) ”The shifting of authority from humans to algorithms is happening all around us, not as a result of some momentous governmental decision, but due to a flood of mundane personal choices.”
A comment was made to the effect that this would appear to be a logical consequence of the warnings in “The All New Don’t Think of an Elephant” by George Lakoff, that we have already read and which was written, according to the author, specifically for Democrats to help them cope with the faster and faster changing world in which we live.
Our next book is “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” by Michael Wolff. We will meet twice to allow people enough time to get through the book and so more people can attend.
Part I Discussion on Monday, March 5 at 6:30 p.m. at Panera’s, 14701 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood
Part 2 Discussion on Tuesday, March 20 at 7:00 p.m. at Bottle House Brewing Company, 13368 Madison Avenue, Lakewood