Our Comforting Beliefs

I’m really tired of hearing and reading this anti-fear-mongering nonsense from economic and tech pundits, who keep repeating that the current tech revolution (lead by AI) is the same as the industrial revolution, and will lead to new types of employment in the long term, which will compensate for the short term loss of employment across so many sectors.

Uneducated people are supposedly more fearful of an uncertain future, presumably because they don’t have the tools or the knowledge to recognize the patterns from history and make good predictions based on those. I’d argue that it’s the educated people who are complacent, comforted by this ignorant belief that history must have answers for us, so there’s no need to be pessimistic about the future.

Human history as a whole has no parallel that we know of, so we have nothing to compare it to except itself, and that history (our understanding of it) is still too small for us to make any deeply and enduringly meaningful predictions based on what we have learned (or think we have learned) from it. There is no universal law that says the human race must continue to exist. (That doesn’t mean it won’t continue. It just means we shouldn’t kid ourselves that we’re safe from extinction.)

Similarly, there’s no reason to believe that, “oh, there will always be some kind of work for people to do. Everything is gonna be okay.” Historian Yuval Noah Harari has captured so perfectly so much of my recent thoughts on these comforting beliefs in this piece:

http://ideas.ted.com/the-rise-of-the-useless-class/

If you don’t feel like reading and prefer to listen, this TED interview (60 minutes) is also fascinating, if you have the time to listen. Well worth it.

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