“It's not because I overestimate the AI. It's because most people tend to overestimate human beings.”
I spoke with Harari recently for my podcast, The Ezra Klein Show. To hear our whole conversation, subscribe on iTunes (or wherever you get your podcasts) or stream it off SoundCloud.
In this excerpt, which has been edited for length and clarity, Harari and I discuss the rise of artificial intelligence, whether digital consciousness is a necessary byproduct of digital intelligence, and what it will all mean for human beings.
Yuval Harari, author of Sapiens, on how meditation made him a better historian
As you’ll see, I’m a bit less convinced than Harari is that the computers are coming for our jobs, and that human beings are on the edge of economic uselessness. But I could very well be wrong, and he makes a good case that I am.
We also talk about virtual reality, and the possibility that we will manage the problem of economic irrelevance by retreating into artificial wonderlands that give us the meaning and the narrative that our daily lives deny us. Harari argues we’ve been applying that salve for a millennium now — we just called it religion.
Ezra KleinDo you think that in 200 or 300 years, human beings will be the dominant actor on Earth?
Yuval Harari Absolutely not. If you asked me in 50 years, it would be a difficult question, but 300 years, it's a very easy question. In 300 years, Homo sapiens will not be the dominate life form on Earth, if we exist at all.
Given the current pace of technological development, it is possible we destroy ourselves in some ecological or nuclear calamity. The more likely possibility is that we will use bioengineering and machine learning and artificial intelligence either to upgrade ourselves into a totally different kind of being or to create a totally different kind of being that will take over.
In any case, in 200 or 300 years, the beings that will dominate the Earth will be far more different from us than we are different from Neanderthals or from chimpanzees.