Archive for March, 2019

Humankind’s History, Science, Technology and Beyond

Friday, March 1st, 2019

Brain under layers of circuit boards

Today I will write a post about the intersection between technology, science and human nature based on the last three books I’ve read. Since I am a passionate person that reads a lot and try to be on the verge of what goes on in the fields of science and technology (amongst other things), I’ve recently read very enthusiastically the famous “trilogy” of books from the author Yuval Noah Harari (Twitter: @harari_yuval). He writes brilliantly about our species story, how we are evolving and the challenges posed by fields such as science and technology to keep humankind “on track”. The way he portrayed our history as a species together with the challenges we have already faced (and are facing now) and our cultural aspects are just amazing. On his first book “Sapiens”, as a historian, Yuval gives the reader several interesting perspectives on how we became a society with cultural values and how money “was born” as a way to exchange goods creating empires such as the Persians, Romans, England and now the United States. In his second book, “Homo Deus”, he was able to show how humans are using scientific breakthroughs and technology to improve several sectors important to us such as health, finances, logistics, etc. In a world were mobile phones are in everybody’s hands and big data is the new “oil”, we face a lot of challenges with our own privacy and how to keep it private. Science and Technology always bring the good and the bad in humanity. The balance between both will be our “salvation” I guess. Yuval used several examples on how computer science, data science and artificial intelligence (AI) are changing our present and he also shows several scenarios on how it will impact our future. He also discusses the breakthroughs in biotechnology. Interestingly, he makes a very nice comparison between algorithms and how living cells work. In the end, we have biochemical reactions and several organic compounds in our cells and bodies that “use” codes that he calls biological algorithms to bring life to earth. An algorithm is a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer. In this case, Yuval discusses how human bodies and cells remind us of computer algorithms. Since we are now building algorithms using AI technologies that are already taking jobs from people and could be as smart as humans in the near future this makes complete sense. Some of these technologies have been already used. For example, genetic engineering is using algorithms to edit cells and babies based on the CRISPR technology in life sciences causing a lot of discussion in the scientific community. In his last book of the “trilogy”, “21 lessons for the 21st century”, Yuval brings up interesting philosophical discussions using very concrete arguments. He discusses how political models such as democracy and socialism in countries have failed us and how we need to rethink ways of improving our political views as individuals. Also, he discusses religion and how people have been reacting to it since the beginning of humankind. His point is that we as humans need to believe in something bigger than us. However, what about if a “God” as we imagine does not exist and we are just made of algorithms in a very random way? Again in his third book he touches the future of humankind and how AI and data science are and will impact our lives in a daily basis. I myself believe that scientific and technological breakthroughs are very important, but we need to think very carefully about their social impacts and privacy issues. Are they increasing or decreasing the gap between the rich and the poor people in the world? That is a very good question that is still open for discussion. I really suggest everybody to read all his three books. They complete each other and opened my mind to humankind’s history, our present and several nuances on our future mainly focused in science, technology and beyond. I can disclose here that I am not getting a dime to promote Yuval’s books, just felt like every one of us need to read, even with some criticism, his amazing book “trilogy”. I really enjoyed reading them myself.

Image Source: Time Magazine