Three Pound Brain


“Studying history aims to loosen the grip of the past,” Yuval Noah Harari writes. “It enables us to turn our heads this way and that, and to begin to notice possibilities that our ancestors could not imagine, or didn’t want us to imagine” (59). Thus does the bestselling author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind rationalize his thoroughly historical approach to question of our technological future in his fascinating follow-up, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. And so does he identify himself as a humanist, committed to freeing us from what Kant would have called, ‘our tutelary natures.’ Like Kant, Harari believes knowledge will set us free.

Although by the end of the book it becomes difficult to understand what ‘free’ might mean here.

As Harari himself admits, “once technology enables us to re-engineer human minds, Homo sapiens will disappear, human history will come to…

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“The more steps I take back from researching the world of algorithms, the more I recognize a pattern in the moments and situation that a WMD will deploy. It’s not simply where there are people nearby who are gullible and intimidated by mathematics (that’s all people everywhere in the country, probably including you). Rather, a situation is ripe for a weaponized algorithm when there’s something to hide—some responsibility to be offloaded and injected into an alien black box.
That’s not to say algorithms are constructed to be evil. Many of the algorithms that end up being WMDs start out life as well-intentioned plans, efforts in education or in the justice system to establish consistent, fair, and objective criteria for decisions. Algorithms are advertised as such solutions, but they don’t become that way automatically. The problem is the blind faith; people are turning too much power over to the algorithm, without confirming that they are actually better than the previous system.
Algorithms form a constructed digital bureaucracy, where nobody in particular is to blame and everyone passively accepts their fate as directed from algorithmic gods on high. Seen that way, big data is a potent tool, and I expect insiders will make use of it whenever then can. Never mind that it can create systems that undermine their original goals.”
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