Hi! 👋 I’m Jessa.

I blog daily about life, work, and the future.


The author presented a lot of emerging challenges that will make you rethink how you position yourself in a rapidly changing world. This book is also packed with many thought-provoking ideas that will make you wonder why you have never considered them before.

Change in every facet of life might be disorienting, but being keen enough to observe the signals of change going on around you can give you an advantage. And this book will help you do just that.

Quotes from the book


  • In a world deluged by irrelevant information, clarity is power.
  • “If the future of humanity is decided in your absence, because you are too busy feeding and clothing your kids — you and they will not be exempt from the consequences.”
  • “I look at the major forces that shape societies all over the world, and that are likely to influence the future of our planet as a whole.”
  • “Democratic politics, human rights and free-market capitalism seemed destined to conquer the entire world. But as usual, history took an unexpected turn, and after fascism and communism collapsed, now liberalism is a jam. So where are we heading?”

Part I: The Technological Challenge

1. Disillusionment: The end of history has been postponed
  • “Humankind is losing faith in the liberal story that dominated global politics in recent decades, exactly when the merger of biotech and infotech confronts us with the biggest challenges humankind has ever encountered.”
  • “Humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers.”
  • “Much of our plant is dominated by tyrants, and even in the most liberal countries many citizens suffer from poverty, violence and oppression. But at least we know what we need to do in order to overcome these problems: give people more liberty.”
  • “Others have concluded (rightly or wrongly) that liberalisation and globalisation are a huge racket empowering a tiny elite at the expense of the masses.”
  • “The liberal political system has been shaped during the industrial era to manage a world of steam engines, oil refineries and television sets. It finds it difficult to deal with the ongoing revolutions in information technology and biotechnology.”
  • Since the 1990s the Internet has changed the world probably more than any other factor, yet the Internet revolution was directed by engineers more than by political parties.”
  • “Humans were always far better at inventing tools than using them wisely.”
  • “It is much harder to struggle against irrelevance than against exploitation.”
  • “Liberty is not worth much unless it is coupled with some kind of social safety net. Social-democratic welfare states combined democracy and human rights with state-sponsored education and healthcare. Even the ultra-capitalist USA has realised that the protection of liberty requires at least some government welfare services. Starving children have no liberties.”
  • “Democracy is based on Abraham Lincoln’s principle that ‘you can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.’”
  • “Through its monopoly over the media, the ruling oligarchy can repeatedly blame all its failures on others, and divert attention to external threats — either real or imaginary.”
  • “…economic growth will not save the global ecosystem — just the opposite, it is the cause of the ecological crisis. And economic growth will not solve technological disruption — it is predicated on the invention of more and more disruptive technologies.”
  • The technological revolution might soon push billions of humans out of the job market, and create a massive new useless class, leading to social and political upheavals that no existing ideology knows how to handle. All the talk about technology and ideology might sound abstract and remote, but the very real prospect of mass unemployment — or personal unemployment — leaves nobody indifferent.”
2. Work: When you grow up, you might not have a job
  • “Hence the threat of job losses does not result merely from the rise of infotech. It results from the confluence of infotech with biotech.”
  • “If art is really about inspiring (or manipulating) human emotions, few if any human musicians will have a chance of competing with such an algorithm, because they cannot match it in understanding the chief instrument they are playing on: the human biochemical system.”
  • “AI might help create new human jobs in another way. Instead of humans competing with AI, they could focus on servicing and leveraging AI.”
  • “Even if we could constantly invent new jobs and retrain the workforce, we may wonder whether the average human will have the emotional stamina necessary for a life of such endless upheavals. Change is always stressful, and the hectic world of the early twenty-first century has produced a global epidemic of stress.
  • “The potential social and political disruptions are so alarming that even if the probability of systemic mass unemployed is low, we should take it very seriously.”
  • “The challenge posed to humankind in the twenty-first century by infotech and biotech is arguably much bigger than the challenge posed in the previous era by steam engines, railroads and electricity.”
  • “It is debatable whether it is better to provide people with universal basic income (the capitalist paradise) or universal basic services (the communist paradise). Both options have advantages and drawbacks. But no matter which paradise you choose, the real problem is in defining what ‘universal’ and ‘basic’ actually mean.”
  • “…the quest for meaning and for community might eclipse the quest for a job.”
  • “If we manage to combine a universal economic safety net with strong communities and meaningful pursuits, losing our jobs to the algorithms might actually turn out to be a blessing. Losing control over our lives, however, is a much scarier scenario.”
3. Liberty: Big data is watching you
  • “The liberal story cherishes human liberty as its number one value. It argues that all authority ultimately stems from the free will of individual humans, as it is expressed in their feelings, desires and choices.
    • In politics, liberalism believes that the voter knows best. It therefore upholds democratic elections.
    • In economics, liberalism maintains that the customer is always right. It therefore hails free-market principles.
    • In personal matters, liberalism encourages people to listen to themselves, be true to themselves, and follow their hearts — as long as they do not infringe on the liberties of others. This personal freedom is enshrined in human rights.”
  • “Referendums and elections are always about human feelings, not about human rationality. If democracy were a matter of rational decision-making, there would be absolutely no reason to give all people equal voting rights — perhaps any voting rights. There is ample evidence that some people are far more knowledgeable and rational than others, certainly when it comes to specific economic and political questions.”
  • “This reliance on the heart might prove to be the Achilles heel of liberal democracy. For once somebody (whether in Beijing or in San Francisco) gains the technological ability to hack and manipulate the human heart, democratic politics will mutate into an emotional puppet show.”
  • “Soon authority might shift again – from humans to algorithms. Just as divine authority was legitimised by religious mythologies, and human authority was justified by the liberal story, so the coming technological revolution might establish the authority of Big Data algorithms, while undermining the very idea of individual freedom.”
  • “As scientists gain a deeper understanding of the way humans make decisions, the temptation to rely on algorithms is likely to increase. Hacking human decision-making will not only make Big Data algorithms more reliable, it will simultaneously make human feelings less reliable.”
  • “We no longer search for information. Instead, we google. And as we increasingly rely on Google for answers, so our ability to search for information by ourselves diminishes. Already today, ‘truth’ is defined by the top results of the Google search.
  • “In the hands of a benign government, powerful surveillance algorithms can be the best thing that ever happened to humankind. Yet the same Big Data algorithms might also empower a future Big Brother, so that we might end up with an Orweillian surveillance regime in which all individuals are monitored all the time.”
  • “As algorithms come to know us so well, authoritarian governments could gain absolute control over their citizens, even more so than in Nazi Germany, and resistance to such regimes might be utterly impossible.”
  • “Democracy in its present form cannot survive the merger of biotech and infotech. Either democracy will successfully reinvent itself in a radically new form, or humans will come to live in ‘digital dictatorships’.”
  • “Even if democracy manages to adapt and survive, people might become victims of new kinds of oppression and discrimination.”
  • “…humans are similar to other domesticated animals. We have bred docile cows that produce enormous amounts of milk, but are otherwise far inferior to their wild ancestors. They are less agile, less curious and less resourceful.”
4. Equality: Those who own the data own the future
  • “Property is a prerequisite for long-term inequality.”
  • “Governments in both democracies and dictatorships invested heavily in the health, education and welfare of the masses, because they needed millions of healthy labourers to operate the production lines and millions of loyal soldiers to fight in the trenches.”
  • “The two processes together — bioengineering coupled with the rise of AI — might therefore result in the separation of humankind into a small class of superhumans and a massive underclass of useless Homo sapiens.”
  • “If we want to prevent the concentration of all wealth and power in the hands of a small elite, the key is to regulate the ownership of data.”
  • “In the twenty-first century, however, data will eclipse both land and machinery as the most important asset, and politics will be a struggle to control the flow of data. If data becomes concentrated in too few hands — humankind will split into different species.”
  • At present, people are happy to give away their most valuable asset — their personal data — in exchange for free email services and funny cat videos. It is a bit like African and Native American tribes who unwittingly sold entire countries to European imperialists in exchange for colourful beads and cheap trinkets. If, later on, ordinary people to decide to try and block the flow of data, they might find it interestingly difficult, especially as they might come to rely on the network for all their decisions, and even for their healthcare and physical survival.”
  • “As more and more data flows from your body and brain to the smart machines via the biometric sensors, it will become easy for corporations and government agencies to know you, manipulate you, and make decisions on your behalf. Even more importantly, they could decipher the deep mechanisms of all bodies and brains, and thereby gain the power to engineer life. If we want to prevent a small elite from monopolising such godlike powers, and if we want to prevent humankind from splitting into biological castes, the key question is: who owns the data? Does the data about my DNA, my brain and my life belong to me, to the government, to a corporation, or to the human collective?
  • “Mandating the governments to nationalise the data will probably curb the power of big corporations, but it may also result in creepy digital dictatorships.”
  • “We know how to build a fence around a field, place a guard at the gate, and control who can go in. Over the past two centuries we have become extremely sophisticated in regulating the ownership of industry — thus today I can own a piece of General Motors and a bit of Toyota by buying their shares. But we don’t have much experience in regulating the ownership of data, which is inherently a far more difficult task, because unlike land and machines, data is everywhere and nowhere at the same time, it can move at the speed of light, and you can create as many copies of it as you want.”

Part II: The Political Challenge

5. Community: Humans have bodies
  • “Humans have bodies. During the last century technology has been distancing us from our bodies. We have been losing our ability to pay attention to what we smell and taste. Instead we are absorbed in our smartphones and computers. We are more interested in what is happening in cyberspace than in what is happening down the street.
  • “If something exciting happens, the gut instinct of Facebook users is to pull out their smartphones, take a picture, post it online, and wait for the ‘likes’. In the process they barely notice what they themselves feel. Indeed, what they feel is increasingly determined by the online reactions.”
6. Civilisation: There is just one civilisation in the world
  • “The process of human unification has taken two distinct forms: establishing links between distinct groups, and homogenising practices across groups. Links may be formed even between groups that continue to behave very differently.”
  • “Global politics thus follows the Anna Karenina principle: successful states are all alike, but every failed state fails in its own way, by missing this or that ingredient of the dominant political package.”
  • “In premodern times humans have experimented not only with diverse political systems, but also with a mind-boggling variety of economic models.”
  • “Nowadays, in contrast, almost everybody believes in slightly different variations on the same capitalist theme, and we are all cogs within a single global production line.”
  • “A thousand years ago every culture has its own story about the universe, and about the fundamental ingredients of the cosmic soup. Today, learned people throughout the world believes exactly the same things about matter, energy, time and space.”
  • “People still have different religions and national identities. But when it comes to the practical stuff — how to build a state, an economy, a hospital, or a bomb — almost all of us belong to the same civilisation.”
  • “The big challenges of the twenty-first century will be global in nature.”
  • “Though humankind is very far from constituting a harmonious community, we are all members of a single rowdy global civilisation.”
  • “If globalisation brings with it so many problems — why not just abandon it?”
7. Nationalism: Global problems need global answers
  • “Does a return to nationalism offer real solutions to the unprecedented problems of our global world, or is it an escapist indulgence that may doom humankind and the entire biosphere to disaster?”
  • “Huge systems cannot function without mass loyalties, and expanding the circle of human empathy certainly has its merits.”
  • “It is a dangerous mistake to imagine that without nationalism we would all be living in a liberal paradise. More likely, we would be living in tribal chaos.”
  • The problem starts when benign patriotism morphs into chauvanistic ultra-nationalism. Instead of believing that my nation is unique — which is true of all nations — I might begin feeling that my nation is supreme, that I owe it my entire loyalty, and that I have no significant obligations to anyone.”
  • “Nationalist isolationism is probably even more dangerous in the context of climate change than of nuclear war.”
  • “An atom bomb is such an obvious and immediate threat that nobody can ignore it. Global warming, in contrast, is a more vague and protracted menace.”
  • “Particularly in a xenophobic dog-eat-dog world, if even a single country chooses to pursue a high-risk, high-gain technological path, other countries will be forced to do the same, because nobody can afford to remain behind. In order to avoid such a race to the bottom, humankind will probably need some kind of global identity and loyalty.”
  • “Each of these three problems — nuclear war, ecological collapse and technological disruption — is enough to threaten the future of human civilisation. But taken together, they add up to an unprecedented existential crisis, especially because they are likely to reinforce and compound one another.”
  • Technology has changed everything by creating a set of global existential threats that no nation can solve on its own. A common enemy is the best catalyst for forging a common identity, and humankind now has at least three such enemies — nuclear war, climate change and technological disruption.”
  • “In the twenty-first century, nations find themselves in the same situation as the old tribes: they are no longer the right framework to manage the most important challenges of the age. We need a new global identity because national institutions are incapable of handling a set of unprecedented global predicaments. We now have a global ecology, a global economy and a global science — but we are still stuck with only national politics. This mismatch prevents the political system from effectively countering our main problems. To have effective politics, we must either de-globalise the ecology, the economy and the march of science — or we must globalise our politics.
  • “Rather, to globalise politics means that political dynamics within countries even cities should give far more weight to global problems and interests.”
8. Religion: God now serves the nation
  • “In order to draw firm lines in the shifting sands of humanity, religion use rites, rituals and ceremonies. Shiites, Sunnis and Orthodox Jews wear different clothes, chant different prayers, and observe different taboos. These differing religious traditions often fill daily life with beauty, and encourage people to behave more kindly and charitably.”
  • “Other religious traditions fill the world with a lot of ugliness, and make people behave meanly and cruelly.”
  • “But whether beautiful or ugly, all such religious traditions unite certain people while distinguishing them from their neighbours.”
  • “No matter how technology will develop, we can expect that arguments about religious identities and rituals will continue to influence the use of new technologies, and might well retain the power to set the world ablaze.”
  • “We are trapped, then, between a rock and a hard place. Humankind now constitutes a single civilisation, and problems such as nuclear war, ecological collapse and technological disruption can only be solved on the global level. On the other hand, nationalism and religion still divide our human civilisation into different and often hostile camps.”
9. Immigration: Some cultures might be better than others
  • “Though globalisation has greatly reduced cultural differences across the planet, it has simultaneously made it far easier to encounter strangers and become upset by their oddities.”
  • “As more and more humans cross more and more borders in search of jobs, security and a better future, the need to confront, assimilate or expel strangers strains political systems and collective identities that were shaped in less fluid times.”
  • “To clarify matters, it would perhaps be helpful to view immigration as a deal with three basic conditions or terms:
    1. Term 1: The host country allows the immigrants in.
    2. Term 2: In return, the immigrants must embrace at least the core norms and values of the host country, even if that means giving up some of their traditional norms and values.
    3. Term 3: If the immigrants assimilate to a sufficient degree, over time they become equal and full members of the host country. ‘They’ become ‘us’.”
  • “When people argue about immigration, they often confuse the four debates, so that nobody understands what the argument is really about. It is therefore best to look at each of these debates separately.
    1. Debate 1: The first clause of the immigration deal says simply that the host country allows immigrants in. But should this be understood as a duty or a favour? Is the host country obliged to open its gates to everybody, or does it have the right to pick and choose, and even to halt immigration altogether?
    2. Debate 2: The second clause of the immigration deal says that if they are allowed to, the immigrants have an obligation to assimilate into the local culture. But how far should assimilation go?
    3. Debate 3: The third clause of the immigration deal says that if immigrants indeed make a sincere effort to assimilate — and in particular to adopt the value of tolerance — the host country is duty-bound to treat them as first-class citizens. But exactly how much time needs to pass before the immigrants become full members of society?
    4. Debate 4: On top of all these disagreements regarding the exact definition of the immigration deal, the ultimate question is whether the deal is actually working. Are both sides living up to their obligations?
  • “Racism was seen as not only morally abysmal, but also as scientifically bankrupt.”
  • “Traditional racism is waning, but the world is now full of ‘culturists’.”
  • “Terrorism is the weapon of a marginal and weak segment of humanity.”

Part III: Despair and Hope

10. Terrorism: Don’t panic
  • “Terrorists stage a horrifying spectacle of violence that captures our imagination and turns it against us.”
  • “Terrorists don’t think like army generals. Instead, they think like theatre producers.”
  • “Like terrorists, those combating terrorism should also think more like theatre producers and less like army generals. Above all, if we want to combat terrorism effectively we must realise that nothing the terrorists do can defeat us. We are the only ones who can defeat ourselves, if we overreact in a misguided way to the terrorist provocations.”
  • “A terrorist is like a gamble holding a particularly bad hand, who tries to convince his rivals to reshuffle the cards. He cannot lose anything, and he may win everything.”
  • “A small coin in a big empty jar makes a lot of noise.”
  • “This is what makes the theatre of terrorism so successful. The state has created a huge space empty of political violence, which now acts as a sounding board, amplifying the impact of any armed attack, however small. The less political violence in a particular state, the greater the public shock at an act of terrorism.”
  • The theatre of terror cannot succeed without publicity. Unfortunately, the media all too often provides this publicity for free. It obsessively reports terror attacks and greatly inflates their danger, because reports on terrorism sell newspapers much better than reports on diabetes or air pollution.”
  • “It is the responsibility of every citizen to liberate his or her imagination from the terrorists, and to remind ourselves of the true dimensions of this threat. It is our own inner terror that prompts the media to obsess about terrorism, and the government to overreact.
11. War: Never underestimate human stupidity
  • “It is hard to set priorities in real time, while it is all too easy to second-guess priorities with hindsight. We accuse leaders of failing to prevent the catastrophes that happened, while remaining blissfully unaware of the disasters that never materialised.”
  • “…military power cannot go far in the twenty-first century, and that waging a successful war means waging a limited war.”
  • “Nuclear weapons and cyberwarfare, by contrast, are high-damage, low-profit technologies. You could use such tools to destroy entire countries, but not to build profitable empires.”
  • “Human stupidity is one of the most important forces in history, yet we often discount it.”
  • “One potential remedy for human stupidity is a dose of humility.”
  • “Nuclear weapons and cyberwarfare, by contrast, are high-damage, low-profit technologies. You could use such tools to destroy entire countries, but not to build profitable empires.”
  • “Human stupidity is one of the most important forces in history, yet we often discount it.”
  • “One potential remedy for human stupidity is a dose of humility.”
12. Humility: You are not the centre of the world
  • “Humans of all creeds would do well to take humility more seriously.”
  • “And among all forms of humility, perhaps the most important is to have humility before God.”
13. God: Don’t take the name of God in vain
  • “The third of the biblical Ten Commandments instructs humans never to make wrongful use of the name of God. Many understand this in a childish way, as a prohibition on uttering the explicit name of God (as in the famous Monty Python sketch ‘If you say Jehovah …’). Perhaps the deeper meaning of this commandment is that we should never use the name of God to justify our political interests, our economic ambitions or our personal hatreds.”
  • “Morality of some kind is natural. All social mammals from chimpanzees to rats have ethical codes that limit things such as theft and murder.”
  • If you really understand how an action causes unnecessary suffering to yourself or to others, you will naturally abstain from it. People nevertheless murder, rape and steal because they have only a superficial appreciation of the misery this causes. They are fixated on satisfying their immediate lust or greed, without concern for the impact on others — or even for the long-term impact on themselves.”
  • “You might object that every human naturally seeks to avoid feeling miserable, but why would a human care about the misery of others, unless some god demands it? One obvious answer is that humans are social animals, therefore their happiness depends to a very large extent on their relations with others. Without love, friendship and community, who could be happy? If you live a lonely self-centered life, you are almost guaranteed to be miserable. So at the very least, to be happy you need to care about your family, your friends, and your community members.
  • “On a much more immediate level, hurting others always hurts me too. Every violent act in the world begins with a violent desire in somebody’s mind, which disturbs that person’s own peace and happiness before it disturbs the peace and happiness of anyone else. Thus people seldom steal unless they first develop a lot of greed and envy in their minds. People don’t usually murder unless they first generate anger and hatred. Emotions such as greed, envy, anger and hatred are very unpleasant. You cannot experience joy and harmony when you are boiling with anger and envy. Hence long before you murder anyone, your anger has already killed your own peace of mind.”
14. Secularism: Acknowledge your shadow
  • “Secularism is sometimes defined as the negation of religion, and secular people are therefore characterised by what they don’t believe and do.”
  • “What then is the secular idea? The most important secular commitment is to the truth, which is based on observation and evidence rather than on mere faith. Seculars strive not to confuse truth with belief.”
  • “Humans should always retain the freedom to doubt, to check again, to hear a second opinion, to try a different path.”
  • “It takes a lot of courage to fight biases and oppressive regimes, but it takes even greater courage to admit ignorance and venture into the unknown.”
  • “For similar reasons, secular education does not mean a negative indoctrination that teaches kids not to believe in God and not to take part in any religious ceremonies. Rather, secular education teaches children to distinguish truth from belief; to develop their compassion for all suffering beings; to appreciate the wisdom and experiences of all the earth’s denizens; to think freely without fearing the unknown; and to take responsibility for their actions and for the world as a whole.”
  • “Especially in times of emergency — such as war or economic crisis — societies must act promptly and forcefully, even if they are not sure what is the truth and what is the most compassionate thing to do.”
  • “May capitalists keep repeating the mantra of free markets and economic growth, irrespective of realities on the ground. No matter what awful consequences occasionally result from modernisation, industrialisation or privatisation, capitalist true-believers dismiss them as mere ‘growing pains’, and promise that everything will be made good through a bit more growth.”

Part IV: Truth

15. Ignorance: You know less than you think
  • “In the last few centuries, liberal thought developed immense trust in the rational individual.”
  • “Democracy is founded on the idea that the voter knows best, free-market capitalism believes that the customer is always right, and liberal education teaches students to think for themselves.”
  • “Humans rarely think for themselves. Rather, we think in groups. Just as it takes a tribe to raise a child, it also takes a tribe to invent a tool, solve a conflict, or cure a disease.”
  • “This is what Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach have termed ‘the knowledge illusion’. We think we know a lot, even though individually we know very little, because we treat knowledge in the minds of others as if it were our own.”
  • “Providing people with more and better information is unlikely to improve matters.”
  • “Bombarding people with facts and exposing individual ignorance is likely to backfire. Most people don’t like too many facts, and they certainly don’t like to feel stupid.”
  • “The power of groupthink is so pervasive that it is difficult to break its hold even when its views seem to be rather arbitrary.”
  • “Even scientists are not immune to the power of groupthink. This scientists who believe that facts can change public opinion may themselves be the victims of scientific groupthink. The scientific community believes in the efficacy of facts, hence those loyal to that community continue to believe that they can win public debates by throwing the right facts around, despite much empirical evidence to the contrary.”
  • “Modern democracies are full of crowds shouting in unison, ‘Yes, the voter knows best! Yes, the customer is always right!’”
  • “If you cannot afford to waste time — you will never find the truth.”
  • “Worse still, great power inevitably distorts the truth. Power is all about changing reality rather than seeing it for what it is. When you have a hammer in your hand, everything looks like a nail; and when you have great power in your hand, everything looks like an invitation to meddle. Even if you somehow overcome this urge, the people surrounding you will never forget the giant hammer you are holding. Anybody who talks with you will have a conscious or unconscious agenda, and therefore you can never have full faith in what they say.”
  • “Great power this acts like a black hole that warps the very space around it. The closer you get, the more twisted everything becomes.”
  • “If you really want truth, you need to escape the black hole of power, and allow yourself to waste a lot of time wandering here and there on the periphery.”
  • “Leaders are thus trapped in a double bind. If they stay in the centre of power, they will have an extremely distorted vision of the world. If they venture to the margins, they will waste too much of their precious time.”
16. Justice: Our sense of justice might be out of date
  • “Justice demands not just a set of abstract values, but also an understanding of concrete cause-and-effect relations.”
  • Even if we truly want to, most of us are no longer capable of understanding the major moral problems of the world. People can comprehend relations between two foragers, between twenty forager, or between two neighbouring clans. They are ill-equipped to comprehend relations between several million Syrians, between 500 million Europeans, or between all the intersecting groups and subgroups of the planet.”
  • In trying to comprehend and judge moral dilemmas of this scale,people often resort to one of four methods.
    1. The first is to downsize the issue.
    2. The second is to focus on a touching human story, which ostensibly stand for the whole conflict.
    3. The third method to deal with large-scale moral dilemmas is to weave conspiracy theories.
    4. The fourth and ultimate method is to create a dogma, put our trust in some allegedly all-knowing theory, institution or chief, and follow them wherever they lead us.”
17. Post-truth: Some fake news lasts for ever
  • “A cursory look at history reveals that propaganda and disinformation are nothing new, and even the habit of denying entire nations and creating fake countries has a long pedigree.”
  • “For better or worse, fiction is among the most effective tools in humanity’s toolkit. By bringing people together, religious creeds make large-scale human cooperation possible. They inspire people to build hospitals, schools and bridges in addition to armies and prisons.”
  • “Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda maestro and perhaps the most accomplished media-wizard of the modern age, allegedly explained his method succinctly by stating that ‘A lie told once remains a lie, but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth.’
  • “The Soviet propaganda machine was so efficient, that it managed to hide monstrous atrocities at home while projecting a utopian vision abroad.”
  • “Whereas in the age of Facebook and Twitter is sometimes hard to decide which version of events to believe, at least it is no longer possible for a regime to kill millions without the world knowing about it.”
  • Truth an power can travel together only so far. Sooner or later they go their separate ways. If you want power, at some point you will have to spread fictions. If you want to know the truth about the world, at some point you will have to renounce power. You will have to admit things — for example about the sources of your own power — that will anger allies, dishearten followers or undermine social harmony.”
  • “One of the greatest fictions of all is to deny the complexity of the world, and think in absolute terms of pristine purity versus satanic evil. No politician tells the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but some politicians are still far better than others.”
  • “Similarly, no newspaper is free of biases and mistakes, but some newspapers make an honest effort to find out the truth whereas others are a brainwashing machine.”
  • “It is the responsibility of all of us to invest time and effort in uncovering our biases and in verifying our sources of information.”
  • “…we need to at least investigate carefully our favorite newspaper, a website, a TV network or a person.”
  • Two simple rules of thumb on how to avoid brainwashing and how to distinguish reality from fiction:
    1. “First, if you want reliable information — pay good money for it. If you get your news for free, you might well be the product.”
    2. “The second rule of thumb is that if some issue seems exceptionally important to you, make the effort to read the relevant scientific literature. And by scientific literature I mean peer-reviewed articles, books published by well-known academic publishers, and the writings of professors from reputable institutions. Science obviously has its limitations, and it has got many things wrong in the past. Nevertheless, the scientific community has been our most reliable source of knowledge for centuries.”
  • “Silence isn’t neutrality; it is supporting the status quo.”
18. Science fiction: The future is not what you see in the movies
  • “We believe that buying more stuff will make us happy, because we saw the capitalist paradise with our own eyes on television.”
  • “The current technological and scientific revolutions implies not that authentic individuals and authentic realities can be manipulated by algorithms and TV cameras, but rather that authenticity is a myth. People are afraid of being trapped inside a box — their brain — which is locked within a bigger box — human society with its myriad fictions.”
  • “…and when you begin to explore the manifold ways the world manipulates you, in the end you realise that your core identity is a complex illusion created by neural networks.”

Part V: Resilience

19. Education: Change is the only constant
  • “Humankind is facing unprecedented revolutions, all our old stories are crumbling, and no new story has so far emerged to replace them. How can we prepare ourselves and our children for a world of such unprecedented transformations and radical uncertainties?”
  • At present, too many schools focus on cramming information. In the past this made sense, because information was scarce, and even the slow trickle of existing information was repeatedly blocked by censorship.”
  • “In contrast, in the twenty-first century we are flooded by enormous amounts of information, and even the censors don’t try to block it. Instead, they are busy spreading misinformation or distracting us with irrelevancies.”
  • “In such a world, the last thing a teacher needs to give her pupils is more information. They already have far too much of it. Instead, people need the ability to make sense of information, to tell the difference between what is important and what is unimportant, and above all to combine many bits of information into a broad picture of the world.
  • “Teachers allowed themselves to focus on shoving data while encouraging pupils ‘to think for themselves’.”
  • “They assumed that as long as we give students lots of data and modicum of freedom, the students will create their own picture of the world, and even if this generation fails to synthesise all the data into a coherent and meaningful story of the world, there will be plenty of time to construct a good synthesis in the future.”
  • “Beside information, most schools also focus too much on providing pupils with a set of predetermined skills such as solving differential equations, writing computer code in C++, identifying chemicals in a test tube, or conversing in Chinese.”
  • “Many pedagogical experts argue that schools should switch to teaching ‘the four Cs’ — critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. More broadly, schools should downplay technical skills and emphasise general-purpose life skills. Most important of all will be the ability to deal with change, to learn new things, and to preserve your mental balance in unfamiliar situations.”
  • “We cannot be sure of the specifics, but change itself is the only certainty.”
  • From time immemorial life was divided into two complementary parts: a period of learning followed by a period of working.
    1. In the first part of life you accumulated information, developed skills, constructed a world view, and built a stable identity.
    2. In the second part of life you relied on your accumulated skills to navigate the world, earn a living, and contribute to society.”
  • “But in the twenty-first century, you can hardly afford stability. If you try to hold on to some stable identity, job or world view, you risk being left behind as the world flies by you with a whooooosh.”
  • “To stay relevant — not just economically, but above all socially — you will need the ability to constantly learn and to reinvent yourself, certainly at a young age like fifty.”
  • “The Industrial Revolution has bequeathed us the production-line theory of education. In the middle of town there is a large concrete building divided into many identical rooms, each room equipped with rows of desks and chairs. At the sound of a bell, you go to one of these rooms together with thirty other kids who were all born the same year as you. Every hour some grown-up walks in, and starts talking. They are all paid to do so by the government. One of them tells you about the shape of the earth, another tells you about the human past, and a third tells you about the human body.”
  • “…if technology gains too much power over your life, you might become a hostage to its agenda.”
  • “Technology isn’t bad. If you know what you want in life, technology can help you get it. But if you don’t know what you want in life, it will be all too easy for technology to shape your aims for you and take control of your life. Especially as technology gets better at understanding humans, you might increasingly find yourself serving it, instead of it serving you. Have you seen those zombies who roam the streets with their faces glued to their smartphones? Do you think they control the technology, or does the technology control them?”
  • “The voice we hear inside our heads was never trustworthy, because it always reflected state propaganda, ideological brainwashing and commercial advertisement, not to mention biochemical bugs.”
  • “As biotechnology and machine learning improve, it will become easier to manipulate people’s deepest emotions and desires, and it will become more dangerous than ever to just follow your heart. When Coca-Cola, Amazon, Baidu or the government knows how to pull the strings of your heart and press the buttons of your brain, could you still tell the difference between your self and their marketing experts?”
  • “Coca-Cola, Amazon, Baidu or the government are racing to hack you. Not your smartphone, not your computer, and not your bank account — they are in a race to hack you and your organic operating system. You might have heard that we are living in the era of hacking computers, but that’s hardly half the truth. In fact, we are living in the era of hacking humans.
  • “The algorithms are watching you right now. They are watching where you go, what you buy, who you meet. Soon they will monitor all your steps, all your breaths, all your heartbeats. They are relying on Big Data and machine learning to get to know you better and better. And once these algorithms know you better than you know yourself, they could control and manipulate you, and you won’t be able to do much about it.
  • “In the end, it’s a simple empirical matter: if the algorithms indeed understand what’s happening within you better than you understand it, authority will shift to them.”
  • “To run fast, don’t take much luggage with you. Leave all your illusions behind. They are very heavy.”
20. Meaning: Life is not a story
  • “Of all rituals, sacrifice is the most potent, because of all the things in the world, suffering is the most real. You can never ignore it or doubt it. If you want to make people really believe in some fiction, entice them to make a sacrifice on its behalf. Once you suffer for a story, it is usually enough to convince you that the story is real.”
  • “Even in romance, any aspiring Romeo or Werther knows that without sacrifice, there is no true love. The sacrifice is not just a way to convince your lover that you are serious — it is also a way to convince yourself that you are really in love.”
  • “It is fascinating and terrifying to behold people who spend countless hours constructing and embellishing a perfect self online, becoming attached to their own creation, and mistaking it for the truth about themselves.”
  • “The big question facing humans isn’t ‘what is the meaning of life’ but rather, ‘how do we get out of suffering?’”
  • “We humans have conquered the world thanks to our ability to create and believe fictional stories. We are therefore particularly bad at knowing the difference between fiction and reality. Overlooking this difference has been a matter of survival for us. If you nevertheless want to know the difference, the place to start is with suffering. Because the most real thing in the world is suffering.”
  • “Whenever politicians start talking in mystical terms, beware. They might be trying to disguise and excuse real suffering by wrapping it up in big incomprehensible words. Be particularly careful about the following four words: sacrifice, eternity, purity, redemption. If you hear any of these, sound the alarm. And if you happen to live in a country whose leader routinely says things like ‘Their sacrifice will redeem the purity of our eternal nation’ — know that you are in deep trouble.”
  • “So if you want to know the truth about the universe, about the meaning of life, and about your own identity, the best place to start is by observing suffering and exploring what it is.”
21. Meditation: Just observe
  • “When people ask the big questions of life, they usually have absolutely no interest in knowing when their breath is coming into their nostrils and when it is going out. Rather, they want to know things like what happens after you die. Yet the real enigma of life is not what happens after you die, but what happens before you die. If you want to understand death, you need to understand life.
  • “Between me and the world there are always body sensations. I never react to events in the outside world; I always react to the sensations in my own body. When the sensation is unpleasant, I react with aversion. When the sensation is pleasant, I react with cravings for more.”
  • “Many people, including many scientists, tend to confuse the mind and the brain, but they are really very different things. The brain is a material network of neurons, synapses and biochemicals. The mind is a flow of subjective experiences, such as pain, pleasure, anger and love.”
  • “Astronauts devote many years to difficult training regimes, preparing for their hazardous excursions to outer space. If we are willing to make such efforts in order to understand foreign cultures, unknown species and distant planets, it might be worth working just as hard in order to understand our own minds. And we had better understand our minds before the algorithms make our minds up for us.