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The future: godlike elites and useless masses

Step one: Uber launches a driverless car fleet in Pittsburgh. Step two: machines take over and millions become useless. Almost precisely as one brilliant academic has just predicted. Pittsburgh’s famous steel works largely disappeared in the 1970s and 1980s. In surrounding towns many manual labourers were left out of work. Now many fear another wave of unemployment. In the coming days, Uber will launch its first ever fleet of driverless cars in the city. Other companies such as Google and Ford are also investing in the technology. No wonder taxi drivers are alarmed. With perfect timing, one of the world’s most brilliant and exciting young history professors, Yuval Noah Harari, has just launched a lecture tour predicting a world in which the machines take over. While humans have long predicted that machines will take over much of our society, many such forecasts have not yet come true. But in the end, Harari says artificial intelligence (AI) will finally come to achieve what many have feared. The resulting shift could leave a class of billions of humans both jobless and aimless. The ‘useless class’, he calls them. Harari, author of Homo Deus, anticipates an even more dramatic industrial revolution this century than that of the 1800s. He foresees ‘the greatest evolution in biology since the appearance of life’. Computer algorithms and biotechnology will allow a small wealthy elite to upgrade their bodies, brains and minds and eventually turn themselves into god-like cyborgs. This will create, for the first time, biological differences between social classes. As most of the population will be useless to those in power, their needs will be ignored. The purpose of medicine will change from healing the sick to upgrading the healthy. As a natural result, democracy will probably become less relevant. And unlike the last industrial revolution, where countries such as China eventually caught up, those left behind may not get a second chance. ‘Humankind might create the most unequal societies ever,’ says Harari. Driven forward? His theory suggests humans are exploitative and ‘programmed to be dissatisfied’. The powerful have always used their advantages to seek more for themselves. When they have no use for other humans — and unprecedented advantages over them — they will selfishly reconstruct society to suit their own ends, particularly when the rewards are so enticing. Foolish pessimism, critics respond. Humans are a civilised species, made more so by the spread of opportunities and ideas. Apocalyptic visions have been fashionable throughout history, but repeatedly proved wrong. We have always used new technology for the benefit of our species — which is why we now enjoy an era of unparalleled peace, wealth and longevity. KeywordsLongevity - The fact of lasting a long time. When referring to populations and demography, it means living a long life.

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