Thinking technology as homo sapiens, not as people with limited lifespan
I started reading Yuval Noah Harari’s bestseller “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” a few days ago.
The book explores in a chronological order, the ways in which biology and history have defined us. I read the first part, on the cognitive revolution and I started the second one, on the agricultural revolution this morning. So I only read 20% of the book but it already challenged the way I think about new technologies and the role they play in our evolution.
Yuval Noah Harari explains that the average hunter-gatherer (characterised by their nomadic lifestyle, collecting wild plants and pursuing wild animal) in Jericho of 8500 BC lived a harder life than the average farmer (settled in permanent villages and relying mainly on domesticated species) in Jericho of 9500 BC.
“People (the farmers) did not foresee that the number of children would increase, meaning that extra wheat would have to be shared between more children. Neither did the farmers understand that feeding children with more porridge and less breast milk would weaken their immune system, and that permanent settlements would be hotbeds for infectious diseases. They did not foresee that by increasing their dependance on a single source of food, they were actually exposing themselves even more to the depredations of droughts. Nor did the farmers foresee that in good years their bulging granaries would tempt thieves and enemies, compelling them to start building walls and doing guard duty.”
Tonight, switching from my Kindle — and these disturbing words — to my Facebook newsfeed on my iPhone, I came across two daily tech news :
The first one is from the the smartest company in the world according to MIT’s 2016 ranking (be careful with this ranking, Monsanto was ranked 50th) : Amazon.
“Amazon’s drone delivery service just got a big redesign! Delivery to your doorstep in 30 minutes” said Product Hunt.
The second one came from Travis Kalanick, Uber’s co-founder and CEO : “Excited to bring self-driving cars to our hometown of SF”.
I truly believe these two innovations and few others, will make people’s live easier from today’s perspective, as ancient hunter-gatherers did by investing more effort in cultivating wheat 11500 years ago in Jericho, Palestine. But how can we ensure that these wonderful improvements seen as people with limited lifespan are not harming us as homo sapiens ? How will our society evolve if we no longer have physical stimulation for example ?
Right now, I don’t have the answer, but I wish the great leaders and pioneers in deep learning technologies, who are shaping our future, got it. It is our responsibility. We can’t turn back the clock and restart without these improvements if they are adopted.
If the answer is in the next chapters, please don’t spoil me 🙏