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21 Lessons for the 21st Century

Yuval Noah Harari on the Talks at Google podcast (and in video form)

He’s marketing his new book extremely well and a New York Times interview on the subject garnered attention:

It made him sad, he told me, to see people build things that destroy their own societies, but he works every day to maintain an academic distance and remind himself that humans are just animals. “Part of it is really coming from seeing humans as apes, that this is how they behave,” he said, adding, “They’re chimpanzees. They’re sapiens. This is what they do.”

. . .

“It’s just a rule of thumb in history that if you are so much coddled by the elites it must mean that you don’t want to frighten them,” Mr. Harari said. “They can absorb you. You can become the intellectual entertainment.”

. . .

He told the audience that free will is an illusion, and that human rights are just a story we tell ourselves. Political parties, he said, might not make sense anymore. He went on to argue that the liberal world order has relied on fictions like “the customer is always right” and “follow your heart,” and that these ideas no longer work in the age of artificial intelligence, when hearts can be manipulated at scale

Not the most heartening view of the future.

21 Lessons is also recommended by Bill Gates as one of 5 books he loved in 2018 (to further corroborate Harari’s points)

The trick for putting an end to our anxieties, he suggests, is not to stop worrying. It’s to know which things to worry about, and how much to worry about them. As he writes in his introduction: “What are today’s greatest challenges and most important changes? What should we pay attention to? What should we teach our kids?”

Or maybe we should be a bit more like Newt Scamander

My philosophy is that worrying means you suffer twice.

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Melinda Gates on The Ezra Klein Show

On team culture (at Microsoft and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)

But the competitive culture I didn’t really like, it felt like the arguments weren’t just about that intellectual thing, but they were personal … I felt like we could do it differently

At the foundation, the culture that we have created there has just as much innovation, amazing scientists, best in class, [and] we have tough intellectual debates but they’re not personal, and they’re supportive of people and their careers. You get the best out of people and all the best ideas on the table. If you don’t do that you leave innovative ideas on the table. People get afraid and they don’t put their idea out there because they might be criticized.

On diversity in tech

The way you treat a young child versus an 18-year-old, 22-year-old, 30-year-old, versus an elderly person, is pretty different. You use a lot of empathy when you’re trying to bring a child up and teach them, and it’s tricky because you have to use a lot of positivity even when what you’re trying to do is correct behavior. But [it’s] the same thing with an elderly person. It’s a horrible thing when you start to lose a little bit of your sight, or you can’t drive anymore, and that was your rite of passage when you were younger. I think if you have these products that are created by white guys in their 20s, you’re just gonna miss the mark on both empathy and the actual needs of the elderly and what they’re facing.

If you don’t have diversity at the table, there’s no chance you’re gonna see it. You’re just not. If you’re a VC and you’re about deal flow, you’re missing all kind of deals, because the deals you’re investing in are what you’ve known before.

It’s interesting to think how all generations of people are experiencing digital technology for the first time in human history. There are opportunities for everyone, young and old, and we are only a few years into understanding how global connectivity will affect structures that took tens and hundreds of years to develop. Whether a high school student or an elderly person who can’t drive anymore, these new tools are available and ready to be applied to their current way of life. As an individual, you can only see so far outside your current frame of reference. Different perspectives can generate value for so many people.

On future breakthroughs

Bill and I often have this kind of fun debate of, “If you were entering any field now and you had your choice of going into any field, what field would you go in?” He and I both would go into the cross between biology and computer science. What is gonna happen in those fields, we’re only beginning.

via Ezra Klein Show on Pocket Casts (transcript)