Yuval Noah Harari is the best selling author of Homo Sapiens and Homo Deus and recently published 21 lessons for the 21st century. The book is broken down into different sections:

  • The Technological Challenge
  • The Political Challenge
  • Despair and Hope
  • Truth
  • Resilience

While I certainly won’t be able to do the book justice in my summary, I wanted to just highlight a few chapters and takeaways that either made me think or was relevant to me:

When you grow up you might not have a job

Yuval talks about the rise of machine learning, robotics, artificial intelligence and other great advances in technology that will eventually displace a lot of the work that we do. While we know that it will change every line of work, we do not know what exactly will change and what things will look like say in even 30 years. First, Yuval contrasts between humans and machine workers saying that they are not exactly a one to one replacement – take healthcare for example, if one doctor learns about a new disease, he cannot possibly update all the other doctors about the new disease BUT if we had ten billion AI doctors, they would be connected through a network and could update every single time they examine a new patient – in these cases, he argues that it might make sense to replace ALL humans within a field of work even if there are a few outstanding doctors that are better than the AI doctors. In fact, in the future, we might see a human-AI combination of work – if you look at the world of chess, human-AI partners are much better than individual human or AI chess players.

My takeaway here is that anybody currently working needs to fear that their job will be replaced by AI and automation – some further out in the future than others but no job is safe and that we will need to continually improve our skills and ourselves if we hope to continue to work in the future.

We all know less than we think

The world is becoming increasingly complex and we do not know what we do not know. I remember that whenever friends and I had disagreements, they would google their point of view and find millions of articles agreeing with their stance but I pointed out that they had not googled the opposite point of view to see what the other side argued (and whether there perhaps were more than a million articles supporting the other side). When they googled, they found what they were looking for.

Interestingly, people seemingly get into a ‘black hole of power’ – leaders surround themselves with ‘yes men’ that agree with them on a number of issues – the reason is because these ‘yes men’ want to curry favour or impress the one leader.

My takeaway here is that the higher up we are in companies and positions, the more we need to listen to those that disagree with us to get the full and complete picture (and to make better decisions).

What does the rise of AI and the future of work mean for education?

Given that nobody can predict what the job market will look like in 20 – 30 years, what should education look like? Yuval suggests that we should focus on the four C’s – critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. Sure you can spend your time focusing on C++ or learning Mandarin but the very next day, you might have AI programmers or Google Translate will be able to translate anything you say into Mandarin in real time so I think focusing on ‘soft’ skills makes a lot of sense here. What’s very interesting here is that the best advice Yuval has is not to listen to rely on adults too much for education. Don’t rely on technology. If you have to, rely on yourself but with the caveat that you have to really know yourself – know what you are and what you want in life.

My takeaway here is to focus on the skills above – everybody should have a core set of skills that they can do and for now, if they still want to find and have work, focus on a combination of unique skills that only you have (and hope that by the time AI automates your job, you will already be rich or retired).

Meditation

Yuval meditates for 2 hours every single day. He started meditating after trying and failing to find answers to some of the big questions in life – what can be done about suffering in the world, what is the meaning of life, etc.

After going on a meditation retreat, the advice that he got was to focus on the here and now, focus on his breath coming in and out of his nostrils and really focus on the sensations that he had in his body. Many people go through life feeling angry, feeling happy without really feeling the sensations that are happening inside their own body – take a look at it this way, the next time you are angry, think about what is happening in your own body, no better yet, feel what is happening to your own body. We tend to focus in on specific objects or individuals for our anger but next time focus on yourself.

By meditating, you focus on the present. I remember a co-worker telling me that he was trying to get into meditating but he could not sit there and think of absolutely nothing for 30 minutes or however much time. I told him that the practice of meditation is not to sit there and think of absolutely nothing for 30 minutes but to get into the practice of recognizing when you have thoughts in your head and clearing your head when it happens. Just like a muscle, meditation is a skill that you work on – you can’t start out lifting an extremely heavy weight, start out at 5 lbs, then 10 lbs, then increase from there. Similarly, meditation is a skill that you develop – you may meditate and have no thoughts in your head for a few seconds, then a minute or two and then a few minutes but it is something that you have to work on.

Easy takeaway here – meditation allows us to slow time down and focus on the present. I don’t know if it will give you the answers you seek on your big questions but it will give you clarity and focus to help you tackle life.


About the author:

Wang is a management consultant, self-published author, Distinguished Toastmaster, co-host of a podcast, Udemy teacher, former Uber driver and all around hustler. He is also obsessed about books and he reads books so that you don’t have to. Want a list of Wang’s top ten formative books in his life and career? Interested in book summaries and recommendations every month? Subscribe to Wang’s e-mail newsletter!

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