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21 Lessons for the 21st Century book summary

21 Lessons for the 21st Century book cover


  • Humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers or equations which is why the communist, fascist and liberal stories of the 20th century were so powerful. The simpler the story, the better.
  • AI will create a new class of superhumans who are augmented with technology.
  • There are no viable alternatives to the "liberalism" story at the moment, so humankind will not abandon it for now, even though there's currently a lot (and growing) pushback.


  • The more we understand what drives the choices, decision making and impulses we have as humans, the better computers will be at replacing some human jobs like bankers and and lawyers.
  • AI will help create new jobs. In the near term e.g. 2050, jobs will likely be based on human-AI cooperation rather than competition.
  • This may not always be the case as seen in chess where solely AI teams are now better than AI-human teams.
  • In chess tournaments, the degree of creativity of a move is used as a check to see if a move has been derived by AI. If it is too creative, it is deemed to have been made by a computer. This challenges the notion that AI cannot be creative.
  • The idea of a profession for life, let alone job for life, will be increasingly rare. Humans will need to be comfortable with constantly retraining for new jobs that haven't even been invented yet. As a society, we need to safeguard an individual's basic needs, social status and self worth.
  • Harari suggestion is “Universal basic income will protect the poor against job losses and economic dislocation while protecting the rich from populist rage”. An alternative is universal basic services where governments provide free education, healthcare, etc.
  • From a global perspective, we may see an increasing income gap though, as technology replaces the work done by developing countries without any provision of "taxes" to cover the gap.
  • Human being's expectations will continue to rise with the changing environment. In order to be happy, they need to feel that their life's work is meaningful, they have more than the basics in life and that they belong to a community.


  • On democracy: “You might as well call a nationwide plebiscite to decide whether Einstein got his algebra right.”
  • Like it or not, elections and referendums are not about what we think, but what we feel.
  • On truth: it's defined by what Google's algorithms deems to be the top result.
  • The danger with algorithms being used to make decisions for individuals is that no one knows the decision-making criteria of the algorithms, which means individuals may be a target of bias without anyone knowing how or why.


  • Data is everywhere and nowhere. The key question is how we regulate the ownership of data.


  • With each millennium, humanity is coalescing into a single, global civilisation.


  • We live in a world of global politics, environment and science, but are governed by national politics.
  • The 3 threats facing humanity are nuclear, technological and ecological. All of these have no national boundaries.
  • Harari acknowledged that global governance is not going to happen. National politics therefore needs to place more focus on global problems. The future of the humanity depends on it.


  • 3 types of problems: (i) technical (the how of something), (ii) policy (implemented from a higher authority) and (iii) identity (should I care about some other individual I don't have anything in common with?).
  • What role does religion have to play in this?


  • There is a difference between racism and culturalism. Immigrants from different cultures may have personalities or styles that are quite different from their adopted country's. Companies may be looking for specific personality types (that fit a particular role well), that doesn't match with the immigrants. This is not due to racism but a difference in cultural backgrounds.
  • Terrorism is like a fly in the ear of a bull in a china shop. To wreck damage, the fly on its own can't do much, so it finds the bull to do its bidding instead. With the 9/11 attacks, terrorists got into the ear of the American bull.
  • Overreaction is terrorism is what causes the threat, not the terrorists themselves. Media has a big role to play in this because they are in the business of grabbing attention and therefore tend to overhype things.
  • As citizens, we each have a responsibility to keep this in mind and not overreact to terrorist threats.


  • Today's economic assets are technical and institutional. They are not land. You cannot gain knowledge by going to war with another county.
  • Consequently, it will be harder and harder for governments to justify the economic benefits of going to war.


  • What is the rationale behind the need for humility? It is not due to religion that with have humility - apes have also evolved this ability.


  • Morality does not come from religion. To act morally is to understand and therefore minimise suffering.
  • By committing to secularism to to commit to truth (rather than faith).
  • Harari notes that he places more trust in people who can admit to their fallacies.


  • Most human decisions are based on heuristics and emotion, rather than through rational thinking and true free will.
  • Humans now know less that humans of the past. We are increasingly reliant on other humans for survival.
  • What allowed humans to move to the top of the animal kingdom was our ability to think in groups.
  • Fake news is when a small number of people believe a story for 1 month. When billions of people believe a story for thousands of news, that's religion.
  • People's ability to believe in religious stories have brought us all together and made large scale cooperation across tribes and national borders possible.
  • Branding is also about story telling from a firm's perspective.


  • Much of what children learn in school today will be irrelevant by 2050. Children need to learn meta-skills instead - learning how to learn, critical thinking, problem solving & creativity, communication and learning to collaborate. They also need curiosity, adaptability and resilience.
  • They need ot be able to build strong mental models based on their ability to differentiate between relevant and irrelevant data.

How to convince others to believe

  • Make them sacrifice something on behalf of the story. The bigger the sacrifice, the stronger the belief as they will otherwise have to call themselves a gullible person for making the sacrifice.

Free will

  • There's arguably no such thing as free will. We should instead try to understand the way our mind works and why we feel like we want the things we develop desire for.


  • Buddhist philosophy states that everything is impermanent and constantly changing. Suffering in humans occurs because we fail to understand this and try to hold on to things, including feelings.
  • This is something that comes from our own minds - suffering is due to long standing patterns in our minds. To reduce our own suffering, we should therefore try to stop these destructive patterns. One of the ways to get more clarity is through meditation.
  • Consciousness is the greatest mystery in the universe.
  • We had better understand our minds before the algorithms make a match up for us.

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