What will happen if Artificial Intelligence (AI) knows us better than we do about ourselves?

Yuval Noah Harari, author of the international bestseller Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, shared his insight on how trends in science and technology may progress and influence human kind in a written interview with Xinhua.

Harari is recently making quite a splash in China with the launch of the Chinese version of his equally compelling new book Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, in which he turns his focus on humanity’s future and the quest to upgrade humans, as science, especially AI, advance rapidly nowadays.


According to Harari, people have already taken the first steps on the path of integration of humans and smart machines. People are already merging with their smartphones, and in the case of China, their Wechat accounts — the intelligent devices and apps that constantly study us, adapt to our unique personality, and shape our worldview and innermost desires.

“In the coming decades, we are likely to proceed much faster along this path, by developing machine learning, biometric sensors and direct brain-computer interfaces. In 2050, it is likely that your smartphone will not be separate from you at all,” said the bestseller author, who is also a historian, adding that AI will also detect diseases such as cancer when they are still in their early stages.

“It will be embedded in your body via biometric sensors, and it will monitor your heart rate, your blood pressure and your brain activity 24 hours a day. It will also have the computing power necessary to analyze the endless stream of biometric data coming from these sensors,” said Harari.

“I think by 2100, humans and machines might merge so completely that humans will not be able to survive at all if they are disconnected from the network,” he said.


An AI could know us better than we know ourselves by collecting and analyzing immense amounts of data about ourselves, and “this can give the corporation or government that controls AI the ability to understand my desires, predict my decisions, make choices for me, and manipulate me,” predicted the author.

For example, “devices such as Amazon’s Kindle are able to constantly collect data on their users while they are reading books … If Kindle is upgraded with face recognition software and biometric sensors, it could know how each sentence you read influenced your heart rate and blood pressure. Soon, books will read you while you are reading them … Such data should eventually enable Amazon to choose books for you with uncanny precision. It will also enable Amazon to know exactly who you are, and how to press your emotional buttons,” said the author.

“Take this to its logical conclusion, and eventually people may give algorithms the authority to make the most important decisions in their lives, such as whom to marry,” according to the author.

Imagine the scenario.

“In a data-driven society I will ask Amazon to choose my mate for me. ‘Listen Amazon,’ I will say, ‘both John and Paul are courting me. I like both of them, and it’s so hard to make up my mind. Given everything you know, what do you advise me to do?'”

“And Amazon will answer: ‘Well, I know you from the day you were born. I have read all your emails, recorded all your phone calls, and know your favorite books, your DNA, and the entire biometric history of your heart. I have exact data about each date you went on, and if you want, I can show you second-by-second graphs of your heart rate, blood pressure and sugar levels whenever you went on a date with John or Paul … Based on all this information, on my superb algorithms, and on decades’ worth of statistics about millions of relationships — I advise you to go with John, with an 87 percent probability of being more satisfied with him in the long run.”

Just like that, with data analyzing and algorithms, our machine gets to know us better, at least better on average, as most people don’t know themselves very well, and many make terrible mistakes in the most important decisions of their lives.


Harari thinks it is a must to map out rules for future development of smart machines, since they will dominate people’s economy, politics and personal lives.

Take self-driving cars as an example. Suppose a self-driving car lost its breaks, and it has to choose between driving forward and killing five innocent pedestrians, or swerving to the side and endangering the life of its owner.

If the free market is left to make the say, disturbing things would happen as people will naturally opt for the model that gives the driver the utmost protection, even at the price of the pedestrians’ lives, and therefore it is necessary to map out rules beforehand, he said, adding as shown in history, technological breakthroughs can create very different kinds of societies.

For example, in the 20th century people could use the technology of the Industrial Revolution — trains, electricity, radio, telephone — to create fascist dictatorships, socialist countries or liberal democracies.Similarly, in the 21st century the rise of AI and biotechnology will certainly transform the world, but it does not mandate a single deterministic outcome.

Therefore how to use them wisely is the most important questions facing humankind today. The future not only of humanity, but probably of life itself, depends on how people choose to use AI and biotechnology, according to the author.

Harari has a PhD in history from the University of Oxford and now lectures at the Department of History, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, specializing in world history.

Harari’s 2014 book Sapiens became an international bestseller which Microsoft founder Bill Gates recommended to his wife, calling it one that would spark great conversations.

Homo Deus was first published in Hebrew in 2015. The English version was published in September 2016 in Britain and will be published next month in the United States. The Chinese version hit the shelves in China in January 2017. Enditem

Source: Liu Xue, Hu Dandan, Liu Qu, Xinhua/NewsGhana.com.gh


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.