Harari’s motives remain mysterious; but his descriptions of biology (and predictions about the future) are guided by an ideology prevalent among Silicon Valley technologists like Larry Page, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and others. They may have differing opinions on whether the algorithms will save or destroy us. But they believe, all the same, in the transcendent power of digital computation. “We’re headed toward a situation where A.I. is vastly smarter than humans and I think that time frame is less than five years from now,” Musk said in a 2020 New York Times interview. Musk is wrong. The algorithms will not take all our jobs, or rule the world, or put an end to humanity anytime soon (if at all). As A.I. specialist François Chollet says about the possibility of algorithms attaining cognitive autonomy, “Today and for the foreseeable future, this is stuff of science fiction.” By echoing the narratives of Silicon Valley, science populist Harari is promoting—yet again—a false crisis.

Darshana Narayanan

The Dangerous Populist Science of Yuval Noah Harari ❧ Current Affairs