18. The Great Reset
In 2018 the historian Yuval Harari, who was mentioned already several times in this book, was invited to the World Economic Forum in Davos, where he held a keynote lecture refering to his book “Homo Deus”:
“I want to talk to you today about the future of our species and really the future of life. We are probably one of the last generations of Homo sapiens. Within a century or two earth, will be dominated by entities that are more different from us than we are different from neanderthals or chimpanzees. Because in the coming generations we will learn how to engineer bodies and brains and minds. These will be the main products of the economy, of the 21st century. Not textiles and vehicles and weapons, but bodies and brains and minds. But how exactly will the future masters of the planet look like? This will be decided by the people, who own the data. Those who control the data control not only the future of humanity, but the future of life itself.”
Today data is the most important asset in the world. In ancient times land was the most important asset. Too much land became concentrated in too few hands. Humanity split into aristocrats and commoners. Then in the modern age, in the last two centuries, machinery replaced land as the most important asset. And if too many of the machines became concentrated into few hands, humanity split into classes, into capitalists and proletarians. Now data is replacing machinery as the most important asset. And if too much of the data becomes concentrated in too few hands, humanity will split, not into classes, it will split into species.
Now, why is data so important? It is important, because we have reached the point, when we can hack not only computers, we can hack human beings and other organisms. (….). So, what do you need to hack a human being? You need a lot of data and a lot of computing power. Actually, biometric data, not data about what I buy, or where I go, but data about what is happening inside my body and inside my brain. (….)
You can really summarize a 150 years of biological research since Charles Darwin in three words: ‘Organisms are algorithms’. (….) And we are learning how to decipher these algorithms. Now, when the two evolutions merge, when the infotech revolution merges with the biotech revolution, what you get is the ability to hack human beings. (….). Once we have algorithms that can understand me better than I understand myself they could predict my desires, manipulate my emotions and even take decisions on my behalf. And if we are not careful the outcome might be the rise of digital dictatorships.
In the 20th century democracy generally outperformed dictatorship, because democracy was better at processing data and making decisions. We are used to thinking about democracy and dictatorship in ethical or political terms, but actually these are two different methods to process information. Democracy processes information in a distributed way. It distributes the information and the power to make decisions between many institutions and individuals. Dictatorship on the other hand concentrates all the information and power in one place.
Now, given the technological conditions of the 20th century, distributed data processing worked better than centralized data processing, which is one of the main reasons, why democracy outperformed dictatorship and why, for example the US economy outperformed the soviet economy. But this is true only under the unique technological conditions of the 20th century. In the 21st century new technological revolutions, especially AI and machine learning, might swing the pendulum in the opposite direction. They might make centralized data processing far more efficient than distributed data processing. And if democracy cannot adapt to these new conditions then humans will come to live under the rule of digital dictatorships. (…)
But control of data might enable human elites to do something even more radical than just build digital dictatorships. By hacking organisms, elites may gain the power to reengineer life itself. (…) And if indeed we succed in hacking and engineering life, this will be not just the greatest revolution in humanity. This will be the greatest revolution since the very beginning of life 4 billion years ago. (…) All of life was subject to the laws of natural selection and to the laws of organic biochemistry. But this is now about to change. Science is replacing evolution by natural selection with evolution by intelligent design.
Science may enable life to break out into the inorganic realm. So, after 4 billion years of organic life shaped by natural selection we are entering the era of inorganic life shaped by intelligent design. This is why the ownership of data is so important. If we don’t regulate it, a tiny elite may come to control not just the future of human societies, but the shape of life forms in the future. (…) How do we regulate the ownership of data? The future, not just of humanity, but the future of life itself may depend on the answer to this question.”
Without any doubt Harari is one of the visionary thinkers of our time and I had read his books always also as a warning of a dystopian future. Probably he held his lecture at the World Economic Forum with good intentions. Probably he wanted to warn mankind from data concentration in a few hands leading to inequalities like never before, to a society in which most humans belong to the totally enslaved class of the superfluous.
The important stakeholders of the World Economic Forum surely have open ears for Hararis analyses; however, their intentions could differ: Harari’s intentions may be to warn from looming inequalities. The current super-powerful people of the world could, however rather be interested in how to control the societal phenomenons explained by Harari in a way to preserve their own power, wealth and privileges.
Super-powerful individuals are usually rich individuals, who acquired their position by inherited power and fortune and the mechanisms of the “The winner takes it all capitalism“. Their implementation bodies are think-tanks, foundations, international organisations, politicians, lobbyists, education and training institutions, finance organisations and money. Even if these super-powerful individuals are good people with good intentions, the intentions that follow economistic-darwinistic mehanisms will prevail.
Harari’s invitation to speak at the World Economic Forum (WEF) is probably not a coincidence. Without a closer look, one may perceive the WEF as not more than a conference organizer, above all the yearly conference for the rich and the powerful. However, it appears that his organization is more than just a conference organizer. The self declared goal of the WEF is “to improve the state of the world”, which indicates the claim to actively shape the world.
The WEF currently wants to actively shape the world through the “Great Reset” initiative with the aim to transform the entire world economy. The “Great Reset” should make way for a “4th Industrial Revolution” to a digital-pharmaceutically dominated economy. The declared goals of the WEF include “fair markets”, more equity and sustainability in a “stakeholder economy“. The opening homepage of the WEF centres around Covid-19. The Great Reset Initiative wants to appeal to “global stakeholders”, to meet the consequences of Covid-19 with the Great Reset Initiative in order to improve the world. (https://www.weforum.org/great-reset/).
Covid-19 measures led to a drastic collapse of the world economy, affecting mainly small entreprises and independent self-employed people, while large international digital companies and pharmaceutical industry giants, thrive. Parts of the delivery chain that are still held by small enterprises are now als being taken over by global operators, such as Amazon, which is about to monopolise large parts of the global sales and distribution chains – an amazonisation of the world economy.
The aims that the WEF pursuits according to its own manifest are absolutely well-meaning. They are structured around the “Sustainable Development Goals” of the United Nations. These are 1) No Poverty 2) Zero Hunger 3) Good Health and Well-Being 4) Quality Education 5) Gender Equality 6) Clean Water and Sanitation 7) Affordable and Clean Energy 8) Decent Work and Economic Growth 9) Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure 10) Reduced Inequalities 11) Sustainable Cities and Communities 12) Responsible Consumption and Production 13) Climate Action 14) Life Below Water 15) Life on Land 16) Peace Justice and Strong Institutions 17) Partnership for the Goals
These goals sound all very euphonious. Critics say, 17 goals were too many for a human being to overview or even remember them. Proponents argue that a complex world can only be captured with complex concepts. If the United Nations and the controlling organisations and lobby groups try to capture such a complex, if possibly maximal-encompassing picture of the goals, it may be worth pointing out explicitly missing goals. Freedom, democratic partaking and self-determination of peoples and individuals do not appear to be of major importance.
It seems to be only a question of time until Homo sapiens intervenes into the evolution of its own species. To simply let these interventions happen, could lead to heavy distortion of our societies, if biologically inferior human species have to live together with biologically superior human species. In the dystopian novel “Brave New World”, Aldous Huxley describes a fictitious society that is structured along genetic castes. The satisfaction of the individual with the own genetic class is genetically anchored, so that humans are unfree but happy and satisfied.
An important distinction lies between genetic modifications that affect the germline (“Designer babies”) from those optimizing a living Homo sapiens (Can genome modification make me more intelligent in my life and maybe slow down my aging or making me immortal? – all without passing on such traits to the next generation). Germline improvements would require an altruistic generation of parents, who want a benefit for their children. Theoretically an improvement of mankind from generation to generation would be thinkable, a common project for all of mankind. The suppression and exploitation of the currently living inferior species through the superior species could be attenuated by the fact that the inferior species would be the parents and grandparents of the superior species. Optimization from generation to generation could make the eugenic improvement of the species a possibly harmonious process, beyond the fascistic scenarios that usually come to mind when hearing “eugenic improvement”. This would however require a worldwide coordinated process. And here we fall back into totalitarian scenarios again, as the free decision of the individual over his or her own genome or that of the own children can hardly be compatible with a worldwide mandatory approach. Who decides how genome modifications for the next generation have to look like? Which meaning does remain for individuality and parenthood, if the offspring more and more assimilate to each other over generations. And how to make sure that the genome modifications of the following generations remain fairly standardized worldwide, without local attempts to introduce all kind of improvements to distinguish the offspring in a competitive genetic arms race? And what about the humans who simply reject genetic modification of their individuality or their children?
If we leave the dawning eugenic transhumanism to market forces, the eugenic optimization will become a project of the elites. Genetic optimization will be a domain of the global rich upper classes. The assumption of all human beings to be free and of equal value that underlies the declaration of human righst, would become futile. Preventing eugenic transhumanism would probably be the best, however it seems doubtful, if this will be possible, as this malady may already have escaped Pandora’s box.
Especially interventions that substantially prolong life and even bear the concept of immortality, raise new existential questions for societies and all of mankind: How could mankind escape disastrous overpopulation if all human beings suddenly lived for hundreds of years and still reproduced? Live time and the right to reproduce would become a resource to be allocated. The amalgamation of humans and machines could bring about transhumanistic castes with privileged classes, who have far reaching access rights in the internet, carry better implants and have more control over their interactions than human beings of lower slave-classes (the majority of mankind). An “offline privilege” reserved for the upper castes, only, seems thinkable. The masses of the lower castes would have only very limited control and hardly any privacy. Access to power and influence can be strictly regulated in the virtual space. At the same time, humans still should feel happy and satisfied. Access to food and entertainment in comfortable and interesting virtual worlds should be assured. Basically, one could allocate a virtual paradise to each individual, in which the individual would be powerful and influential, live comfortable and in prosperity with satisfaction and the feeling of fullfillment. Then the highest (or lowest) form of slavery has been reached. The enslaved would not raise against their enslavement anymore, but identify with it. Would transhumanism and eugenics have reached a level of perfection, then?