Yuval Noah Harari and Jared Diamond in conversation in Brazil Nov 2019

Recently in Brazil, two of my all-time favorite authors, thinkers (Jared Diamond and Yuval Noah Harari) had a conversation moderated by Ronaldo Lemos during the ‘Global Citizen’ event at Teatro Santander – São Paulo, Brazil. The conversation lasted about 45 mins. I recommend everyone to watch it. As historians, they both have perspectives of hundreds of thousands of years and help us to frame what is happening in historical context. They examined various topics such as the impact of social media and technology addiction, the effectiveness of myths or fictional stories in promoting cooperation, climate change, mental health, education, and the importance of democracy.

While they both agree on many issues and Yuval acknowledged that his initial inspirations came from Jared, you can still see a clear difference in their POVs, their articulation. One of the key issues they brought up is the idea of the digital sanctuary/digital health; how important it is. It makes me think about the current attention economy and how many brilliant minds in the world are devoting a significant amount of their efforts to make us spend more and more time on different screens. Human species are social animals, yet I am not sure how well we adapt to conducting most of our social interactions through a screen, the impact it has on our brain, our emotional intelligence, our social skills, etc.

Jared talked about his personal experience with technology and his observations of the New Guineans and their face-to-face communication style.

They both agree that technology has its benefits but also its drawbacks, such as addiction and the loss of social skills. 

Yuval believes that the impact of automation on jobs is not yet visible, but as AI technology improves, its impact will become more and more significant. He predicts that the richer countries leading the automation revolution will reap the most benefits and have the resources to retrain their workforce. However, unemployment will be felt more in poorer countries where they won’t have the resources to retrain their workforce. He believes that the textile industry in Central America and Southeast Asia will be affected by automation, leading to unemployment in these areas. However, employment in wealthy cities like New York or San Francisco will increase as there is more demand for software engineers and yoga teachers to teach them.

Recently, with the introduction of chatGPT, a lot of people have been saying that perhaps white-collar jobs are those that will be impacted more unless we learn to leverage AI.

As for the topic of education and what/how we can train our future generations, I am surprised to learn about the US examples from Jared. Yuval’s response to this topic is consistent with what he has been saying in other forums. Thinking about this personally, I have to say that I am very impressed with the quality of the Singapore public school system. My daughter is going to a normal public primary school in Singapore. At school, they teach her (in kid version) the 7 habits of highly effective people! wow! Also, they have a very nice blend of academic curriculum and developing kid social skills. Singapore can do this because of its size, but still, I am very impressed. 

Now that our family has relocated to the US for more than one year, here is what Sophie thinks about the differences between Singapore primary education and the US, California in particular. 

Back to the conversation, you can watch it in full on YouTube below:

Yuval Noah Harari and Jared Diamond in conversation



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