Reflections are only that, reflections, nothing more nothing less. Often these reflections are related to books I read, but occasionally also other things. These are often written very late, very fast,  using notes from my mobile phone, so the grammar and spelling is horrible.

Hello World: Being Human in the Age of Algorithms, by Hannah Fry

I was initially very disappointed with this book as it is not very much about algorithms. That might not be Hanna's fault as the title on the American edition is "How to be Human in the Age of the Machine".

I still would have liked more discussions about different kind of AI:s and how they are shaped, as I think this is an area where more knowledge is needed to ensure a substantive discussion. But perhaps the book Hanna has written is needed before that discussion can happen.

This book basically just state that AI have some skills, especially  pattern recognition, classification and prediction. Given these skills it can do different things more/faster than humans, including mistakes.   

Hanna's main point form my perspective is to help us understand that we should apply the same ethics and thinking that we have always done. AI are a reflection of us and as such will always come with flaws. But also that it is the combination between humans and machine that tend to get the best results. So we should try to design systems based on how AI and humans work together. It is a noble goal, but I would have liked to see more discussions about how to increase the probability of that happening.

What I lack is a specific discussion about the kind of flaws we need to look for in AI systems, and even more how to mitigate these flaws. There are a number of areas that could have been covered such as the role of the training data (if you only train your AI for detecting hands on white middle-aged men the AI will struggle to recognise a the hands of black young girl. Or if you only focus on the simple things that are easy to quantify and get the AI to look for, you will miss the non quantifiable aspects that are important.

As a general introduction to the field for those who are "afraid" of computers and AI I think this book might be valuable. For those who wants to dive deeper this is not the book. Being critical in the same way as we always should be is the message Hanna leaves us with, and maybe that is what is needed right now, that we "stop seeing machines as objective masters and start treating them as we would any other source of power. By questioning their decisions; scrutinizing their motives; acknowledging our emotions; demanding to know who stands to benefit; holding them accountable for their mistakes; and refusing to become complacent. I think this is the key to a future where the net overall effect of algorithms is a positive force for society."

Brief Answers to the Big Questions, by Stephen Hawking


Stephen Hawking is a well known icon for science, but I think he is less known for his wisdom. Hopefully this book will change this. He has been a supporter of so many of the most important issues of our time, bringing wisdom and guidance to everything from space exploration and the question of God to the existential threats facing humanity and the nature of intelligence.


The book provides insights into a number of the grand scientific challenges of today when it comes to astrophysics, particle physics, and genetics. The focus is obviously astronomy, with emphasis on Hawking's work on Black Holes. He explores fundamental questions such as "how did it all begin", "what is inside a Black Hole", "is time travel possible", and "if there is other intelligent life in the Universe".


He does not shy away from difficult issues, but he does not go into details (my only significant frustration with the book is that I think it should have benefited from a "further reading" part. It does have an overview of Hawking's other books, but I would have linked to know what books Hawking would have recommended in the areas he covers in the book). This is however a small gripe with a book that is very short, and might possible best be read when each chapter can be discussed. My own bullet points where almost as long as the chapters.


For someone who have spent time working with existential threats, i.e. those that threaten the very existence of our survival, it is refreshing to read someone who is bringing those to the forefront and also challenges us with some fundamental questions.


Hawking manages does what anyone who is intellectually honest should do. He clarifies some basic facts, such as "We now have the technological power to destroy every living creature on Earth."


He then provides some context for this situation, such as "Aggression, in the form of subjugating or killing other men and taking their women and food, has had definite survival advantage up to the present time. But now it could destroy the entire human race and much of the rest of life on Earth. A nuclear war is still the most immediate danger, but there are others, such as the release of a genetically engineered virus. Or the greenhouse effect becoming unstable."


Instead of concluding in a doom and gloom scenario he brings in fundamental issues that are seldom discussed, such as "It is not even clear that intelligence has any long-term survival value. Bacteria, and other single-cell organisms, may live on if all other life on Earth is wiped out by our actions. Perhaps intelligence was an unlikely development for life on Earth, from the chronology of evolution, as it took a very long time—two and a half billion years—to go from single cells to multi-cellular beings, which are a necessary precursor to intelligence.".


He is also honest when he is making value judgments and not stating facts such as "The Earth is under threat from so many areas that it is difficult for me to be positive. The threats are too big and too numerous.". This is great as it provides us we a platform for further discussions. This who say that the facts indicate that we are moving in the right direction have to answer what threats they dismiss or what kind of impacts they do not consider relevant.


One of the most striking features is how Hawking's manages to move on timescales that sometime feels as if they are, if not extinct, a dying breed. In an age where people in media seriously talk about discussions on Twitter that come and goes in hours it is refreshing with an intelligent mind who look at things from at least a millennium, but often billion years, perspective.


"One way or another, I regard it as almost inevitable that either a nuclear confrontation  or environmental catastrophe will cripple the Earth at some point in the next 1,000 years which, as geological time goes, is the mere blink of an eye. By then I hope and believe that our ingenious race will have found a way to slip the surly bonds of Earth and will therefore survive the disaster. The same of course may not be possible for the millions of other species that inhabit the Earth, and that will be on our conscience as a race."


I think it takes a certain mind to wander to the limits of knowledge and push beyond it. There is also a special kind of mind that moves freely in multiple dimensions. I think much of Hawken's brilliance when it comes to areas outside his specific area of expertise is due to the capacity to think long-term and put things in perspective. Hopefully this book will inspire people to think outside the box with regards to their normal constrains in time, space and ethical boundaries.


I like to end with a long quote from the last chapter:


"But what lies ahead for those who are young now? I can say with confidence that their future will depend more on science and technology than any previous generation’s has done. They need to know about science more than any before them because it is part of their daily lives in an unprecedented way.


Without speculating too wildly, there are trends we can see and emerging problems that we know must be dealt with, now and into the future. Among the problems I count global warming, finding space and resources for the massive increase in the Earth’s human population, rapid extinction of other species, the need to develop renewable energy sources, the degradation of the oceans, deforestation and epidemic diseases—just to name a few.


There are also the great inventions of the future, which will revolutionise the ways we live, work, eat, communicate and travel. There is such enormous scope for innovation in every area of life."


It has perhaps never been a generation that have lived in a time with more significant challenges, but also there have probably never been a generation with more opportunities.  If we can get more people to read books like this, I think we will increase the capacity to recognise, understand and address the challenges and also recognise, understand and capture the opportunities.

Zero to one, by Peter Thiel

This book was a real surprise. I think it is the first simple “how to think like an entrepreneur”-book that I have recommended people to read. There are a lot of very interesting thinking in this short book that I think everyone who tries to make the world a better place, and realise that more than incremental change is needed, should read. I have found Peter interesting, but did not expect him to cover so many of the most important challenges in this short book. But maybe is was Blake Masters that helped him?

It is written without any references/footnotes and in this case I think that is perfectly OK as, for most of it, Peter writes about things he has knowledge about and expericne of.

What I find frustrating is his simplified view of technology as the only driver of change. It is as if values and structures don’t exist. In many ways, the ideas are very close to a simplified version of Marx, but a mirror image. If the books would have included a more nuanced approach to change I think it could have been a classic.

One of the big surprises for me was that Peter spend so much time on our generation’s major challenges from a global perspective. He does this in a way where it is natural, as it should be. This is such a stark contrast to books who claim to have a global approach and about important things, but then basically just focus on American trivial ideas/innovations (a good example of a book that fails in those areas is Bold by Peter Diamandis

The following could be from any UN sustainability study or progressive international NGO:

“Without technological change, if China doubles its energy production over the next two decades, it will also double its air pollution. If every one of India’s hundreds of millions of households were to live the way Americans already do—using only today’s tools—the result would be environmentally catastrophic. Spreading old ways to create wealth around the world will result in devastation, not riches. In a world of scarce resources, globalization without new technology is unsustainable.”

He also brings up some of the most important and forgotten aspects in today’s society:

“we have inherited a richer society than any previous generation would have been able to imagine.

Any generation excepting our parents’ and grandparents’, that is: in the late 1960s, they expected this progress to continue. They looked forward to a four-day workweek, energy too cheap to meter, and vacations on the moon. But it didn’t happen. The smartphones that distract us from our surroundings also distract us from the fact that our surroundings are strangely old: only computers and communications have improved dramatically since midcentury.”

His urge to get people to think beyond the incremental is very refreshing and all organisations working with global challenges could benefit from his comparison between old and new ideas

Old ideas that still dominate

  1. Make incremental advances
    Grand visions inflated the bubble, so they should not be indulged. Anyone who claims to be able to do something great is suspect, and anyone who wants to change the world should be more humble. Small, incremental steps are the only safe path forward.
  2. Stay lean and flexible
    All companies must be “lean,” which is code for “unplanned.” You should not know what your business will do; planning is arrogant and inflexible. Instead you should try things out, “iterate,” and treat entrepreneurship as agnostic experimentation.
  3. Improve on the competition
    Don’t try to create a new market prematurely. The only way to know you have a real business is to start with an already existing customer, so you should build your company by improving on recognizable products already offered by successful competitors.
  4. Focus on product, not sales”
    “If your product requires advertising or salespeople to sell it, it’s not good enough: technology is primarily about product development, not distribution. Bubble-era advertising was obviously wasteful, so the only sustainable growth is viral growth.”

New ideas that are needed, and more fit for the 21st century, but that are still seen as radical

  1. It is better to risk boldness than triviality.
  2. A bad plan is better than no plan.
  3. Competitive markets destroy profits.
  4. Sales matters just as much as product.”

I was also surprised that he makes similar observation as I have done about higher elite education.

“Elite students climb confidently until they reach a level of competition sufficiently intense to beat their dreams out of them. Higher education is the place where people who had big plans in high school get stuck in fierce rivalries with equally smart peers over conventional careers like management consulting and investment banking. For the privilege of being turned into conformists, students (or their families) pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in skyrocketing tuition that continues to outpace inflation. Why are we doing this to ourselves?”

The contribution from different groups in society is also very much spot-on.

“Bankers make money by rearranging the capital structures of already existing companies. Lawyers resolve disputes over old things or help other people structure their affairs. And private equity investors and management consultants don’t start new businesses; they squeeze extra efficiency from old ones with incessant procedural optimizations. It’s no surprise that these fields all attract disproportionate numbers of high-achieving Ivy League optionality chasers; what could be a more appropriate reward for two decades of résumé-building than a seemingly elite, process-oriented career that promises to “keep options open”?”

He is also seem rightfully frustrated by how short-sighted we are.

“We are more fascinated today by statistical predictions of what the country will be thinking in a few weeks’ time than by visionary predictions of what the country will look like 10 or 20 years from now.”

And how we simplify things in dangerous ways.

"meaningful progress requires that we think about the future for more than 140 characters or 15 minutes at a time."

His approach to change and what the obstacles are is also interesting.

“We have to find our way back to a definite future, and the Western world needs nothing short of a cultural revolution to do it. Where to start? John Rawls will need to be displaced in philosophy departments. Malcolm Gladwell must be persuaded to change his theories. And pollsters have to be driven from politics. But the philosophy professors and the Gladwells of the world are set in their ways, to say nothing of our politicians. It’s extremely hard to make changes in those crowded fields, even with brains and good intentions.”

His urge to focus on important issues combined with a frustration that we fiddle around the margins is very refreshing.

“We are within reach not just of marginal goals set at the competitive edge of today’s conventional disciplines, but of ambitions so great that even the boldest minds of the Scientific Revolution hesitated to announce them directly. We could cure cancer, dementia, and all the diseases of age and metabolic decay. We can find new ways to generate energy that free the world from conflict over fossil fuels. We can invent faster ways to travel from place to place over the surface of the planet; we can even learn how to escape it entirely and settle new frontiers.”

His frustration that many entrepreneurs make vague bold claims is also easy to relate to.

“Here are some bad answers: “Your stock options will be worth more here than elsewhere.” “You’ll get to work with the smartest people in the world.” “You can help solve the world’s most challenging problems.” What’s wrong with valuable stock, smart people, or pressing problems? Nothing—but every company makes these same claims, so they won’t help you stand out.”

But I would argue that the problem with “You can help solve the world’s most challenging problems.” Is not that too many make such claims, but that those who do tend to define those claims do so in very trivial ways and thereby undermine the idea of working with the word’s most challenging problems. For those who are serious here is a good list to start with:

When it comes to the market for sustainable technologies (those making it possible for 11 billion or more to have a great life without destroying the planet) Peter’s observations should be discussed more:

“At the start of the 21st century, everyone agreed that the next big thing was clean technology”… “Could successful energy start-ups be founded after the clench crash just as Web 2.0 start-ups successfully launched amid the debris of the dot-coms? The macro need for energy solutions is still real. But a valuable business must start by finding a niche and dominating a small market.”

“Cleantech gave people a way to be optimistic about the future of energy. But when indefinitely optimistic investors betting on the general idea of green energy funded cleantech companies that lacked specific business plans, the result was a bubble.”

“Our task today is to find singular ways to create the new things that will make the future not just different, but better”

Interestingly his own contributions to something significant are hardly discussed at all. But he does mention a few things.

“In addition to helping find terrorists, analysts using Palantir’s software have been able to predict where insurgents plant IEDs in Afghanistan; prosecute high-profile insider trading cases; take down the largest child pornography ring in the world; support the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in fighting foodborne disease outbreaks; and save both commercial banks and the government hundreds of millions of dollars annually through advanced fraud detection.”

There are no discussions about these “contributions”. Compared to his clarity and logical approach to different aspects in society it is strange to see Peter suddenly list controversial methods in important areas without any discussion about pros and cons.

Click here to save everything, by Evgeny, Morozov

This book is such a refreshing and frustrating read at the same time. In a time where few who criticize the current digital development actually know what they are talking about (most criticism related to “connectivity” are just standard conservative reactions towards anything that is new), this is a breath of fresh air.

Evgeny is well read and have thought about most of the issues he writes about. His “extreme position” is interesting to take a moment to reflect on. I think it is easy to imagine his position (not style) being mainstream in a world where we had a more educated discussion (and had less trust in people discussing a system they are making billions from and helped create).

The book is an interesting example of how a simplistic polarization can deliver some fruitful, and much needed, insights. As someone who does not like polarization as a general rule, this book is a good example why such rules tend to always have exceptions.

The title is telling, as the book is ironic, but also has very few ideas about what needs to be done and no concrete suggestions for action. This lack of a solution perspective is also something that I usually have as a filter when I read books. I especially like to read books with solutions that I don’t agree with, much more so than books with solutions that I agree with, but I tend to ignore books that are not able to take the (difficult) step from conceptual ideas to practical suggestions. While the book itself is lacking in concrete ideas my more than twelve pages of notes after reading the book include quite a few.

It was really hard to decide what I should include in this reflection as there are so many ideas on so many levels. My recommendation to anyone interested in technology is to read it from cover to cover and not skip the more boring parts, as I think those are important as well.

After all the praise, it might be necessary to stress the obvious; the books in far from perfect and it is very sloppy in parts, but even when it is sloppy, and written in anger, it is written in an entertaining way.

Perhaps the best parts of the book are when he discusses those with similar values as himself, such as Larry Lessig. This results in discussions like this:

“As someone who shares many of the ends of Lessig’s agenda, I take little pleasure in criticizing his means, but I do think they are intellectually unsustainable and probably misleading to the technologically unsavvy. Internet-centrism, like all religions, might have its productive uses, but it makes for a truly awful guide to solving complex problems, be they the future of journalism or the unwanted effects of transparency.”

His main point is:

“Instead of answering each and every digital challenge by measuring just how well it responds to the needs of the “network,” we need to learn how to engage in narrow, empirically grounded arguments about the individual technologies and platforms that compose “the Internet.”

If, in some cases, this would mean going after the sacred cows of transparency or openness, so be it. Before the idea of “the Internet” hijacked our imaginations, we made such trade-offs all the time. No serious philosopher would ever proclaim that either transparency or openness is an unquestionable good or absolute value to which human societies should aspire. There is no good reason why we should suddenly accept the totalizing philosophy of “the Internet” and embrace the supremacy of its associated values just because its cheerleaders believe that “the network is not going away.” Digital technologies contain no ready-made answers to the social and political dilemmas they create, even if “the Internet” convinces us otherwise.”

One of the issues that I find particularly lacking in discussions today is the questions related to who has access to data, and what format that is required for different groups to process the data?

It can be tiresome to hear him go on and on about how everyone is simplifying things without providing any examples of how these difficult issues can be discussed without simplifying them.  All books, reports, articles, blog posts, etc. are filled with simplifications and assumptions that frames the texts. What key assumptions that we must challenge and how that can be done is an important task in our society, as it is in any society.

Even if Evgeny does not say it himself, I think this paragraph capture much of the essence of the book and his criticism:

“Solutions are not assessed based on their merits but rather on how well they sit with the idea of a free, open, transparent “network” and its “architecture.” This is the other, darker side of epochalism: while new solutions are generated because we think that we are living in unique and exceptional times and anything Internet-incompatible ought to be swept away, we also believe that whatever problems “the Internet” presents ought to be dealt with in a manner that won’t affect “the Internet.”

Another thing that I appreciate is Evgeny’s focus on what happens when different kinds of connectivity and transparency are introduced by taking very concrete examples such as:

“While better crime statistics might help some people avoid buying properties in dodgy neighborhoods, they would also make it harder for other people to sell those properties. As a result, those who already live in these dodgy neighborhoods might be less willing to report crimes in the first place. In fact, in a 2011 survey by an insurance company, 11 percent of respondents claimed to have seen an incident but chose not to report it, worried that higher crime statistics for their neighborhood would significantly reduce the value of their properties. David Hand, a professor of mathematics at Imperial College, notes that “the open data initiative ignores such feedback effects—[that is,] that the very act of publishing the data will influence the quality of future data.” Perhaps we want data to be open—but not too open”

But sometimes he falls for the same simplicity that he criticises, such as:  

“The claim that going after Megaupload is an attack on “Internet freedom” makes as much sense as saying that going after people who steal books from libraries is an attack on “literary freedom.” Today, the notion of “Internet freedom” mobilizes Anonymous activists to launch cyberattacks, ensuring good press coverage for their heroes, like Dotcom.”

I don’t have much positive to say about Megaupload, or Kim Dotcom, but the way this situation (and many other so-called pirate cases) have been dealt with leaves a lot of room for improvements. Evgeny could have chosen Aaron Swartz instead of Kim and it would have been a much more interesting discussion.

It is a simplification, but many of those in power seem to do almost everything they can to create a divide between those who don’t see any need or potential in free information and those who see an opportunity to use the new connectivity in a way where most of the data can and should be free.

I don’t understand why Evgeny write in ways that makes him look like he is living under a stone (or in an ivory tower) to anyone who has been involved in copyright discussions:

“There’s a good chance that today’s copyright laws are unjust and inadequate—but this needs to be empirically demonstrated, not simply assumed from their supposed incompatibility with the spirit of “the Internet.”

He writes this as if there is a lack of empiric evidence that the copyright laws of today are outdated. Everyone (well almost everyone) agrees that this is the case, the question is if we should totally rethink these laws, or slightly update the old, but still based on a pre-digital logic.

Sometimes he is also so frustrated that I think he misses the point that creative people are trying to address important challenges with new tools:

“Solutionists do not understand that politicians are not like inflatable mattresses or hair dryers that can be easily ranked on a five-star scale, as we are wont to do with our Amazon purchases. It’s not that we do not evaluate them at all—we do—but such evaluations boil down to a binary choice, which we express, every few years, at the voting booth.”

1.     I don't know of anyone who do not understand that politicians are not like inflatable mattresses.
2.     Few things can be easily ranked on a five-star scale.
3.     Few evaluate politicians
4.     There are seldom binary choices. Only a Sith (or simplistic academics or other pundits) think in absolutes.
5.     That political choice is something that is exercised every few years at the voting booth is a sad perspective. Most people working with these issues want to see something more.

“Adam Michnik was onto something when he defined democracy as “eternal imperfection, a mixture of sinfulness, saintliness, and monkey business.” Try marketing a hair dryer with that slogan.”

I’m not sure if he is just in love with his own words, or is just plain ignorant when it comes to how most people engaged in politics think. Why keep discussing as if hair dryers and democracy belong to the same category. There are stupid PR people in politics, but perhaps even more of them among journalists, pundits and special interests. Almost all of the policy makers I know and have met acknowledges that there are significant problems with the current media situation, but very few leading editors/journalists/experts (perhaps not surprising as many of these are part of the problem) admits this.

I think he could have contributed to a more interesting discussion if he spent some more time actually assessing the people and ideas behind different tools. Then I think he would not say things like:

“Politwoops, a project of the Sunlight Foundation, collects and highlights tweets deleted by politicians, as if they should never be granted an opportunity to regret what they say. Perhaps the Sunlight Foundation would prefer that politicians say nothing at all.”

Instead he could also discuss "Ad hawk" from the same organization. I don’t think their tools are without problems, but I think it is not very honest to simplify initiatives from people who have spent a long time thinking about the challenges in politics/media. There are important challenges, but they are more complex that Evgeny’s soundbites indicates.

It would also have been interesting if Evgeny discussed people like Wael Ghonim from the Egyptian revolution who went from a very simplistic perspective on how internet could save everything, to a more nuanced perspective.

I often quote his TED introduction (ironic as I often criticize TED for its simplicity, but as a bridge from extreme simplicity to some reflection I think TEDT can play a role):

Five years ago, I said, "If you want to liberate society, all you need is the Internet." Today, I believe if we want to liberate society, we first need to liberate the Internet.

 I want to end with one very important, but simplified, observation by Evgeny.

“We must stop thinking of the new filters and algorithmic practices promoted by the new digital intermediaries (and their digerati cheerleaders) as unproblematic, objective, and naturally superior to the filters and practices that preceded them. These new filters might be faster, cheaper, and more efficient, but speed, cost, and efficiency are only peripherally related to the civic roles that these filters and algorithms will be playing in our lives.”

“The main problem here is that the hidden initial manipulations of the PR industry are only made worse by the business incentives of platforms like YouTube and Facebook, which have their own reasons to promote memes: they create some shared culture and, more importantly, lead to more page views, more user interaction (i.e., users reveal more about their interests to the company), and, eventually, more and better advertising. Memes, then, are what happens when one greedy industry meets another.”

After reading this book, or at the same time, I would recommend also reading Eric Schmidt’s book “The New Digital Age”

 I was very surprised to see how unintelligent that book was, and many of the simplistic assumptions made by Eric in that book are discussed by Evgeny. But where there are 1000’s books like “the new digital age”, and magnitudes more articles and blog posts and are very few “Click here to save everything”.

I just realized that if I use “the new digital age” as an example I should mention “When google met wikileaks”, by Assange. This is an interesting book that I think everyone that read the “The New Digital Age” should read. However, where Assanges books provides a well needed perspective on Schmidt’s book in particular, Evgeny provides a critique of one of the most dominate ideas in the current tech zeitgeist, the idea that any problem can be solved (and should be solved) with more technology.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari

This is a different kind of book reflection. It is about a book I normally do not write anything about, not because I find over simplified discussions about important issues boring and uninteresting (I sometime find it interesting to understand what simplification that are TED materials), but increasingly I find them dangerously stupefying. I read the book and wrote this reflection as I have seen politicians that I consider reasonably intelligent (including Obama), friends and artists I respect praise the book. 

I should clarify that I agree with very much in the book and I’m happy that Yuval brings up a number of interesting and important issues, e.g. how western countries have used “free trade” to push drugs (the opium war) and how our society is ignoring animal rights.

What I find frightening, is that this kind of rhetoric is becoming so popular, and even considered knowledge. I have no problem with Yuval writing a book like this. He is a good writer and it is easy to read to book. I even think you can recommend people reading this book instead of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci code or Harry Potter (both well written books that are entertaining). Some people like this kind of entertainment and I think almost all books can be used as inspiration to explore important issues (including the books by Dan Brown and J.K. Rowling that many criticize for their simplicity). But for me the way people have reacted to “Sapiens” reflect the dangerous disrespect for science and knowledge. They refer to this book as a source of knowledge in ways that differs from how people refer to Dan Brown.

It is as if Yuval set out to write the longest tweet ever, filled with “fun” “facts” that are easily quotable.

The book is filled with entertaining, but sloppy, provocations (at least that is what I think it is), e.g. he groups ideologies together with religion without a proper discussion about the differences. The simple fact that ideologies tend to be built on some rational ground and assumptions that can be discussed, compared with religion that are based on faith. Obviously, there are similarities that are interesting to discuss, but to book never moves in to complex questions.

I think Yuval makes a number of important observations, but the book has a tendency to erode the meaning of words that I find deeply disturbing and dangerous. Add to this the lack of serious references and it is hard to see this as anything more than fiction. I would even argue that the “edutainment” focus, where knowledge is simplified, statements are provided without proper backing and always presented in a personal and fun way, is one if the key contributions to the situation we have in society where facts, science and dialogue are under threats.

This kind of material is a lot more dangerous than what is usually regarded a “fake news” as few people actually think they are true, but rather sympathise with the general message.

When mainstream media, politicians that are seen as thinking people, talk about books like this as if it provides some kind of insight we are on a very slippery slope as exactly the same book can be written with very different values that are equally entertaining.

I think Yuval is in love with his fantastic capacity to write in a captivating way, providing us with small nuggets that fits perfect in a dinner conversations when someone want to sound interesting without thinking for themselves.  

There are so many contradictions and hyperbole does not begin to describe many of the statements.

“But the single most remarkable and defining moment of the past 500 years came at 05:29:45 on 16 July 1945. At that precise second, American scientists detonated the first atomic bomb at Alamogordo, New Mexico. From that point onward, humankind had the capability not only to change the course of history, but to end it.”

There are many moments that can be used to highlight different aspects of our society. Humans have always had the opportunity to change history, that is what we do. But even more important we did not get the chance to end human civilisation at that moment. What is true is that Edward Teller’s back of the envelope calculations that indicated that the earth atmosphere. What moment the Russians and US had enough nuclear weapons so that a full nuclear world result in such a catastrophic chain event that there was a probability that human civilisation would end, is hard to estimate, but it was long after 1945.

“The leading project of the Scientific Revolution is to give humankind eternal life. Even if killing death seems a distant goal, we have already achieved things that were inconceivable a few centuries ago.”

Who have ever said that? Is there even one (1) leading project for the scientific revolution, and if such a thing could be established it would probably be something vague like “improve things”?

“The Scientific Revolution has not been a revolution of knowledge. It has been above all a revolution of ignorance. The great discovery that launched the Scientific Revolution was the discovery that humans do not know the answers to their most important questions.”

Again an interesting statement, and I’m curious to learn more about such a statement. But as always these general statements are not backed up in any way.

“Just as the Atlantic slave trade did not stem from hatred towards Africans, so the modern animal industry is not motivated by animosity. Again, it is fuelled by indifference.”

Who have said that the slave trade steamed from hatred, or that our current animal industry is based on hatred?

The book is filled with random, half-true statement that backs up a liberal view on the world. If people that consider themselves to be critical thinkers and supporters of the enlightenment embrace this kind of level of intelligence (or more correct, lack thereof) I think we are in serious trouble. This is not to say that Noah is unintelligent, I assume that he is smart (perhaps even very smart), but he has bought into the simplification narrative that is so dominating today and so have many of his readers I guess.

I know that it is easier for most people to be upset at racist webpages, anti-scientific attacks on climate change, and hateful trolls on Twitter, but such things will always exist. The real problem is when people who consider themselves educated and moderate use books like this as the bases for any kind of discussion about something important. As long as facts are less important than entertainment we will get Trump, Lomborg and other experts who are “sceptic” towards climate change, immigrants, science, etc.

Hopefully a number of people in media and politics (including lobbyists and PR/marketing people) are asking what kind of responsibility they have for the current situation.

I want to write a separate text about the need to protect democracy and the open society later.