Trends Newsletter

   ICA Trends 
June 2017

In the future, virtual worlds could take the place of religion

and other socially-constructed systems of meaning as humans become less useful.

Yuval Noah Harari, 14 June 2017

Most jobs that exist today might disappear within decades. As artificial intelligence outperforms humans in more and more tasks, it will replace humans in more and more jobs. Many new professions are likely to appear: virtual-world designers, for example. But such professions will probably require more creativity and flexibility, and it is unclear whether 40-year-old unemployed taxi drivers or insurance agents will be able to reinvent themselves as virtual-world designers (try to imagine a virtual world created by an insurance agent!). And even if the ex-insurance agent somehow makes the transition into a virtual-world designer, the pace of progress is such that within another decade he might have to reinvent himself yet again.

The crucial problem isn’t creating new jobs. The crucial problem is creating new jobs that humans perform better than algorithms (a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer). Consequently, by 2050 a new class of people might emerge – the useless class. People who are not just unemployed, but unemployable.

The same technology that renders humans useless might also make it feasible to feed and support the unemployable masses through some scheme of universal basic income. The real problem will then be to keep the masses occupied and content. People must engage in purposeful activities, or they go crazy. So what will the useless class do all day?

One answer might be computer games. Economically redundant people might spend increasing amounts of time within 3D virtual reality worlds, which would provide them with far more excitement and emotional engagement than the “real world” outside. This, in fact, is a very old solution. For thousands of years, billions of people have found meaning in playing virtual reality games. In the past, we have called these virtual reality games “religions”.

What is a religion if not a big virtual reality game played by millions of people together? Religions such as Islam and Christianity invent imaginary laws, such as “don’t eat pork”, “repeat the same prayers a set number of times each day”, “don’t have sex with somebody from your own gender” and so forth. These laws exist only in the human imagination. No natural law requires the repetition of magical formulas, and no natural law forbids homosexuality or eating pork. Muslims and Christians go through life trying to gain points in their favorite virtual reality game. If you pray every day, you get points. If you forget to pray, you lose points. If by the end of your life you gain enough points, then after you die you go to the next level of the game (aka heaven).

As religions show us, the virtual reality need not be encased inside an isolated box. Rather, it can be superimposed on the physical reality. In the past this was done with the human imagination and with sacred books, and in the 21st century it can be done with smartphones.

Some time ago I went with my six-year-old nephew Matan to hunt for Pokémon. As we walked down the street, Matan kept looking at his smartphone, which enabled him to spot Pokémon all around us. I didn’t see any Pokémon at all, because I didn’t carry a smartphone. Then we saw two others kids on the street who were hunting the same Pokémon, and we almost got into a fight with them. It struck me how similar the situation was to the conflict between Jews and Muslims about the holy city of Jerusalem. When you look at the objective reality of Jerusalem, all you see are stones and buildings. There is no holiness anywhere. But when you look through the medium of smartbooks (such as the Bible and the Qur’an), you see holy places and angels everywhere.

The idea of finding meaning in life by playing virtual reality games is of course common not just to religions, but also to secular ideologies and lifestyles. Consumerism too is a virtual reality game. You gain points by acquiring new cars, buying expensive brands and taking vacations abroad, and if you have more points than everybody else, you tell yourself you won the game.

You might object that people really enjoy their cars and vacations. That’s certainly true. But the religious really enjoy praying and performing ceremonies, and my nephew really enjoys hunting Pokémon. In the end, the real action always takes place inside the human brain. Does it matter whether the neurons are stimulated by observing pixels on a computer screen, by looking outside the windows of a Caribbean resort, or by seeing heaven in our mind’s eyes? In all cases, the meaning we ascribe to what we see is generated by our own minds. It is not really “out there”. To the best of our scientific knowledge, human life has no meaning. The meaning of life is always a fictional story created by us humans.

In his groundbreaking essay, Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight (1973), the anthropologist Clifford Geertz describes how on the island of Bali, people spent much time and money betting on cockfights. The betting and the fights involved elaborate rituals, and the outcomes had substantial impact on the social, economic and political standing of both players and spectators.

The cockfights were so important to the Balinese that when the Indonesian government declared the practice illegal, people ignored the law and risked arrest and hefty fines. For the Balinese, cockfights were “deep play” – a made-up game that is invested with so much meaning that it becomes reality. A Balinese anthropologist could arguably have written similar essays on football in Argentina or Judaism in Israel.

Indeed, one particularly interesting section of Israeli society provides a unique laboratory for how to live a contented life in a post-work world. In Israel, a significant percentage of ultra-orthodox Jewish men never work. They spend their entire lives studying holy scriptures and performing religion rituals. They and their families don’t starve to death partly because the wives often work, and partly because the government provides them with generous subsidies. Though they usually live in poverty, government support means that they never lack for the basic necessities of life.

That’s universal basic income in action. Though they are poor and never work, in survey after survey these ultra-orthodox Jewish men report higher levels of life-satisfaction than any other section of Israeli society. In global surveys of life satisfaction, Israel is almost always at the very top, thanks in part to the contribution of these unemployed deep players.

You don’t need to go all the way to Israel to see the world of post-work. If you have at home a teenage son who likes computer games, you can conduct your own experiment. Provide him with a minimum subsidy of Coke and pizza, and then remove all demands for work and all parental supervision. The likely outcome is that he will remain in his room for days, glued to the screen. He won’t do any homework or housework, will skip school, skip meals and even skip showers and sleep. Yet he is unlikely to suffer from boredom or a sense of purposelessness. At least not in the short term.

Hence virtual realities are likely to be key to providing meaning to the useless class of the post-work world. Maybe these virtual realities will be generated inside computers. Maybe they will be generated outside computers, in the shape of new religions and ideologies. Maybe it will be a combination of the two. The possibilities are endless, and nobody knows for sure what kind of deep plays will engage us in 2050.

In any case, the end of work will not necessarily mean the end of meaning, because meaning is generated by imagining rather than by working. Work is essential for meaning only according to some ideologies and lifestyles. Eighteenth-century English country squires, present-day ultra-orthodox Jews, and children in all cultures and eras have found a lot of interest and meaning in life even without working. People in 2050 will probably be able to play deeper games and to construct more complex virtual worlds than in any previous time in history.

But what about truth? What about reality? Do we really want to live in a world in which billions of people are immersed in fantasies, pursuing make-believe goals and obeying imaginary laws? Well, like it or not, that’s the world we have been living in for thousands of years already.

Yuval Noah Harari lectures at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is the author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind and Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

未來,虛擬世界將可能取代宗教信仰以及其他社會性架構的體制,

意指人類越來越沒用處哈拉瑞 (Yuval Noah Harari)2017614

現今存在的工作,可能在未來數十年內就會消失。 當人工智慧在越來越多的工作表現比人類來得優異,代表著越來越多的工作將被取代。許多新型態的工作也慢慢出現,例如:虛擬世界設計師。但這樣的專業需要更多創造力及彈性,看不太出來失業的計程車司機禍保險業務員如何轉行為虛擬設計師(試想保險業務員所設計出的虛擬世界會是什麼模樣!)。即使這位轉行的保險業務員成功轉職為虛擬設計師,時代變遷如此迅速,或許再過十年,他又得換一次行業。

問題的重點不在創造新的工作,而是創造出人類表現比電腦演算還要好的工作(所謂演算就是經由特定過程或規則進行計算,或是進行其他解決問題的模式,特別是透過電腦進行的過程)。因此,到2050年,或許會出現一種特別的群族 - 無用的群族,他們不僅是沒有工作,而且無法被雇用。

將人類變成沒有用的科技,或許可以找到一種基本收入的機制來養活這些無法雇用的群族。可是真正的問題在於,如何使這群人有事做,又有成就感?應該讓他們參與有目的性的活動,不然真的會發瘋。不過這群人每天該做什麼事呢?

答案之一可能是電腦遊戲。經濟尚有餘力的人,可能花在3D虛擬世界的時間越來越多,因為這樣的活動比起外面的真實世界,有較多的刺激性及情感上的連結。不過,事實上,還有個很老套的解決方式。幾千年來,數十億人在虛擬現實的遊戲裡找尋到意義。過去,我們稱它為「宗教」。

宗教不就是一個百萬人一起玩的虛擬實境遊戲嗎?伊斯蘭教及基督教這些宗教還不是都自己創造出假想的教條,像是「不能吃豬肉」、「每天要重複禱告幾次」、「不得與同性別人士發生性關係」等等。這些法則僅存在人類的假想,沒有任何自然的法則要求要重複這些神奇的經文,也並無禁止同性的性行為或食用豬肉。穆斯林與基督徒透過這樣的生活獲得他們在虛擬現實遊戲中,想要累積的點數。像是:你每天禱告,你可獲得幾個點數。你忘記禱告,點數會減少幾個。當你在一生中累積足夠的點數,在你離開人世時,可以前進遊戲中的另一個關卡( 也就是天堂)。

宗教告訴我們,虛擬現實並不被侷限在一個獨立的框架中,而是會和現實重疊的。過去,人類的想像力以及宗教的書籍就是如此,在二十一世紀,智慧手機就可以完成。

不久之前,我跟我六歲的外甥馬丁一起玩寶可夢。當我們在街上行走時,馬丁一直盯著他的手機,這樣他可以隨時捕捉在我們身邊的寶可夢。我沒有攜帶我的手機,所以看不到任何的寶可夢。後來,我們在街上遇見另外兩個一樣在玩寶可夢的孩子,我們幾乎快打起來了。這讓我聯想到基督徒與穆斯林對於聖城耶路撒冷的衝突,是多麼的相似。當你到了耶路撒冷城,你只看得見石頭與建築物。可是當你透過智能書籍的媒介(例如:聖經及可蘭經),這城市無處不是聖地與天使的蹤跡。

透過虛擬實境的方式去找尋生命的意義,不僅出現在宗教活動,世俗的理念與生活習性中也是常見。消費主義也是一個虛擬實境的遊戲,在你購買新車,消費昂貴品牌商品以及出國度假時,感覺上好似集得較多的點數,覺得自己贏了。

或許你會反駁,人們是真的很享受擁有自己的車輛及假期,這也是實話。可是,當虔誠的信徒享受祈禱以及進行宗教儀式,我的外甥獵尋寶可夢精靈,最終,真正精彩的東西都在腦海裡。我們的神經叢是受到電腦螢幕的畫素所刺激還是窗外加勒比海度假村的風光,或者是我們心裡所感應到的天堂所刺激?終歸一句,我們對於所有見聞賦予的意義,都是來自於腦海裡,而不是真正存在於某處。所有看見的事物,在各自的內心會產生為另一種意義,並非真實存在某處。就我們在科學上的認知,人類的生命其實沒有意義。生命的意義其實是我們自己虛構出來的故事。

人類學家紀爾(Clifford Geertz)在一篇極具突破性的論文《深層的遊戲Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight (1973)》描述峇里島人的鬥雞活動。他在峇里島觀察到民眾投入許多的時間與金錢在鬥雞賭博,這活動包含了精心設計的儀式,而其結果對參賽者及觀眾,在社會經濟及政治層面都有重大的影響。

鬥雞活動對峇里島民眾非常重要,即便印尼政府宣布鬥雞的活動違法,他們寧願違法,冒著被逮捕以及加倍罰金的風險繼續。對峇里島民來說,鬥雞是「深度遊戲,雖然是虛構,但因投入的情感與意義而成為現實。同樣的,峇里島的人類學家也能針對阿根廷的足球與以色列的猶太教撰寫類似的論述。

確實,以色列社會的一個有趣的現象,成為了一個觀察後工作世界生活滿意度的實驗環境。這樣特別有趣的現象使得以色列社會提供了相當獨特的實驗環境,去探討在後工作世界如何過的滿足?在以色列,極端正統猶太教男性教徒,有相當比例的人數從未工作。他們一生鑽研經文,進行宗教的儀式。而他們及家人也沒有因此餓死,有些妻子會外出工作,政府也提供足夠的津貼。雖然他們的生活通常是窮困的,但政府的補助讓他們的基本生活需求不至於匱乏。

就是普遍基本收入機制的實踐。即使貧困又不工作,無數的研究報告都顯示,相較於以色列社會裡的其他族群,這些極端正統猶太教男性教徒,對生活的滿意度都高過其他群族。在全球性的生活滿意度研究裡,以色列通常高居前幾名,這都要歸功於這些沒工作的虔誠信仰者。

你不需要大老遠飛到以色列去看「後工作世界」的樣貌,如果你家裡有個熱愛電腦遊戲的青少年,你就能有相同的體驗。只要提供他些許的可樂披薩,不要對他有工作上的要求,也不要有父母親的監督。你最可能看到的景象就是:他整天待在房間裡,眼睛黏在電腦螢幕上,功課沒做、翹課、不吃飯,連睡覺、洗澡也都省了。他絕不會感到無聊或生活茫然,至少短時間內不會。

如此看來,虛擬現實像是給予後工作世界,無工作族群生活意義的解藥。或許有些虛擬實境會由電腦裡所提供,或許電腦外會產生新的信仰及不同的樣貌意識形態,也有可能是兩者合而為一。可能性有無窮盡,而且沒人會知道2050年時,會是哪一種投入玩樂會吸引我們?

無論如何,工作的結束不必然表示其意義的終了。因為工作的意義來自想像多過於工作的本質。依據一些意識及生活形態的不同,而讓工作本身具有意義。十八世紀的英國鄉村紳士,現今基本教義猶太教徒,以及所有文化世代下的孩童,即使沒有工作,仍為自己的生命找到許多的喜好及意義。人類到了2050年,或許能更加投入在遊戲的玩樂當中,創造出比以前更為複雜的虛擬世界。

但實情又是如何?什麼是真實的?我們真的想要生活在數十億人沈浸於幻想的世界裡,追求假想的目標及遵循虛幻的律法?不論你喜不喜歡,我們已經在這樣的世界生活數千年。

• 哈拉瑞Yuval Noah Harari任教於耶路撒冷希伯來大學,為《人類大歷史:從野獸到扮演上帝》與《人類大命運:從智人到神人》等書籍作者。 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Subpages (1): June/2015
ĉ
Gail West,
May 5, 2015, 2:40 AM
ĉ
Gail West,
Jun 2, 2013, 7:21 PM
ĉ
Gail West,
May 13, 2014, 2:39 AM
ĉ
Gail West,
Apr 26, 2016, 12:51 AM
ĉ
Gail West,
May 9, 2011, 2:17 AM
ĉ
Gail West,
Sep 9, 2013, 7:51 PM
ĉ
Gail West,
Sep 28, 2014, 2:24 AM
ĉ
Gail West,
Sep 14, 2015, 12:40 AM
ĉ
Gail West,
Sep 11, 2016, 9:40 PM
ĉ
Gail West,
Jan 3, 2016, 3:27 AM
ĉ
Gail West,
Jan 6, 2015, 1:24 AM
ĉ
Gail West,
Jan 1, 2017, 10:26 PM
ĉ
Gail West,
Jan 7, 2014, 8:23 PM
ĉ
Gail West,
Apr 2, 2014, 9:58 PM
ĉ
Gail West,
Mar 25, 2011, 9:49 PM
ĉ
Gail West,
Feb 28, 2015, 12:19 AM
ĉ
Gail West,
Jan 31, 2015, 9:53 PM
ĉ
Gail West,
Feb 2, 2013, 11:17 PM
ĉ
Gail West,
Feb 9, 2012, 4:51 AM
ĉ
Gail West,
Feb 14, 2017, 10:22 PM
ĉ
Gail West,
Feb 20, 2014, 11:33 PM
ĉ
Gail West,
Jul 31, 2016, 11:55 PM
ĉ
Gail West,
Aug 4, 2014, 9:26 PM
ĉ
Gail West,
Aug 11, 2015, 11:32 PM
ĉ
Gail West,
Jul 16, 2014, 10:35 PM
ĉ
Gail West,
Jul 10, 2016, 10:14 PM
ĉ
Gail West,
Jul 23, 2017, 8:56 PM
ĉ
Gail West,
Jun 28, 2012, 1:29 AM
ĉ
Gail West,
Jul 9, 2015, 1:05 AM
ĉ
Gail West,
Apr 14, 2015, 12:40 AM
ĉ
Gail West,
Apr 8, 2016, 1:24 AM
ĉ
Gail West,
Apr 2, 2014, 9:58 PM
ĉ
Gail West,
Sep 5, 2011, 10:29 PM
ĉ
Gail West,
Jun 7, 2017, 9:43 PM
ĉ
Gail West,
Jun 9, 2015, 5:05 AM
ĉ
Gail West,
Jun 2, 2014, 9:58 PM
ĉ
Gail West,
May 20, 2011, 11:40 PM
ĉ
Gail West,
Dec 8, 2012, 12:34 AM
ĉ
Gail West,
Nov 7, 2013, 4:18 AM
ĉ
Gail West,
Nov 3, 2016, 12:30 AM
ĉ
Gail West,
Nov 7, 2014, 8:38 PM
ĉ
Gail West,
Nov 2, 2015, 11:58 PM
ĉ
Gail West,
Jul 20, 2011, 5:42 AM
ĉ
Gail West,
Oct 7, 2013, 8:50 PM
ĉ
Gail West,
Oct 5, 2016, 9:45 PM
ĉ
Gail West,
Oct 15, 2015, 12:24 AM
ĉ
Gail West,
Oct 8, 2014, 8:04 PM
ĉ
Gail West,
Oct 11, 2011, 2:03 AM
ĉ
Gail West,
Jan 1, 2017, 10:22 PM
ĉ
Gail West,
Aug 19, 2013, 8:44 PM