Issue Number 269 November 15, 2019

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is edited by Dave Moursund and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is one component of the Information Age Education (IAE) and Advancement of Globally Appropriate Technology and Education (AGATE) publications.

All back issues of the newsletter and subscription information are available online. Fourteen of the newsletters are available in Spanish. In addition, seven free books based on the newsletters are available.

Dave Moursund’s newly revised and updated book, The Fourth R (Second Edition), is now available in both English and Spanish (Moursund, 2018a, link; Moursund, 2018b, link). The unifying theme of the book is that the 4th R of Reasoning/Computational Thinking is fundamental to empowering today’s students and their teachers throughout the K-12 curriculum. The first edition was published in December, 2016, and the second edition in August, 2018. The Spanish translation of the second edition, La Cuarta R, was published in September, 2018. The three books have now had a combined total of over 73,000 page-views and downloads. More than 16,000 of these are the Spanish edition.

Three Books by Yuval Noah Harari

David Moursund
Professor Emeritus, College of Education
University of Oregon

I have recently read three books that I believe are outstanding and that you may want to read. All are by Yuval Noah Harari, an Israeli historian and professor in the Department of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. They cover the past, present, and possible future of Homo sapiens in Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2011), Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (2015), and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (2018).

You can learn more about Harari by viewing his 2017 TED Talk interview (Harari, February, 2017, link), and his 2015 TED Talk (Harari, June, 2015, link).

As I read these three books, I was amazed by the range of topics Harari covered. With each topic, he raises difficult and often controversial questions. As an example, we all know that computers are affecting many different kinds of jobs. In a quote from Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, Harari forecasts:

Of course, by 2033 many new professions are likely to appear, for example, virtual-world designers. But such professions will probably require much more creativity and flexibility than current run-of-the-mill jobs, and it is unclear whether forty-year-old cashiers 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 they do so, the pace of progress is such that they might have to reinvent themselves yet again. After all, [computer] algorithms might well outperform humans in designing virtual worlds, too. The critical problem isn’t creating new jobs. The critical problem is creating new jobs that humans perform better than [computer] algorithms.

This newsletter introduces each of Harari’s books with a brief comment from a reviewer, followed by my own comment. For Homo Deus, I briefly summarize four of the major world problems discussed in the book and then comment on each

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari (2011)

Quoting from a review in goodreads (n.d., link.):

In Sapiens, Dr. Yuval Noah Harari spans the whole of human history, from the very first humans to walk the earth to the radical – and sometimes devastating – breakthroughs of the Cognitive, Agricultural and Scientific Revolutions. Drawing on insights from biology, anthropology, paleontology and economics, he explores how the currents of history have shaped our human societies, the animals and plants around us, and even our personalities. Have we become happier as history has unfolded? Can we ever free our behavior from the heritage of our ancestors? And what, if anything, can we do to influence the course of the centuries to come?

Comment by David Moursund. Recent research suggests that Homo sapiens go back at least 350,000 years, were tool-using hunter-gatherers, and may well have had oral language at that time. Perhaps 75,000 years ago, a small mutation in human brains allowed us to be more inquisitive and collaborative. From that occurrence, it took tens of thousands of years before we developed agriculture (about 13,000 years ago), written language (about 5,400 years ago), and then soon developed schools to teach reading, writing, arithmetic, and history (about 5,200 years ago). Our current brick-and-mortar schools are a result of about 5,200 years of progress in schooling. In recent decades, this rate of progress is not keeping up with the pace of change of technology.

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari (2015)

Quoting from a review by Moises Naim in The Washington Post (Naim, 10/26/2018, link):

Alongside some of the bromides he relies on to dispatch major problems, Harari also offers an abundance of fascinating interpretations and comments. In his provocative discussion of fake news, for example, he acknowledges that it is a serious problem but argues that humans have always lived in the age of post-truth. “Homo Sapiens is a post-truth species, whose power depends on creating and believing fictions,” he writes. “For millennia, much of what passed for ‘news’ and ‘facts’ in human social networks were stories about miracles, angels, demons, and witches with bold reporters giving live coverage from the deepest pits of the underworld. . . . When a thousand people believe some made-up story for one month, that’s fake news. When a billion people believe it for a thousand years, that’s a religion.

Comment by David Moursund. Our future world faces global problems that can only be dealt with effectively by global cooperation (Moursund, 9/17/2019, link).

This is a major challenge to our current division of the world into many independent nations, each concerned about its own welfare. Homo sapiens are facing many global problems that individual nations cannot solve. Four major problem areas discussed in Homo Deus include:

  1. Artificial Intelligence, with computers and robots becoming available to fill most of the jobs that currently require the brains and/or brawn of average human beings. Will our future be one in which most people do not have productive jobs, and only a modest number of people have physically and intellectually challenging jobs that are not being filled by artificially intelligent computers and robots?
    Comment by David Moursund. I, personally, have been retired for many years. I have a decent retirement income, and I have no trouble filling my days with a wide range of enjoyable, productive activities, interaction with people and pets, and entertainment. However, without my life-before-retirement education, work, and other experiences, there is a good chance I would now be “bored out of my gourd.” I have trouble imagining life in a world in which most people do not have jobs and all have robots to tend to their individual wants and needs.

  2. Human-caused global warming, pollution of our lands, oceans, and atmosphere, and a shortage of fresh water. All of these are global problems, and all contribute to decreasing the average quality of life of the world’s human population.
    Comment by David Moursund. I find these problems quite worrisome, and all require worldwide cooperation. Our world is growing smaller in terms of transportation, communication, economics and business, entertainment, research on medicine and in other areas, and so on. In the past we have had success in dealing with problems such as lead in gasoline and the southern hole in our ozone layer. So far, we are making very little progress in cooperating to solve global problems such as climate change and pollution.

  3. Weapons of mass destruction, especially including nuclear and biological weapons. We already have the capability of virtually destroying our earth and wiping out much of humanity.
    Comment by David Moursund. The same comment that I made in the previous section is applicable here. We have had atomic weapons since 1945 and hydrogen bombs since 1962. Aside from the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945, we have avoided using these weapons in warfare. That has been a huge achievement. Today, an increasing number of weapons of mass production can be produced rather inexpensively and delivered in a clandestine manner. This is a huge and frightening problem.

  4. Genetic engineering.
    Comment by David Moursund. We now know how to make genetic changes to plants and animals (including humans). In Homo Deus, Harari talks about this as humans working to achieve “God-like” capabilities. Genetically altered plants and animals are now common. We have used genetically-engineered changes to cure or prevent some terrible diseases in humans, and we are beginning to produce so-called “designer babies.”
    In some sense, a person interfaced via the Internet to the Web and other very large databases has a number of “God-like” powers. Nowadays, we take routine access to the Web and two-way or group interactions with people located throughout the world as routine, everyday events.
21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari (2018)

Quoting from a review by Bill Gates in The New York Times (Gates, 8/4/2018, link):

The human mind wants to worry. This is not necessarily a bad thing — after all, if a bear is stalking you, worrying about it may well save your life. Although most of us don’t need to lose too much sleep over bears these days, modern life does present plenty of other reasons for concern: terrorism, climate change, the rise of A.I., encroachments on our privacy, even the apparent decline of international cooperation.

In his fascinating new book, “21 Lessons for the 21st Century,” the historian Yuval Noah Harari creates a useful framework for confronting these fears. While his previous best sellers, “Sapiens” and “Homo Deus,” covered the past and future respectively, his new book is all about the present. The trick for putting an end to our anxieties, he suggests, is not to stop worrying. It’s to know which things to worry about, and how much to worry about them. As he writes in his introduction: “What are today’s greatest challenges and most important changes? What should we pay attention to? What should we teach our kids?” [Bold added for emphasis.]

Comment by David Moursund. I assume that you are interested in today’s students getting a good education that will help to prepare them for responsible and productive life as adults. It was just a little over a hundred years ago that WWI ended. Suppose that you had been in charge of designing the K-12 school systems of the world at that time. With all of your current knowledge, what changes would you attempt to make in the world’s schools so that the past century would have been a “better” century?

Personally, I consider that to be a daunting task. Suppose that today you were given the task of designing the world’s schools for the next century. This requires you to look into the future and to do this at a time when the pace of change is much more rapid that it has been during the past century.

Today’s parents, teachers, and other educators are faced by this challenge. Individually and in groups, we give thought to this challenge and, to a large extent, do the best that we can. However, I believe we are working far too slowly, and we are not coming anywhere near to giving our children the best that humankind has to offer. We have trouble accomplishing this locally, much less statewide, nationally, or globally.

Final Remarks

Harari ends Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow with a statement important to readers of any or all of his three books:

The rise of AI and biotechnology will certainly transform the world, but it does not mandate a single deterministic outcome. All of the scenarios outlined in this book should be understood as possibilities rather than prophecies. If you don’t like some of these possibilities you are welcome to think and behave in new ways that will prevent these particular possibilities from materializing.

The reason I so strongly recommend Harari’s three books is that they raise many issues that I believe need to be openly discussed by all of us. He provides possible answers to some of these issues, and he provides forecasts of what may transpire in the future.

To contribute to this open discussion process, I attempt to do my part through my writings, in the organizations that I work with, and in my everyday life. I am especially proud of my latest (free) book, The Fourth R, now also available in Spanish as La Cuarta R (Moursund, 2018a, link; Moursund, 2018b, link). It advocates integrating the 4th R of Reasoning/Computational thinking into the traditional 3 Rs at all grade levels and throughout the curriculum.

References and Resources

Gates, B. (8/4/2018). What are the biggest problems facing us in the 21st century? The New York Times. Retrieved 6/9/2019 from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/04/books/review/21-lessons-for-the-21st-century-yuval-noah-harari.html.

goodreads (n.d.). Review of Sapiens: A brief history of humankind. Retrieved 6/12/2019 from https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23692271-sapiens.

Harari, Y.N. (2018). Lessons for the 21st century. New York: Penguin Random House.

Harari, Y.N. (February, 2017). Nationalism vs. globalism: The new political divide. TED Talks. (Video, 1 hour.) Retrieved 6/30/2019 from https://www.ted.com/talks/yuval_noah_harari_nationalism_vs_globalism_the_new_political_divide
?language=en.

Harari, Y.N. (2015). Homo Deus: A brief history of tomorrow. New York: HarperCollins.

Harari, Y.N. (June, 2015). What explains the rise of humans? TED Talks. (Video, 17:09.) Retrieved 6/14/2019 from https://www.ted.com/talks/yuval_noah_harari_what_explains_the_rise_of_humans?language=en .

Harari, Y.N. (2011). Sapiens: A brief history of humankind. New York: HarperCollins.

Moursund, D (9/17/2019).  Think and act both globally and locally. IAE Blog. Retrieved11/8/2019 from https://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/think-and-act-both-globally-and-locally.html.

Moursund, D. (2018a). The fourth R (Second edition). Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Retrieved 6/12 /2019 from http://iae-pedia.org/The_Fourth_R_(Second_Edition). Download the Microsoft Word file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/free-ebooks-by-dave-moursund/307-the-fourth-r-second-edition.html. Download the PDF file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/free-ebooks-by-dave-moursund/308-the-fourth-r-second-edition-1.html. See the Spanish version, La Cuarta R, below.

Moursund, D. (2018b). La Cuarta R. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Retrieved 3/21/2019 from http://iae-pedia.org/La_Cuarta_R_(Segunda_Edici%C3%B3n).

Naim, M. (10/26/2018). Worried fake news spells our doom? Humanity has always lived with it. The Washington Post. Retrieved 6/12/2019 from https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/worried-fake-news-spells-our-doom-humanity-has-always-lived-with-it/2018/10/26/50b299b8-bb87-11e8-bdc0-90f81cc58c5d_story.html?utm_term=.cb460057a337.

Author

David Moursund is an Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oregon, and editor of the IAE Newsletter. His professional career includes founding the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in 1979, serving as ISTE’s executive officer for 19 years, and establishing ISTE’s flagship publication, Learning and Leading with Technology (now published by ISTE as Empowered Learner). He was the major professor or co-major professor for 82 doctoral students. He has presented hundreds of professional talks and workshops. He has authored or coauthored more than 60 academic books and hundreds of articles. Many of these books are available free online. See http://iaepedia.org/David_Moursund_Books .

In 2007, Moursund founded Information Age Education (IAE). IAE provides free online educational materials via its IAE-pedia, IAE Newsletter, IAE Blog, and IAE books. See http://iaepedia.org/Main_Page#IAE_in_a_Nutshell . Information Age Education is now fully integrated into the 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, Advancement of Globally Appropriate Technology and Education (AGATE) that was established in 2016. David Moursund is the Chief Executive Officer of AGATE.

Email: moursund@uoregon.edu

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Information Age Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving education for learners of all ages throughout the world. Current IAE activities and free materials include the IAE-pedia at http://iae-pedia.org, a Website containing free books and articles at http://i-a-e.org/, a Blog at http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog.html, and the free newsletter you are now reading. See all back issues of the Blog at http://iae-pedia.org/IAE_Blog and all back issues of the Newsletter at http://i-a-e.org/iae-newsletter.html.