21 Lessons for the 21st Century book summary

Actionable Book Summary: 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

The Book In Three Or More Sentences:

What will happen with the rise of AI, robots, and sophisticated 3D printers? We don’t know yet, but one thing is certain, cheap unskilled labor will become far less attractive to the big companies. Yuval Noah Harari addresses the main challenges human society will face in the years to come in his book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. You can find answers to questions like: “Is religion still relevant” and “What should I do with my life when everything is automated?”

The Core Idea:

Human power depends on mass cooperation. Unfortunately, though, we grow further apart with the increase of the Homo Sapiens population. In order to survive and keep thriving as a species, we need to build bridges and unite. That’s the only way we can keep our planet alive and our society flourishing.


  • AI is outperforming humans in more and more cognitive tasks – making analyzes, budgets, communicating with people, even driving cars.
  • We need to continuously improve our skillset if we want to keep making good money and bring food to the table.
  • If you don’t have a clear vision in your head about your vision, Big Data (and tailored ads) will the one deciding what’s best for you. Meaning, you’ll believe that buying more things is what matters.

5 Key Lessons from 21 Lessons for the 21st Century:

Lesson #1: We Have Two Types of Abilities: Physical and Cognitive

We no longer can compete with machines when it comes down to physical abilities. We can’t outperform a sophisticated machine that fills bottles with wine, for example. And that’s good. The technological evolution made the world what it is today – market crowded with products, more than we can consume.

Thanks to this automation the life span of humans increased drastically since more and more people have access to goods and drugs that help them keep good health.

This automation also allowed us, humans, to focus our time on cognitive abilities. From people working on the field, we’re now mainly suited and placed in cubicles making analyzes, budgets, taking care of social media feeds, talking with people and trying to better understand them.

For better or worse, though, AI is now beginning to outperform humans in more and more of these skills. Machine learning algorithms are slowly creeping in our daily lives. They promise better service and tailored experience. Even though it sounds super exciting – having a personal assistant that understands you it’s surely going to be handy – it will probably mean that a lot of occupations will be suspended in the future for us, humans.

The majority of the people working in factories are there to operate the machines that do the actual work. Probably in the future, we’ll have more and more people maintaining the algorithms that make analyzes, budgets, take care of social media, talk with people, and other jobs that currently pay well.

Lesson #2: The Rise Of The Useless Class

Having the above in mind, we can speculate about our future job market. We can say that we’ll lose a lot of traditional jobs and we’ll be probably right to say it.

The attempts to get artificial intelligence into our transportation system are present. Google, Uber, and Tesla are investing big bucks in making self-driving cars part of our daily lives. And it makes a lot of sense. AI will be statistically safer than a human driver. You can easily program a computer to follow all the rules and comply with all regulations. Besides, you’ll never have to worry about drunk drivers or inexperienced ones.

What does this mean for you and me?

Well, if you’re young and you are considering driving a taxi for a living, you should probably reconsider.

In the near future, the job market will be probably occupied by a lot of maintenance work around AI. Instead of competing with AI, we’ll probably focus on servicing and leveraging it.

However, this will require high levels of expertise. Understanding of algorithms and having coding skills. Basically, it will be really hard for the average citizen to find a good job that pays the bills. Most of the people simply won’t have the skills. This will lead to a class of people with obsolete knowledge and therefore not able to afford to cover their basic needs.

The solution to this possible future problem is to continuously improve your expertise. Keep learning after you graduate school. Keep learning new things even if you’re 40 or 50 years old. That’s the only way you can stay in the game. Or in other words, keeping a job that will allow you to make it through the day.

Lesson #3: We Need To Build Meaningful Global Communities

Even though social media is evil, it’s great for building and nurturing communities.

Nowadays you have the option to work, live and survive in the modern jungle all by yourself. You can work remotely, order food and groceries online, chat on social media and not speak with a single human for years. It sounds strange but it’s surely an option and I believe a lot of people are participating in this no-talk-lifestyle.

Though it’s hard to start a conversation with people who are staring at their phones, we’re social animals. It’s in our blood. A lot of us are hiding behind a screen and Twitter profiles but in order to progress and actually live a fulfilling life, we need to communicate.

Online social networks can help us form meaningful global communities. It helps us reconnect and start conversations about things that are of great importance: global warming, consumerism, new ways to educate youngsters and keep them engaged.

A lot of people who seemingly have it all figured out (have nice jobs and stuff) don’t particularly like to hang out with other low-lives. However, even if you don’t need help from other people, other people might need you. More people contributing and building global communities is crucial for the future success of our species.

Lesson #4: Hacking Humans

They want to hack us. No, not Russian hackers, the big brands, and your favorite social media accounts.

At the moment, Facebook and Google probably know more about you, personally, than the combined knowledge of you and your own mother: What you want to eat? Where you want to go? What’s your favorite ice cream flavor? What’s your sexuality?

Hacking is no longer about getting access to your bank account or inside your email. Big companies are in a race to hack your own persona so they can sell you more stuff. The algorithms are watching your every move and calculating the way you navigate online. This knowledge helps them tailor the perfect message at the perfect time.

But not only. This also allows them to manipulate you without noticing. Things are getting out of hand and it will get even worse over time.

Technology and Big Data aren’t bad but only if you know what you want in life. If you don’t, your desires will be shaped by computers and they’ll take control of your life. Like the zombies wandering the streets with their faces glued to their smartphones.

To keep your focus and retain some control over your action, want what you truly want – not what you see in the sidebar of your favorite social media account – you need to know yourself better. To understand your desires and have a vision for your future. Otherwise, you’ll end up deep into the rabbit hole full of things to buy and experiences you “must” experience to feel good about yourself.

Lesson #5: Free to Create Your Own Dharma

Finding meaning in life is a topic widely discussed online. It’s also something marketers try to implement in the products they sell. They don’t want to simply sell you stuff, they want to align their product with your desires and your world views, and then sell you more stuff.

However, meaning is not something you can buy. You can’t find it in the supermarket aisle, next to the hair products. The meaning of life isn’t a ready-made product. It’s something your form in your own head. It’s you, yourself, who give everything around meaning. Through choices and your own believes.

You might choose to believe in Christianity and God, but this doesn’t make God real. Human fingers wrote the Bible, and later human minds gave these stories power.

As the author wrote in the book, “In itself, the universe is only a meaningless hodgepodge of atoms. Nothing is inherently beautiful, sacred, or sexy; human feelings make it so. It is only human feelings that make a read apple seductive and a piece of turd disgusting. Take away human feelings, and you are left with a bunch of molecules.”

Basically, there isn’t any universal meaning in life. Nor there is an afterlife. You give meaning to the universe and to your own life. We, you, I, have the power to decide what will happen with my future and create my own dharma.

Make sure to craft one that’s worth living.

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Actionable Notes:

  • Don’t rely on adults: Even though you need to keep your parents around so they can support your existence, don’t rely on their advice too much. Most of them simply don’t understand the modern world. In the past, the world changed slowly and the elders had all the answers but now things are different. Since everything is happening so fast, you can’t be certain whether what they are telling you is wisdom or outdated bias.
  • Know yourself: Knowing and understanding yourself on a deeper level is never been easy. But it’s going to get even harder with time. We’re creating more and more distraction that deceive us. Being able to stay away from the noise is something you should practice more often if you want to stay sane and understand who you really are.
  • Unity: The only way we can endure what the future will bring is by collaboration. Creating more meaningful communities around things that matter. Since the web is flooded with things that don’t have any real value, it’s up to us to make the change for the better.
  • Create your own meaning: As mentioned above, meaning is something personal. Something you need to figure out on your own. You can’t expect companies that sell you goods to help you find your meaning. You must figure it out on your own.
  • Join a community: Your friends are your friends. But they often don’t understand our deepest desires. That’s why, it’s a good idea to join a community that resonates with your beliefs. Once you know what’s meaningful to you, join a community that will reinforce what you already believe. This will help you find like-minded people feel a lot better.
  • Think about the future: The future seems so distant. It seems that we’ll never live enough to see flying cars and other worlds. Yet, the future is not only about technological advancements. It’s also about how our behavior will change. This thought process – thinking about the future – will help you map out your own future and decide your long-term actions.

Commentary And My Personal Takeaway

What struck me the most after reading 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari is the importance of having a clear vision about the future. But not about our personal future. Rather, where we’re going as a species and what we should do to make the world a better place? It might sound cliche-ish but if we continue doing what we’re doing our kids might inherit a broken world.

Harari paints a picture of how the world might look in the next 30 to 50 years. Giving us a lot of things to consider improving – outdated beliefs, polluting the planet, and our tendency to make stupid mistakes.

It’s an interesting read and I do recommend it. Though, you might get a bit weary of the political mentions – especially if you’re not interested in politics – like I did. Hence the 3 stars.

Notable Quotes:

“People are afraid of being trapped inside a box, but they don’t realize that they are already trapped inside a box – their brain – which is locked within the bigger box of human society. When you escape the matrix the only thing you discover is a bigger matrix.” Yuval Noah Harari

“The big question facing humans isn’t “what is the meaning of life?” but rather “how do we stop suffering?” Yuval Noah Harari

“Questions you cannot answer are usually far better for you than answers you cannot question.” Yuval Noah Harari

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