“Humans are nature-destroying livestock.” With these words a hundred years ago, was the philosopher and economist Max Weber more radical than the “Friday for Future” movement?

Richard David Precht:  Yes. Weber addressed something that the philosopher and economist John Stewart Mill demanded as early as 1848: the achievement of a stable state of the economy, without further growth or the continued overexploitation of nature.


That shows that you can forecast 100 years or more ahead.

Precht: What’s described there is anyway precisely the task ahead of us for the next 100 years, because if we continue with business as usual, there won’t be any inhabitable Earth any more for people in 100 years.


Will there be any printed papers – so often written off – in 100 years?

Precht: Newspapers like we have today; certainly not. Twenty years hence there will still be printed papers in some form, but I wouldn’t dare to consider further on, my confidence runs out.


The interview with you would be conducted by a chatbot controlled by artificial intelligence?

Precht: To be honest I don’t reckon so because, for me as a reader, it makes a difference if I know a human being did it, with all their irrationality, their emotions, their personal priorities, rather than a programmed machine. We will learn to draw this distinction very strictly. Not everything will be taken over by artificial intelligence but rather we will learn what it’s good at and what we want it for.


Will things that are controlled by human empathy have their place in the future?

Precht: People will certainly value interaction with people – in care for the aged, in entertainment, in many social areas and with educational staff. The need for this won’t be going away.


In the book “Hunters, Herdsmen, Critics. A Utopia for digital society” you foresee  the paid labour society being replaced by an activity society. The deed’s reward?

Precht: It will be a society in which people do something that is useful, and which can be paid or unpaid. Also it’s completely unclear whether there will still be money, as we know it now, in 50 or 100 years.


Associated with your Utopia of leisure is a basic income for all. Doubts remain as to whether that will encourage or fire everyone up to pursue useful activities.

Precht: Yes, such doubts are justified because, whilst the activity society does indeed better enable useful work than right now, it is not sufficient. Basic income is not the solution to the problem created by digitalization, but rather a component of several ideas.


Two hundred years ago, the German philosopher of the Enlightenment, Immanuel Kant, opined that the greatest sensuous pleasure could be found in resting after work. The evolution of this in your case would be sensuous pleasure from self-invention of activity?

Precht: Of course Kant was considering the hard work of farmers in the fields. For life on the land, sensual pleasure naturally came with resting. But already today we have activities that intrinsically involve sensual pleasure.


In digitalization we still currently talk about weak artificial intelligence. You’re now working on a book about a future with strong artificial intelligence. How do you imagine society in that case?

Precht: To be honest, I lack the necessary fantasy. I find it easy to take away people’s fear of strong artificial intelligence. But I think the probability that I will live to experience it is extremely low. That’s a long way off.


The philosopher and sociologist Jürgen Habermas refers to the enduring conflict between democracy and capitalism vying for supremacy. Does Big Data settle that by risking democracy in favour of capitalism?

Precht: For all its faults, the European General Data Protection Regulation has shown that the community of nations has given this consideration. Sometimes it might perhaps be necessary for the odd disaster to strike and for the abuse of data to exceed a certain threshold, to the point that this firewall is invoked as a barrier. Today garments are being produced that have sensors which monitor people’s emotional states, when they sweat or feel joy. These are things that make me anxious. What space is there into which capitalism can still advance but hasn’t already explored? Back then people thought this would be outer space. Today we know: it is identity.


Reporting 100 years hence will be provided neither by AI nor by a journalist, but rather by a freely accessible network of surveillance cameras, maybe called “Everstream”, or is that reserved for dictators?

Precht: I find it interesting that people who push pan-surveillance are themselves most comfortable in the darkest of all places. No one has ever seen inside Marc Zuckerberg’s house, there are no cameras there. I’m convinced that transparency will always be an asset. There was extremely filtered information available when there were only two TV channels. Whilst many can handle well today’s flood of information, for some it’s stultifying. Rabble-rousing and alarmism should be banished from everyday life.


Will the preamble of the first edition of the Kleine Zeitung in 1914, aspiring to provide orientation and news in the region, still be valid through till the 22nd century?

Precht: In the future too, regional media will have the important task of fomenting identity and community. To survive, media have to create added ethical value.



In his book “Hunters, Herdsmen, Critics. A Utopia for digital society”, Richard David Precht, German philosopher and journalist, lays out his vision of the activity society with basic public income. This interview with editor Adolf Winkler took place in Villach during the Innovation Congress.


Photos (c) Helmuth Weichselbraun