Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrowby Published 21 Feb 2017
|Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.pdf|
Yuval Noah Harari, author of the critically-acclaimed New York Times bestseller and international phenomenon Sapiens, returns with an equally original, compelling, and provocative book, turning his focus toward humanity’s future, and our quest to upgrade humans into gods.
Over the past century humankind has managed to do the impossible and rein in famine, plague, and war. This may seem hard to accept, but, as Harari explains in his trademark style—thorough, yet riveting—famine, plague and war have been transformed from incomprehensible and uncontrollable forces of nature into manageable challenges. For the first time ever, more people die from eating too much than from eating too little; more people die from old age than from infectious diseases; and more people commit suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists and criminals put together. The average American is a thousand times more likely to die from binging at McDonalds than from being blown up by Al Qaeda.
What then will replace famine, plague, and war at the top of the human agenda? As the self-made gods of planet earth, what destinies will we set ourselves, and which quests will we undertake? Homo Deus explores the projects, dreams and nightmares that will shape the twenty-first century—from overcoming death to creating artificial life. It asks the fundamental questions: Where do we go from here? And how will we protect this fragile world from our own destructive powers? This is the next stage of evolution. This is Homo Deus.
With the same insight and clarity that made Sapiens an international hit and a New York Times bestseller, Harari maps out our future.
"Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow" Reviews
This book reads like the author read a number of popular science articles, watched some sci-fi movies, attended a transhumanist meetup, got just a bit high on weed and then started writing.
“Every day millions of people decide to grant their smartphone a bit more control over their lives or try a new and more effective antidepressant drug. In pursuit of health, happiness and power, humans will gradually change first one of their features and then another, and another, until they will no longer be human.”
― Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow
Harari takes us, with this continuation to his blockbuster book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, from the past to the future. This book shares a lot of the same limitations of the previous book. But because "speculation" is inherent in writing about the future, Harari's jumps are easier to forgive when talking about tomorrow than when talking about today.
I'm a diabetic and have an insulin pump and I've thought of myself, only partially in jest, as a early, unsophisticated, cyborg the last ten years. I walk around with my iphone plugged into my ears, my artificial pancreas plugged into my thigh, my sensor for my pump plugged into my stomach. It isn't very neat. We have miles to go before all of this technology becomes aesthetically amazing, and loses all the wires and clunky functionality, but it still gives me pause about the future. My friend's Tesla drives by itself, big data seems able to predict what I will buy next, my smart phone really is smart. Perhaps we are all surfing towards some Omega Point.
I have a friend who is a Transhumanist and it has been interesting to hear him discuss the values and virtues of Transhumanism. I'm a little more hesitant. I'm no Luddite, but I DO worry about these big technological/cultural/commercial shifts. Will technology make Homo Sapiens the next Homo Neanderthalensis? Will these gains through AI, technology, genetic modification, etc., be well-thought-out? Harari hedges by saying he doesn't know what the future brings (If he did, perhaps we should just join his church), but is only using this discussion to suggest the type of ethical and moral and even survival discussions we SHOULD probably be having. As we incrementally crawl towards some form of technological singularity, perhaps we need to give pause to not just the benefits, but costs of self-driving cars and sex robots.
Harari is a fantastic historian: he writes effortlessly and fascinatingly about historic trends, and has a great big picture perspective of the revolutions and contexts of historical progression.
Harari, however, is not a good futurologist and an absolutely terrible cognitive scientist. Being educated in Cognitive Science and technology myself, all I can say, with the utmost respect I can offer to a fellow Israeli, is that he's full of shit.
Homo Deus is an attempt to make a sequel to the wildly popular (and actually quite good) "From Animals into Gods" - its main thesis is that in the 21st century, liberal humanism would progress into "techno humanism"; and that humanity's main efforts would be to upgrade humans into some bizarre godlike cyborg entity. He focuses on some aspects of modern progress (e.g. genetic engineering) and extrapolates completely insane uses. An example of a claim that he makes: In the near future, the efforts of medical science would be tuned to upgrading the rich rather than healing the diseases of the poor.
His underlying zeal for a hunter gatherer sociological eco-utopia notwithstanding - this is bullshit, and focuses on a remote obscure threat rather than a very real threat that's already here: If there's a threat to modern society from modern medical science, it's is the personalization of medicine, rather than "upgrades". That is, drugs would be concocted to be maximally efficient according to a genotype. This is already happening at a very rough scale (for instance, there are drugs that are more effective on people of African American descent) - but in the near future, rather than upgrade themselves, the rich people would simply have far more effective cancer treatment because they'd be able to afford genotyping and personal medicine.
If the cyborg-upgrade part sounds to you like a bad synopsis of a Neal Stephenson novel, you're absolutely right. Let's all jack into the Matrix now!
Needless to say, the views have the grounding in scientific and research reality that a SciFi fanfic about Kirk banging Uhura has, and it is written with the same brain addling juvenile exuberance.
Read the first book of his; avoid the second.
The title and the premise of Yuval Noah Harari’s Home Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow sounds intriguing; however, not much felt new. I feel like I’ve already heard much of the author’s arguments in other places. So while the various topics discussed are interesting and thought-provoking, Homo Deus is mostly provocative because of the way it is packaged. Advancements in a number of fields, especially in relation to data and an increase in our longevity, are examined to make the point that we are reaching a pivotal moment in our history. In order for transformations to be made, the author argues we need to change our mindset and expectations and maybe even our concept about individualism. While that may be true, I was hoping to hear more about the future, the tomorrow in Harari’s subtitle, than the past. The final quarter of the book did focus on that tomorrow (what the job market might look like, whether man or some people in the job market might end up being completely superfluous, the future role of AIs in our society etc.), but I would have preferred more of that analysis earlier in the book. I would have also liked something closer to the beginning of the book about how important algorithms would be in that analysis. 3.5 stars.
I’ve only read one other book written by Yuval Noah Harari and that was Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, this follows in the steps of that to the point that it seems more like a sequel even if they can be read in whatever order you wish. Just as Sapiens, Homo Deus is a gripping book, I love Yuval’s writing style because it never bores me, he always manages to draw my full attention.
Homo Deus is a book that wants to present the possible roads that the future might lead us to. It’s not a presentation of how the future will look, but rather how it might. I found the format of this book interesting, it often seems chaotic with subjects ranging from the history of lawns to even a chapter about Nicolae Ceaușescu. When you look at them individually, they don't seem to be that relevant to the subject of the book, but there’s order in his chaos and this is what makes this book and Sapiens so compelling, how he uses examples that are not only fascinating, but also easy to understand, informative and relatable.
The only thing I could reproach is that the title is misleading, there’s surprisingly little about the future of humankind in this. It felt more like an extension of the last chapter in Sapiens. It even recycles some ideas from Sapiens while expanding others.
Overall the ideas presented here are by no means original, but Yuval Noah Harari deserves credit for the way it managed to gather and present so many ideas in a way that not only made sense but was also easy to understand and follow, all that while also being surprisingly entertaining.