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
“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.
The audacious first act, Sapiens, ended with a wild and apocalyptic prophesy - that the Sapiens were cooking up the next epochal revolution that will overshadow the previous three: the cognitive, agricultural and scientific/industrial revolutions. Home Deus, the second act, is the full exploration of that prophesy.
Both Sapiens and Homo Deus are compulsory reading in my book, even though the macro-history presented is plenty vulnerable to all sorts of attacks. But then, it might be better to think of these as works of philosophy and not of history. Just like Sapiens is not a History, Home Deus is not a prophesy, both are explorations.
This line can be taken as the transition line that links the first book with the second one:
“Having raised humanity above the beastly level of survival struggles, we will now aim to upgrade humans into gods, and turn Homo sapiens into Homo deus.”
The old enemies of mankind— plague, famine and war—are now under control. Except for the potentially restrictive energy constraint, Sapiens has very little standing in our way now. The result is that the Sapiens are becoming more and more God-like, Harari says, and one is forced to pause and reflect: by any previous standards of our history, are we not already Gods? Have we not already exceeded most wild power fantasies? Well yes, but even more God-like attributes are coming: cheating death and creating new life being primary.
And along with this march towards the godlike we are marching towards being machine-like too, as we outsource more and more of our internal algorithms to better data-based external algorithms. And the march is relentless, Homo Deus is taking birth before our eyes. The tomorrow is already upon us, and so forth.
However, just like the previous three revolutions that infused the Sapiens with power, this revolution too will come at a price, the price of a ratcheting up of inequality. The new Gods will be the techno-super-rich. BTW, reading Harari is good motivation to work on getting rich faster: he hints at a possibility that anyone who is rich enough to afford it, some 50 years into the future, should be able to buy proxy-immortality. And it will probably be a window that closes quickly, since the super-rich would soon take over the monopoly on immortality. So if you are rich enough at the right point in time, then you can be part of Olympus too. That might not be a deal many would want to miss out on…
There is one more catch: as technology takes over most of the functions, even the godlike sapiens will find themselves stuck in a universe devoid of real meaning. Bulk of humanity will have no economic, social or cultural purpose since anything we can do our new creations would be able to do even better. “Organisms are algorithms,” and the new algorithms will be so much better than the imperfect ones we are made of. As Bill Gates asked in his article about the book, “What If People Run Out of Things to Do?” We will be stuck in an immortal meaninglessness, our own creations clearly our betters. We will need a new religion to make sense of all this, since the powerful combo of Humanism+Science will not work in world where the sanctity of being Human has lost meaning. Harari feels that “Dataism” will be the religion that will fill the avoid left by Humanism.
The whole of Humanity, the Earth, and maybe the entire Universe will become servants to data - a huge data-processing system, the eternal all-knowing Atman. And serving this goal will be the only meaningful pursuit left for us.
Immortal, All-powerful, Obsolete: this is the future of the Sapiens.
This is a powerful book by a truly insightful author. I recently read Harari's previous great book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, and I enjoyed this one just as much. There is so much packed into Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, that it is hard to do justice to the book in a review. Yuval Harari has such a unique insight into how the world turns. He is sometimes very blunt, but he "tells it like he sees it." The first two-thirds of the book is devoted to a description of how the humanist philosophy developed, while the last third is about how humanism may very well fall to the wayside in the not-too-distant future.
In the beginning of the book, Harari describes two new human agendas. The first is how humans attempt to extend their lifetimes, and the second is to increase happiness. The goal is to upgrade homo sapiens into homo deus. That is, the desire to re-engineer our bodies and minds, escape old age, death and misery. Basically, to attain divinity. Harari gives numerous examples of how were technologies developed to aid ill or handicapped people, and then were borrowed to help "normal" healthy people; prosthetics, bionics, Viagra, memory aid drugs, plastic surgery, and genetic engineering. (In 2000, a baby girl was born with genetic inheritance from three parents; nuclear genes from mother and father, and mitochondrial DNA from another woman! A year later, the U.S. government banned this special treatment, but the U.K. has since approved it.)
Harari contends that historians study the past, not in order to repeat it, or to foretell the future, but to be liberated from it. He gives a marvelous example of the history of the grass lawn. He writes that the best reason to study history is not to predict the future, but to "free yourself of the past and imagine alternative destinies."
Harari has some interesting insights into the founding of modern religions. He writes that they were founded when humans switched from hunting/foraging to agriculture. A central point of the religions was to give humans dominion over all animals, in order to justify their domestication and superiority, and to justify the terrible suffering humans cause for animals. The agricultural revolution was both an economic and a religious revolution, used to justify brutal exploitation of animals. Agricultural societies also started treating some classes of people as property. I wonder, though, didn't pre-agricultural societies practice slavery? When I try to do some simple online research in this subject, it seems like Harari might be correct; slavery was established to mimic the domestication of animals. And, the agricultural revolution was bad for humans in other ways, as well. A peasant in 1850 in China or Britain had a worse life than an archaic hunter-gatherer, from the point of view of diet and hygiene.
Harari has some unique insights into the dichotomy between religion and science. He describes science as a new "religion" that replaced theist religions with humanist religions, replacing gods with humans. The hatred of monotheists for the theory of evolution is inspired by the lack of scientific evidence for a human soul. A soul has no parts, and evolution operates through incremental changes to various parts of a whole. But, both religion and science, in theory at least, are both devoted to the truth. But since their truths are different they seem doomed to clash. However, since neither religion nor science really care much about truth, they can coexist. Religion is mostly interested in social order and structure, while science is mostly interested in power. That is, the power to cure disease, fight war and produce food. So, since religion and science prefer order and power over truth, they "make good bedfellows."
Modernity is a simple deal based on a contract: Humans agree to give up meaning in exchange for power. Plagues, droughts and wars have no cosmic meaning to modern humanism, but we have the power to eradicate them. Paradise does not await us after death, but we have the power, in principle, to create paradise here on Earth. Modernity is based on the belief that growth is essential. Growth is the supreme value. Because avarice and greed help to fuel growth, they are encouraged.
Traditional religions offer no alternative to liberalism because they are reactive instead of creative. This wasn't always true. During the Middle Ages, Christian monasteries were among the most advanced centers for innovations--Harari lists a number of their innovations. But today religions look to scriptures for answer. But scriptures are no longer a source of creativity, as they say nothing about modern technologies such as genetic engineering or artificial intelligence. Harari describes three different possible futures for humanism. In one of these, liberalism may die out as technology displaces humans. The masses will lose their economic and military importance. Harari suggests that "Dataism" may appear as a new religion. Dataism advances the first truly new value in nearly 200 years; the value of freedom of information. Dataism is firmly entrenched in its two mother disciplines, computer science and biology. Organisms are seen by scientists as data-processing systems. The stock market is the most powerful of all data processing systems, and centralized government is one of the worst. Capitalism defeated Communism during the Cold War, not because it is more ethical or because individual liberties are sacred, but because in times of rapid technological change, distributed processing systems work better than centralized systems.
Humanists rely on feelings to make important decisions, and these feelings evolved over millions of years. But often our feelings are just irrational and wrong. Computer algorithms can surpass feelings in making good decisions. So, the humanist recommendation to "get in touch with your feelings" may not he given in the future. Perhaps, meaning in life will not lie in our experiences, until they are shared with others, through social media. And, these social media will analyze our experiences, and be able to give expert advice on important decisions. Harari gives some pretty good evidence that this trend may come to pass.
I do want to quibble with some numbers that Harari proposes. He writes that the one billion cars owned around the world could be reduced to 50 million, if they were jointly owned and operated autonomously. People could share rides. However, people want to commute to work in cars all at the same time. They sit in parking lots at work and at home because people have no need for them during work hours and overnight.
But this is perhaps a minor point in Harari's argument. Many people will pooh-pooh much of what Harari has to say. But, it is all extremely thought-provoking. I have just scratched the surface of this book. I highly recommend it to all open-minded people who are not afraid to think a bit differently about the meaning of life, about our political structures, and the future.
Que livro amigos, que livro. Não lembro do que li que me fez pensar tanto e mudar a forma como vejo o mundo. Uma ótima análise rápida sobre como chegamos aqui, que se conecta muito bem com o Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, e uma análise mais extensa sobre para onde podemos ir. A análise em terceira pessoa sobre humanismo, capitalismo e tendências futuras é excelente. E a reflexão que ele traz sobre os valores que damos para o valor individual, consciência e autonomia só deve ganhar importância nos próximos anos. E tudo isso em uma linguagem acessível e ao alcance de qualquer audiência. Com certeza algo que vou reler muito ainda.
p.s. O livro sai em alguns meses ainda, tive a oportunidade de fazer a revisão técnica da versão em português.
We are not so taken aback when we hear computer programs can beat human chess masters. After all, computers are far more efficient calculators than humans, and chess can be broken down to calculations (In fact, nowadays chess masters don't stand a chance against present day computer Chessmaster programs. It's simply not possible for a human mind to beat them). And we're also not at all shocked when Google and Tesla present us automated cars driven by computer programs. Nevertheless, we reason,computers can never rival humans in arts, because arts require something distinctively(perhaps even spiritually) humane, which can never be replicated by computers.
If you're a believer in this sort of human distinctiveness, perhaps you would naturally be thrown off upon hearing that a computer program written by a professor of musicology produced musical piece that the audience thought was superior to Bach. In other words, AI has already passed the Turing test in music.
If programs can outperform us in our allegedly distinct 'human art' form, there's really no reason to think that it can't outperform us in every other field. Programs may lack subjective consciousness like us, but that doesn't stop them to outperform us in intellectual and artistic fields.
Harari's new book explores the dimensions of the marriage between man and machine. He basically paints a dystopian vision of the future where humanity is by and large subjugated to non conscious intelligent machines. He even entertains the idea with the rise of brain-machine interfaces, where today's elite class of human beings would upgrade themselves to a biologically improved version of humans, which the general mass couldn't possibly afford for their lives. This would create a real caste system with real biological hierarchies.
After reading Harari's previous book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, I must say that I am a bit disappointed with this book. Much of the book is reiteration of the previous book which seemed to me largely redundant. However, although this book is not as articulated or entertaining as the previous one, it is probably more important, considering the topics it deals with.