[Book Review] Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari

Rating: ★★★★

Yuval Noah Harari wrote ‘Homo Sapiens‘ and he asked this fundamental question at the end of the book: “With going through technology development, do we become happier? How will and should people live in the future?”. This new book by Harari is attempting to answer this question and depict the future after scientific revolution.  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. His speculation surely provokes readers to think more profoundly about society today.

In Homo Deus, Harari holds that now that humanity has all but solved the mammoth problems plaguing it before the 21st century – disease, famine, and violence – it will turn to a new agenda, namely attaining happiness, immortality, and divinity. The author writes about our potential future in terms of our recent and ancient past. He explains how humans distinguished themselves from the animal world and came to recognize the human experience and economic growth as the ultimate powers of the recent centuries. Harari then turns to look at where the unstoppable tide of technology and progress may take us in a few decades –whether intelligent algorithms and a genetically upgraded superhuman elite may make ordinary humans obsolete.

Harari did a great job in describing formula for knowledge in different eras. In medieval time, the formula for knowledge is Scriptures × Logic. In Scientific Revolution era, Knowledge = Empirical Data × Mathematics. Using this formula in the scientific revolution, Harari predicted that “Dataism” will be a new religion in the book. . 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.

However, humanism offered an alternative. As humans gained confidence in themselves, a new formula for acquiring ethical knowledge appeared: Knowledge = Experiences × Sensitivity.  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.

 Overall, it is Harari’s style which is the most engaging. I rushed though this book because even the most complex issues are dealt with in accessible language and an approachable tone. It’s fun and despite the subject matter, doesn’t take itself too seriously. It felt like the starting point of a conversation, somewhat controversial of course, but isn’t that the best way to get a debate going?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.

 

 

 

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