Homo Deus- A history of tomorrow
Yuval Noah Harari wrote his first book, Sapiens, about the history of the human species, taken from the best anthropological and historical data available. It was absolutely fascinating and one of my favorite history books ever.
Homo Deus takes that history one step further and tries to look at the future, which is a tougher proposition. There are a lot of factors that make the next 50 years murky at best: artificial intelligence, global warming, rising inequality, rogue nuclear states, and the always possible meteoric wipe out.
Harari begins the book lauding mankind for overcoming the three deadliest problems of the last millennium- famine, plagues, and wars. He points out that death from all three have declined tremendously so that populations have climbed and new challenges await.
The middle of the book is about out search for meaning through what he calls "inter-subjective realities," or religions and quasi-religions that only exist as concepts for organizing society. The modern covenant, as he calls it, drives us to pursue power and growth to find meaning, while flirting with ecological Armageddon.
Liberal humanism, Harari writes, became the de-facto religion of the world with the collapse of communism and fascism. Humanism puts humans and their hopes, dreams and feelings at the center of the universe. It encourages free elections to make political decisions and free markets to make economic decisions. Being caught up in this worldview, it is hard to imagine a day when kings and pharaohs possessed all the power and wisdom.
The final part of the book looks at the next big threat to liberal humanism- algorithms. Harari looks at a new emerging religion called "Datism", where all meaning comes from data processing and algorithms that make sense of it all. More data drives bigger algorithms and humans are much less important, even obsolete. Some humans at the top of the pyramid will have options to supersize their brains and bodies, while a huge gap will emerge as many lose their economic usefulness.
This frightening scenario is still far in the distant future and it's my hope that humanity finds ways to save human dignity while utilizing the best of technology to create a new world better than the one we have now.
Homo Deus makes you challenge your beliefs in free will, individuality, the existence of the soul, and how to make the future better. It's a hard, thought- provoking 400 page treatise on what humanity could face in the future and I thoroughly recommend it and Sapiens.
Three other takeaways I will always remember from this book:
- Nicolai Ceaucescu of Romania's last speech and how an empire fell in just seconds.
- Aristides de Sousa Mendes, the Portuguese bureaucrat who saved thousands of Jews from the holocaust with pieces of paper.
- The "Our boys didn't die in vain syndrome", as shown by a general who kept sending troops into a hopeless situation rather than cut his losses.