NPJ Book Review: Homo Deus, A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari

Homo Deus, A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari (2017)  My take: Homo Deus or “Man of God” is a studied and knowledgeable work; as a humanist and existentialist I find myself at intellectual odds with the author’s description of classical liberal, humanism and free will. It’s a bit too stereotypical. That said, Harari is brilliant, articulate and insightful in his historical quest and subsequent questions about the future.

Like his previous work, Sapiens, the author uses broad historical strokes to cover tens of thousands of years of human history. The query he poses is about the ultimate worth of human life is fascinating. “Sapiens evolved in the African savannah tens of thousands of years ago and their algorithms are just not built to handle the twenty-first century.”

The way we process data and the world around may not be genetically built into each of us. At what point will humans be genetically engineered with accompanying micro-chips to better process the downstream effects of the technologies they have created?

Humans are confronted with the problems of climate change, nuclear warfare, disease, uncontrolled bacteria and much more, all the while pursuing “the serious bid for immortality.”

Harari builds up to the challenges that face the human race:

– Science is converging and organisms are algorithms and life is data processing;

– Intelligence is decoupling from the conscious;

– Non-conscious but highly intelligent algorithms may soon know us better than ourselves.

These challenges raise the following questions:

– Are organisms really just algorithms and life really just data processing?

– What’s more important – intelligence or consciousness?

– What will happen to security, politics and daily life when non-conscious organisms but highly intelligent algorithms know better than we know ourselves?

Whether you agree with him or not Harari is a thinker that provokes the reader to delve below the surface even when he generalizes. We have moved from controlling the ecological landscape outside of us BUT will be the outcome of our effort to control the ecological landscape within is?

Upon further consideration, one might also be disposed to ask, how much longer will “human” history exist? How will we define “human” and at what point will a new definition emerge?