Review: Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow
Yuval Noah Harari’s bestseller Sapiens captured the imagination of Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Barack Obama with a superb series of accounts from human history. It is no surprise the same winning formula has been recycled again here.
However, Homo Deus is more about standing on the shoulders of history in order to get a glimpse of the future. Harari's prophetic opening chapter lists the 'new human agenda': war, famine, disease, even death - they are all just vestigial technicalities of an old era. Humanity will now instead pursue eternal happiness and immortality, but not before killing god in the process.
Most of Homo Deus is actually a digression. Harari spends a lot of time setting the context for his prophecies, which like Sapiens, retraces man's transition from hunter-gatherers and agrarians to literate empire builders. Christian concepts like the soul eventually led to the Scientific and Humanist revolutions, kick-starting the engine in the train of progress and establishing a dogma that still dominates society today.
This is all part of the necessary groundwork that culminates in the final section of the book. Harari uses the latest theories from the frontiers of scientific research to argue that not only is free will an illusion, but so is the idea of the 'self'. Thus, with the train of progress now unstoppable, humanism is a doomed ideology. Furthermore, current biological dogma suggests that organisms are just organic algorithms, not much different to the algorithms churned out in the dumb AI of Silicon Valley smartphones.
This is where Harari believes mankind will enter its final chapter as Homo sapiens. Tech firms will become so efficient and omnipotent with their algorithms and vast collection of big data, that eventually Google will know Sapiens better than they know themselves. Ever increasing dependency will result in our eventual submission to this free-flow of data, stealing our individuality and merging us into one, a god-like 'internet-of-all-things'.
Harari has a good eye for detail and an intricate ability to weave a tapestry of human ability, history, and progress into just under 400 pages. Homo Deus is also a fascinating amalgamation of conventional science and philosophy inevitably leaving behind a wealth of as-of-yet unanswerable questions, but making one feel all the more richer for it.
Image - Richard Stanton