Future-casting is a particularly tricky business. I’m still waiting for the hoverboards, rejuvenation centers, retractable hanging garden, dog-walking drones and black & decker food hydrator that Back To The Future II promised me as a child. In his new book, a bestselling Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari looks ahead and hazards a few guesses on what’s next for humanity. A disturbing study of tomorrow’s society predicts that new technology will have a catastrophic effect on human development.

“Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow”: Yuval Noah Harari

 

Yuval Noah Harari: the road to glory

Born in Haifa, Israel, in 1976, Yuval Noah Harari received his Ph.D. from the University of Oxford in 2002. Now he is a historian at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He started with teaching a course that no one else in the faculty favored – a broad-brush introduction to the whole of human activity on the planet.  That course became the international bestseller “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” which came out in 2011.

Translated into 40 languages, the book became a global phenomenon. Its fluent narrative of how the human species came out on top — via fire, farming, money and 70,000 years of technological and cognitive revolutions — was colorful and compelling. Zipping through the years of human history, it showed that there is nothing special about our species: no divine right, no unique human spark. Simply speaking It satisfied perfectly an urgent desire for grand narrative in our fragmenting Buzz-fed world.

Yuval Noah Harari Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

“Sapiens” earned Harari an invitation to speak at TEDGlobal in 2015. The talk got two million views. Within a year, the country’s most influential people were reading it. Mark Zuckerberg recommended it for his online book club. Barack Obama mentioned it on television and Bill Gates told The New York Times it would be one of the 10 books he’d bring to a desert island.

Prof. Harari twice won the Polonsky Prize for Creativity and Originality, in 2009 and 2012. In 2011 he won the Society for Military History’s Moncado Award for outstanding articles in military history. Harari also teaches a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) titled A Brief History of Humankind. More than 80,000 students from throughout the world have participated in the first run of the course in 2013.

Yuval Noah Harari

 

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow

Like all great epics, Sapiens – that finished with the thought that the story of Homo sapiens may be coming to an end – demanded a sequel. Yuval Noah Harari’s new book, “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow”, is a breathless, thought-provoking and compulsive inquiry into humanity’s apocalyptic, tech-driven future.

The book – based on the theories and data from various disciplines, including philosophy, theology, computer science and biology – is about a lot of things, but above all else, the potential future of humankind and of life in general. It’s not offering prophecy and forecasts. Instead, what the author tries to do is to highlight the different challenges and dangers humankind is facing.

According to the historian, a growing gap between rich and poor could result in global warfare, humanity might create artificial life, or people might transform themselves into godlike creatures. Anyway, he believes that both the tech industry and governments worldwide are significantly implicated in what comes next.

Yuval Noah Harari Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow

 

The Challenges Of The Third Millennium

For thousands of years, humans were mainly concerned about famine, plague, and war. All three still exist but they are now “manageable” problems. “For the first time in history, people die today 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 combined,” says professor. Instead, the challenges of the third millennium will be how to achieve immortality, happiness, and divinity, enhancing people’s physical and cognitive abilities beyond the biological norm.

Historian says that for thousands of years humans believed that authority came from deities; then, during the modern era, this authority was gradually shifted from gods to people by the philosophy known as humanism (the belief that human experience is the key to all understanding).

But the life sciences are now undermining free will and individualism, the foundations of humanism. Studies suggest that our feelings are not a uniquely human spiritual quality but rather biochemical algorithms programmed by evolution. We have, as a result, no free will to make important life-changing decisions. Humans are losing authority and authority is shifting to algorithms and external data processing systems that are supposed to know us better than we know ourselves. Judge for yourself. Amazon knows what books we like. Google and Facebook can predict the way we will vote and which marriage partner is a better bet.

In other words, our greatest existential challenge will come from the “techno-religion” known as Dataism. This techno-religion that treats everything in terms of data processing will replace humanism. In this context, Homo sapiens is a rather unimpressive algorithm, destined for obsolescence—or an upgrade.

Next stop – Homo Deus.

Eternal happiness, everlasting life. “In seeking bliss and immortality humans are in fact trying to upgrade themselves into gods,” shares the author. In fact, if you’re familiar with the story of Icarus, you know that these prideful efforts don’t usually end well. Harari believes that in attempting to refine ourselves to utter perfection we will destroy humanism itself.

Our slow crawl toward the uncanny valley has already begun. We take pills that change our affect and select embryos with the best odds for optimal health. Google has an offshoot, Calico, that aims to slow the aging process. “Relatively small changes in genes, hormones, and neurons were enough to transform Homo erectus — who could produce nothing more impressive than flint knives — into Homo sapiens, who produce spaceships and computers,” says the author. So, the question arises- why should we assume that Sapiens are the end of the evolutionary line?

A small group of rich people and techno-elites will eventually split off from the rest of humanity. Those who acquire the skills and proprietary algorithms to re-engineer brains, bodies, and minds will become gods; an elite caste of Homo sapiens will evolve into something unrecognizable: Homo Deus. In a new world, the rest of mankind will presumably feel like “a Neanderthal hunter in Wall Street”. And, eventually, will become economically useless and die off.

The train of progress is again pulling out of the station — and this will probably be the last train ever to leave the station called Homo sapiens. Those who miss this train will never get a second chance.

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