The unpredictable future we have created
December 30 2021 · 7 min read
Homo Deus: Author Yuval Noah Harari
~Book review by Shams-ul-Arifeen
The uncomfortable future that humans might create, a life of meaningless bliss that is how I would describe this book. To convince his readers and settle this dystopian like society of the future the writer starts off with a much forgiving argument. What did leave an impact was an example, During World War 1, millions of solders were left with deformed faces and to mend these wounded faces plastic surgery became part of medical practices. A practice which started with the intention of mending the deformed faces has now become a method of reaching that particular “beauty standard”. Practically any part of your body can now be remade to your liking, 90 years ago this would have been a taboo, but now it’s a normal medical procedure.
The author asks the same questions for robotic prosthetics, they are made to mend your limbs and sense. But maybe in a few decades someone might get the bright idea of replaces his functioning body parts with mechanical prosthetics and then it might become normal to replaces your meaty body for a mechanical one for that improve in “performance”.
Sounds very dystopian indeed, robotic bodies walking around with someone’s brain in a jar, for us it would but for those living in that age it would be normal everyday life. But the separation of mind and body is much more than that. Humans are not suited for interstellar travel; our bodies have evolved to cater to a specific environment and vacuum is opposite to it. It might be the next big step of humans leaving their home planet and colonizing our galaxy. That is in essence the book is about, the taboos of todays will become the revolution of the future.
The decoupling of intelligence and consciousness is what will transform humanity in the 21st century. We must realize that the merit of being intelligent is not intrinsic to conscious beings and humans have already achieved it. Vast data centers process our information and with each result they improve bit by bit. These machines need not to have a conscious or feelings but rather being able to interpret the human feelings better than humans themselves. It would enable these data centers to know what we need even before we realize it. It already has, google with its vast data stores and algorithm will show you ads even before you realizing you need them.
The idea of vast computational systems has been present since the formation of cooperation between human. Modern state in essence is a data processing machine and if we zoom close enough, we see that the basic computational unit of it is man itself. Perhaps this explains why states are at times cruel and being fearful actions into practice. Thomas Hobbes, a very important philosopher for me describes states as “automatons”, being robots crunching vast amounts of data to bring about the most efficient results. But what has changed is in such a vast system of man, having individuality and a consciousness we found machines capable of processing data much more effectively than the state itself. Amazon is able to predict that they would be hit by supply chain issues a year beforehand, but states in control of world trade are not show us the limits of our intelligence.
Harari wants us to understand that humans right now are in the cusp of transformation. The end to all ends, but not in the sense that dystopian books make us believe. Rather the change we face is so fast that predicting the future seems impossible. Should we as a collective species be fearful or find ways to prevent it? The answer by the author is that humanities power resides in its collective network. Whether an individual might not find it palpable, the collective network will move toward what it thinks will grant it more power. An individual man is no match for a carnivorous animal such as a tige but in a group we can subdue. Eventually using the power of cooperation, we harnessed nature, built metropolitan and even aimed for the stars. Those in our collective who argued against it were not headed for the fact that it would not benefit the collective.
Humans for thousands of years have struggled against three hurdles famine, diseases and war. A much more traditional understanding to these problems would be the three horsemen of apocalypse. But today, in a world where suicide kills more than conflict, old age more than diseases and obesity more than hunger our three horsemen of apocalypse have become fables of a bygone era. Humans now need a new collective agenda, a reason for us to come together as a society, nation or humankind.
The Author is very careful to not make his book look like another Nostradamus, he leaves in doubt for his outlandish claim. Harari himself doesn’t know what the future hold for humanity, but does give us a general direction and many examples on what humans could do to move in that direction. In support of this idea, the book describes human evolution especially the domination of Homo sapiens as a mere accident. In the vast randomness of the cosmos, the birth of humanity was a random instance of luck. Not by divine providence or the inherent superiority of man, he argues that human intelligence is a collection of algorithms which can be manipulated and changed.
Here I diverged from the books premise, the idea of random luck or wining the lottery. Perhaps this is where Yuval Noah Harari’s atheistic beliefs are more visible. The writing goes into depth the idea of God and humanities relation with God. Trying to find purpose and finding reason to things happening to us. Harari scoffs it as mere limits of our intellect, where once we understood earthquakes being wrath of God is now known to be regular shifting of earths tectonic plates. But such believes leave us lacking of a greater purpose. More so, it leaves a universe devoid of reason to its creation and hopes of exploration in order to find it. My argument is that there is always an inherent purpose of everything in this universe, from the simplest known cosmic unit of quarks to the creation of massive galaxies all play important role in our cosmic slurry. Here humanity being a random creation sounds not right. Our consciousness and ability to ponder about our existence is fascinating it is the piece that allowed us to reach what we are today. Albert Einstein’s quote comes into mind ‘God does not play dice' that the laws governing our universe are not creations of randomness.
Harari argues that the next agenda for humankind would be to lengthen our lives, finding true happiness or Nirvana and the creation of a superior form of man. The purpose of the book is written in the title, Homo Deus a new species of birth out of Homo sapiens. But this species will not be found evolving thousands of years through natural conditioning. The new man will be selectively crafted by man itself, though its collection of vast intelligent machines and data. It would be creating man for a future that we have yet to understand. The book in the end finishes off with an interesting premise, Homo sapiens are at the height of its power but at the limits of its potential.
the author of this book Yuval Noah Harari is an Israeli historian teaching at the Hebrew University. The Book Homo Deus is a follow-up to his previous amazing book Homo sapiens which summarized the 75,000 years of human history. Comparing both books, I found Homo Deus much more interesting unlike the previous book Homo Deus focuses on a few ideas of human potential that too in just 400 pages. All in all, the book is very mind breaking and thought provoking. Bombarding us with questions we have never thought before and it leaves you with more question from when you start reading this book