Book Notes #75: Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari

Homo Deus by Harari explores humanity’s future, merging science and technology to predict a world where humans transcend limitations and become gods.

Title: Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow
Author: Yuval Noah Harari
Year: 2016
Pages: 528

The world-renowned historian and intellectual Yuval Noah Harari envision a near future in which we face a new set of challenges.

Homo Deus explores the projects, dreams, and nightmares that will shape the twenty-first century and beyond – from overcoming death to creating artificial life.

Homo Deus asks the fundamental question: how can we protect this fragile world from our own destructive power? And what does our future hold?

Homo Deus is a thought-provoking exploration of the future of humanity. It delves into the potential consequences of advancements in technology, data, and artificial intelligence, and discusses how these developments might reshape society and human existence.

Harari examines key concepts such as humans looking for immortality, happiness, and power, and offers insightful perspectives on the direction humanity may take in the coming years.

As a result, I gave this book a rating of 6.5/10.

For me, a book with a note 10 is one I consider reading again every year. Among the books I rank with 10, for example, is Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.

3 Reasons to read Homo Deus

1. A Glimpse into the Future: Homo Deus offers readers a captivating glimpse into the possible trajectories of human evolution. Harari delves into the potential consequences of advancements in technology, biotechnology, and artificial intelligence, painting a vivid picture of what the future may hold.

2. Philosophical Reflection: Homo Deus masterfully weaves philosophy into his narrative, encouraging readers to reflect on profound questions about human existence, consciousness, and the nature of power. This book serves as a catalyst for philosophical contemplation, inviting readers to ponder the implications of our choices and actions.

3. Understanding the Present: To comprehend the world we live in today and the challenges we face, it is essential to understand the historical and technological forces that have brought us here. Homo Deus provides crucial insights into the underlying dynamics that shape our contemporary society, shedding light on the roots of our current dilemmas.

Book Overview

This book serves as a sequel to Harari’s equally influential work, “Sapiens,” and explores the future of humanity through a lens of historical analysis, technological innovation, and philosophical contemplation. 

Homo Deus is organized into three main parts:

“The New Human Agenda” explores the historical journey of humanity and how Homo sapiens evolved to dominate the world. It also introduces the concept of Homo Deus, the notion that humans are on the path to becoming god-like beings.“The Technology of Death” delves into the current state of technology and its potential implications for humanity. It discusses topics such as artificial intelligence, bioengineering, and data processing, examining how these advancements could reshape society, politics, and the economy.

“The Data Religion” investigates the role of data in the modern world and its influence on our lives. Harari explores the idea that data has become the new religion, shaping our beliefs, decision-making, and understanding of ourselves and the world.

Throughout the book, Harari presents a blend of historical analysis, philosophical reflections, and speculative future scenarios, providing readers with a thought-provoking exploration of humanity’s past, present, and potential future.

Technological Enhancements: Harari suggests that humans will increasingly merge with technology, enhancing their physical and cognitive abilities. This could lead to the emergence of new types of humans who possess superior capabilities.

Mortality: Harari explores the possibility of humans overcoming mortality through advancements in biotechnology, genetic engineering, and other scientific fields. The quest for immortality or significantly extended lifespans is seen as a potential future development.

Data-driven Society: Harari argues that data will play a central role in shaping society, politics, and the economy. Algorithms and artificial intelligence will increasingly govern our lives, making decisions for us and influencing our choices.

Erosion of Human Agency: As technology advances, there is a concern that human agency may diminish. Harari warns that algorithms and AI could make decisions on our behalf, potentially limiting our free will and autonomy.

Challenges to Equality: Harari explores the potential for technological advancements to exacerbate existing inequalities. The gap between the technological haves and have-nots may widen, leading to social and economic disparities.

Shift in Priorities: With basic needs increasingly met, Harari predicts that humans will shift their focus from survival to seeking happiness and self-fulfilment. Individuals may prioritize experiences, personal growth, and well-being over traditional markers of success.

What are the Key Ideas

Dataism and the Age of Information: Harari introduces the concept of Dataism, where data becomes the new religion and algorithms dictate our lives. This idea highlights the growing importance of data in shaping human decisions and the potential consequences of this shift.

The Merger of Humans and Machines: Homo Deus explores the possibility of humans merging with technology, raising questions about the future of consciousness and the boundaries of the self. This key idea challenges us to contemplate the ethical and existential implications of such a merger.

The Erosion of Humanism: Harari argues that humanism, the belief in the inherent value of human life, is gradually eroding as we place increasing faith in algorithms and data-driven decision-making. This shift prompts us to consider the ethical and moral consequences of prioritizing efficiency over humanity.

The Rise of Superhumans: Harari envisions a future where a small elite of superhumans, enhanced by biotechnology and AI, may dominate society, leaving the masses behind. This idea calls for reflection on the potential consequences of technological inequality.

The Search for Meaning: Amidst the technological advancements, Homo Deus raises questions about the meaning of life and the pursuit of happiness in a world where traditional belief systems are losing ground. It challenges us to seek meaning and fulfilment in new ways.

What are the Main Lessons

Data Literacy: To thrive in an increasingly data-centric world, we must develop data literacy skills. Understanding how data shapes our decisions and being critical consumers of information is essential for making informed choices.

Ethical Considerations: Homo Deus prompts us to think deeply about the ethical implications of technological advancements. We should actively engage in discussions about the responsible use of AI, biotechnology, and data to ensure a future that aligns with our values.

Maintaining Humanism: While embracing technological progress, we must also strive to preserve humanistic values such as compassion, empathy, and the belief in the intrinsic worth of every individual. These values can guide our decisions and actions in an increasingly automated world.

Striving for Inclusivity: As we contemplate a future where some may become “superhumans,” it is vital to advocate for inclusivity and equitable access to technology. We should work to bridge the gap between technological advancements and societal well-being.

Seeking Meaning and Purpose: In a world where traditional sources of meaning may diminish, Homo Deus encourages us to embark on a personal journey to discover our own sources of meaning and purpose, fostering a sense of fulfilment and contentment.

My Book Highlights & Quotes

This is the best reason to learn history: not in order to predict the future but to free yourself of the past and imagine alternative destinies. Of course, this is not total freedom – we cannot avoid being shaped by the past. But some freedom is better than none

We do not become satisfied by leading a peaceful and prosperous existence. Rather, we become satisfied when reality matches our expectations. The bad news is that as conditions improve, expectations balloon

The most common reaction of the human mind to achievement is not satisfaction, but craving for more

People are usually afraid of change because they fear the unknown. But the single greatest constant of history is that everything changes

The greatest scientific discovery was the discovery of ignorance. Once humans realized how little they knew about the world, they suddenly had a very good reason to seek new knowledge, which opened up the scientific road to progress

In 2012 about 56 million people died throughout the world; 620,000 of them died due to human violence. In contrast, 800,000 committed suicide, and 1.5 million died of diabetes. Sugar is now more dangerous than gunpowder

Even the welfare system was originally planned in the interest of the nation rather than of needy individuals. When Otto von Bismarck pioneered state pensions and social security in late nineteenth-century Germany, his chief aim was to ensure the loyalty of the citizens rather than to increase their well-being

For 300 years the world has been dominated by humanism, which sanctifies the life, happiness, and power of Homo sapiens. The attempt to gain immortality, bliss, and divinity merely takes the long-standing humanist ideals to their logical conclusion

Do you want to know how super-intelligent cyborgs might treat ordinary flesh-and-blood humans? You better start by investigating how humans treat their less intelligent animal cousins. It’s not a perfect analogy, of course, but it is the best archetype we can actually observe rather than just imagine

In the animistic cosmos, everyone talked with everyone directly. If you needed something from the caribou, the fig trees, the clouds, or the rocks, you addressed them yourself. In the theist cosmos, all non-human entities were silenced. Consequently, you could no longer talk with trees and animals

Hinduism, for example, has sanctified cows and forbidden eating beef but has also provided the ultimate justification for the dairy industry, alleging that cows are generous creatures that positively yearn to share their milk with humankind

During the Agricultural Revolution humankind silenced animals and plants, and turned the animist grand opera into a dialogue between man and gods. During the Scientific Revolution, humankind silenced the gods too. The world was now a one-man show

Sapiens often use visual marks such as a turban, a beard, or a business suit to signal ‘you can trust me, I believe in the same story as you’

In illiterate societies, people make all calculations and decisions in their heads. In literate societies people are organized into networks, so each person is only a small step in a huge algorithm, and it is the algorithm as a whole that makes the important decisions. This is the essence of bureaucracy

Yet officials who cared little for the plight of human beings nevertheless had a deep reverence for documents, and the visas Sousa Mendes issued against orders were respected by French, Spanish and Portuguese bureaucrats alike, spiriting up to 30,000 people out of the Nazi death trap. Sousa Mendes, armed with little more than a rubber stamp, was responsible for the largest rescue operation by a single individual during the Holocaust

Just as the gap between religion and science is narrower than we commonly think, so the gap between religion and spirituality is much wider. Religion is a deal, whereas spirituality is a journey

Yet, in fact, modernity is a surprisingly simple deal. The entire contract can be summarised in a single phrase: humans agree to give up meaning in exchange for power

Modern culture is the most powerful in history, and it is ceaselessly researching, inventing, discovering, and growing. At the same time, it is plagued by more existential angst than any previous culture

During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as humanism gained increasing social credibility and political power, it sprouted two very different offshoots: socialist humanism, which encompassed a plethora of socialist and communist movements, and evolutionary humanism, whose most famous advocates were the Nazis

Though Toyota or Argentina has neither a body nor a mind, they are subject to international laws, they can own land and money, and they can sue and be sued in court. We might soon grant similar status to algorithms

If such algorithms consistently outperform human capitalists, we might end up with an algorithmic upper class owning most of our planet. This may sound impossible, but before dismissing the idea, remember that most of our planet is already legally owned by non-human intersubjective entities, namely nations, and corporations

As both the volume and speed of data increase, venerable institutions like elections, political parties, and parliaments might become obsolete – not because they are unethical, but because they can’t process data efficiently enough. These institutions evolved in an era when politics moved faster than technology

In the eighteenth century, humanism sidelined God by shifting from a deo-centric to a homo-centric worldview. In the twenty-first century, Dataism may sideline humans by shifting from a homo-centric to a data-centric view

More people die today from eating too much than from eating too little

More people commit suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists, and criminals combined

Today the main source of wealth is knowledge. And whereas you can conquer oil fields through war, you cannot acquire knowledge that way. Hence as knowledge became the most important economic resource, the profitability of war declined and wars became increasingly restricted to those parts of the world – such as the Middle East and Central Africa – where the economies are still old-fashioned material-based economies

Terrorists provoke their enemies to overreact. Terrorism is a show. Terrorists stage a terrifying spectacle of violence that captures our imagination and makes us feel as if we are sliding back into medieval chaos. Consequently states often feel obliged to react to the theatre of terrorism with a show of security, orchestrating immense displays of force, such as the persecution of entire populations or the invasion of foreign countries. In most cases, this overreaction to terrorism poses a far greater threat to our security than the terrorists themselves. Terrorists are like a fly that tries to destroy a china shop. Islamic fundamentalists could never have toppled Saddam Hussein by themselves. Instead, they enraged the USA with the 9/11 attacks, and the USA destroyed the Middle Eastern China shop for them. Now they flourish in the wreckage. By themselves, terrorists are weak

We never react to events in the outside world, but only to sensations in our own bodies. Nobody suffers because she lost her job. The only thing that makes people miserable is unpleasant sensations in their own bodies

The knowledge that does not change behavior is useless

The relationship between humans and animals is the best model we have for future relations between superhumans and humans

Rome conquered Greece not because the Romans had larger brains or better tool-making techniques, but because they were able to cooperate more effectively

Reading Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari is a thought-provoking journey that challenges our perspectives on the past, present, and future of humanity. 

Through his insightful exploration of history, technology, and data, Harari compels readers to contemplate the potential paths our species might take. 

While opinions may differ on the level of connection felt with his discussions about the present and future, the book offers a wealth of knowledge and a captivating narrative that sheds light on the human experience.

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