Friday, 10 November 2017

Book review: Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari

Title: Homo Deus
Author: Yuval Noah Harari
Publisher: Vintage
Rating: 4/5

  Can democracy and liberalism survive in a world where the biological algorithms of our bodies bring free will into question?

 What is our role when data and Al become ubiquitous?

  How would we feel if a more advanced species should make judgements and kill undesirable humans?

Do we really have free will? 

"Like capitalism, Dataism too begin as a neutral scientific theory, but is now mutating into a religion that claims to determine right and wrong. The supreme value of this new religion is 'Information Flow'. If live is the movement of information, and if we think that life is good, it follows that we should extend, deepen and spread the flow of information in the universe. According to Dataism, human experiences are not sacred and Homo Sapiens isn't the apex of creation or the precursor of some future of Homo Deus. Humans are merely the Internet-of-All-Things, which may eventually spread out from planet earth to cover the whole galaxy and even the whole universe. This cosmic data-processing system would be like God. It will be everywhere and control everything, and humans are destined to merge into it."

Homo Deus is my first Harari book and I definitely need to get a copy of Sapiens: A Brief History Of Humankind because I loved and enjoyed this book so much. This is a book that is both entertaining and thought provoking. It painted a disturbing picture of where we are heading as a species and this book really changed the way I think and the way I precept the world. Homo Deus is definitely one of the most interesting non-fiction book I have ever read! In this book, Harari writes about our potential future in terms of our recent and ancient past and he also explained how we distinguished ourselves from the animal world.

Harari has plucked theories from many disciplines including philosophy, theology, biology and computer science to produce this original and important study of where mankind is heading. This book offers a wide range of topics, from Artificial Intelligence to Biology, from Politics to Psychology and so on. 

This 450-page book is broken out into the following three parts:
Part One: Homo Sapiens Conquers The World
Part Two: Homo Sapiens Gives Meaning To The World 
Part Three: Homo Sapiens Loses Control

For the first time in history, writes Harari, "More 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”

Since our earliest existence, we have devoted our resources and attention to address these three vital issues; famine, disease and war. Entering the 21st century, these previously concerns have been largely conquered, leaving the question, “What now”?

According to Harari, we are striving for bliss, immortality and divinity. What would the world be like if we actually achieved those things? Achieving them could be bad news for the human race. Some people will leap ahead, while many more are left behind. The elites will upgrade themselves through biotechnology and genetic engineering, leaving the masses behind and creating the godlike species. 

In this book, Harari envisions how societal developments alongside technological advancements will take us to the status of "god-like" humans in the next few decades. He expects we will soon engineer our bodies and minds in the same way we now design products. The human species is going to change dramatically. In the near future, we might be able to order our bioengineered children on the internet and the Artificial Intelligence will influence our everyday lives.

Harari predicts that "Dataism" will become the "21st Century Religion" due to our willingness to share every detail of our lives on Internet and give them more power than ever before. 

He also claims that there is no guarantee of liberal democracy's place in humanity's future and liberal democracies became popular solely because they were superior systems of governance and it met the economic and wartime needs of industrialised societies in the 19th and 20th centuries: 

"Liberalism did not become the dominant ideology simply because its philosophical argument were the most valid. Rather, liberalism succeeded because there  was avundant political, economic and military sense in ascribing value to every human being."

A devout religious person would of course have to disagree with Harari by default and if you firmly believe in liberalism, your views would definitely not match with that of the author's. There is plenty to disagree with in Harari’s analysis. I don't agree with everything the author has to say but some of his political views are quite honest in my opinion. Some of the things that I don't agree with him:
1. His concept of Divinity
2. He claims that we have no “free will” to make important life-changing decisions, they are predetermined or random and we have no soul.
3. Science has already killed religion.
4. Humanism is humanity's dominant religion.
5. Famine, war and mass pandemic are really bound to be a thing of the past.

The writing style of this book is colloquial and it keeps me interested to carry on reading. Harari is very articulate but at times, I find his book suffers from too little attention to analysis of possible future facts. 

In the end Harari says that the future is unknowable, and the purpose of this book is simply to give something to think about. He insists we cannot predict the future and that the scenarios in this book are possibilities rather than predictions. Don’t let the dissatisfying conclusion dissuade you from reading this book. It is a deeply engaging book with lots of amazing idea. It makes you think about the future and the present. Highly recommended.

Some of the excerpts:
1. The moral implications of farming animals.
"If and when computer programs attain superhuman intelligence and unprecedented power, should we begin valuing these programs more than we value humans? Would it be okay, for example, for an artificial intelligence to exploit humans and even kill them to further its own needs and desires? If it should never allowed to do that, despite its superior intelligence and power, why is it ethical for humans to exploit and kill pigs?"

2."What if a happy, healthy life was guaranteed for every child on Earth? How would that change the role parents play?”

3. "In the twenty-first century censorship works  by flooding people with irrelevant information...In ancient times having power meant having access to data. Today having power means knowing what to ignore."

4. "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 of power."

5. "Dataism undermines our main source of authority and meaning, and heralds a tremendous religious revolution, the like of which has not been seen since the eighteenth century. In the days of Locke, Hume and Voltaire humanists argued that ‘God is a product of the human imagination’. Dataism now gives humanists a taste of their own medicine, and tells them: ‘Yes, God is a product of the human imagination, but human imagination in turn is the product of biochemical algorithms.’ In the eighteenth century, humanism sidelined God by shifting from a deo-centric to a homo-centric world view. In the twenty-first century, Dataism may sideline humans by shifting from a homo-centric to a data-centric view."

Click on the links to purchase the book: