What is the book “Homo Deus” about?
In his first book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2016) historian and philosopher Yuval Noah Harari discussed the origins and development of humanity. The following year, he outlined our possible demise in Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.
Harari’s premise is that we are biologically programmed in such a way, that our needs grow continuously. Our insatiable appetite has been the driving force of technological progress, which in turn creates new things for us to desire.
The book covers many different fields to illustrate, including biology. Harari explains how consumer biotechnologies have advanced in lock step with the traditional medicine. An example is a maxillofacial surgery. Having emerged during World War I to treat the disfigurements of soldiers from battle, it was gradually transformed into plastic surgery, which aims to enhance human outward beauty and vanity.
A great milestone of science has been the discovery of cures for viral infections. Harari believes the next frontier is genetics: we are on our way to discovering ways to engineer human DNA, not only to eliminate genetic illnesses and disorders but select an embryo’s traits to our liking (i.e. intelligence, height, beauty).
Medical advances will also raise the ceiling of a human lifespan. Why must we settle for 120 years maximum? With the necessary science and technology, humans of the tomorrow will surely be able to live till 150 years, or even longer, in good health and physically fit.
In other words, immortality.
Death from age-old scourges — cancer, heart disease, strokes — will be consigned to the dustbins of history. It must be noted that not everyone will be able to afford or have access to such treatments. This will invariably lead to the further divergence of socio-economic classes, if not into castes, of future humans.
All this may sound farfetched. But think back a hundred years. Who would have ever imagined that people would conquer polio, smallpox, cholera and other epidemics, let alone walk on the moon? Perhaps the greatest miracle (so far) is that we have managed to avoid a nuclear world war, one which could destroy all life on Earth.
Today, though many dangers have been overcome, others remain, while new ones appear: more people die from the effects of overeating than from starvation. More people suffer and die from age-related diseases than epidemics. And contrary to popular opinion, many more people die from suicides than from wars, criminals and terrorists combined.
Nevertheless with the main scourges (wars, infections, and hunger) largely behind us, Harari says humans are free to continue seeking new challenges and opportunities, moving ever forward.
The next phase of human evolution will be the quest for happiness, immortality — and even a godlike nature. These will entail going far beyond our current paradigm and biological form.
Humans will eventually get there. But everything has its price. We are inclined to rely on algorithm-based functions and machines more and more. Algorithms are even being designed to think and act like humans, Harari says.
In a way, we ourselves are a kind of living computer as well, constantly inputting, processing and outputting data to and from our world. But man-made computer algorithms can do it far faster and better.
Machines and IT technologies are constantly being upgraded and improved; and gradually replacing human labor — and thought — everywhere. The million dollar question then becomes: what will all the laid off workers do now?
Harari refers to them “unnecessary people”, those who do not fit in the mold of the brave, new world.
They will take refuge in the virtual world and narcotic stimulants, while the small group of “immortals” reap the rewards . . . ultimately by ascending into Homo Deus (deus in Latin means “god” or “deity”).
Meanwhile the masses — “the unnecessary people” — will be deprived of human rights, and forced exist like farm animals. Without being consciously aware, they will live in tight cages adapted to fit the immortals needs as bio-resources since they are lower forms of life.
Summary and 10 Ideas of “Homo Deus”
Idea №1. Human lifespan will increase, but only for the chosen ones; otherwise it will lead to ecological disaster.
Idea №2. Happiness will become the second main aim after immortality.
Idea №3. Achieving happiness is far more elusive than becoming immortal.
Idea №4. In the quest for happiness (ecstasy), a few people will be elevated to “gods”.
Idea №5. Biotechnology and genetic engineering will contribute to the emergence of Homo Deus.
Idea №6. The traditional relationship between people and animals (both wild and domestic) will be the model of the future Homo Deus-Homo sapiens relationship.
Idea №7. Human values are valuable depending on the beliefs that we place on them; but they will be worthless in the new reality.
Idea №8. The appearance of written language in ancient times strengthened the belief of inter-subjective reality. This led to the creation of the algorithms that increasingly govern the modern world.
Idea №9. Evolutionary humanism will eventually replace the liberal and the social ones.
Idea №10. Machine intelligence will prevail over consciousness in the long term, leading to the disappearance of many occupations. A new religion called Dataism will emerge.
Review “Homo Deus A Brief History of Tomorrow”
Homo Deus A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari is as intriguing as it is foreboding. Not many authors view technological progress from so many, in-depth angles as does Harari.
Amidst all the gloom and doom, he offers one bright spot: anyone can join the small, elite Homo Deux group by putting in great efforts, obtaining the appropriate knowledge though an excellent education, being open-minded and having no stringent morals or conscience.
Harari stresses that this is only one scenario of human development. Many others possibilities are open. Infinitely many. But regardless of how things unfold, change and evolution will definitely take place — and there is nothing we can to maintain the status quo. Nor should we. The universe has always been like that: we need to adapt or die, like the dinosaurs.
Should we believe Yuval Harari’s prophecies? Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow provides lots of food for thought, but often the author makes sweeping generalizations, and asserts that his personal opinions as valid as proven scientific theories.
Overall, his book is scholarly, philosophical and profound. It makes you more aware about technology, economics, politics, society, psychology and the future. Will we destroy ourselves in the constant pursuit of our desires? Yuval Noah Harari does not give definitive answer — his readers must draw their own conclusions.
Pros and Cons
- An exciting narrative with a deep analysis of current and future trends, which quite possibly, become reality.
- Many radical ideas might shock and traumatize sensitive people.
About Yuval Noah Harari
Yuval Noah Harari (born 24 February 1976) is an Israeli professor of history and the author of the international bestseller Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. He teaches at the Department of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Since 2004, his regularly published books have proved both very popular and controversial, by mass audiences, as well as academics. Harari is currently researching transnational history and macro-historical processes.
An animal rights activist, Harari is a vegan (strict vegetarian) and practices Vipassana meditation, which he learned under the guidance of Sri Satya Narayan Goenka, and is himself an assistant instructor in this art.