42: ‘Homo Deus’ by Yuval Noah Harari

Oh My Goodness….what a book! My second read for 2020, and my second book by this author – again, not one of Mum’s Books, but one I bought at the airport for the LOOOOONG flight to Australia.

Those of you who have been following my journey will remember my enthusiasm for this author’s first book, ‘Homo Sapiens’, which was a brief history of how we became who we are today – the dominant life form on the planet, the responsibilities that incurs, the reasoning behind why we are so successful as a species. It was great – seriously, if you have not read it, I strongly recommend you do!

In this, his second, he examines the potential history of our future. And by jingo, I found it chilling, edifying, alarming, and completely un-putdownable.

It seems to me that this book has been written at exactly the time it needed to be written. Whereas the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions, which were covered in Homo Sapiens, occurred over lengthy spans of time, the massive changes in our way of life that are happening day by day now are completely overwhelming in their velocity, and the author presents us with a vision of a world dominated by technology and algorithms, where the ability to manipulate our biology creates an ‘upper’ class of Superhumans, while the vast majority of us are relegated to a useless underclass, being kept happy and entertained by more algorithms. Most jobs as we know them today will be performed much more efficiently by artificial intelligence – including the creative arts, which have always seemed to be so ‘human’.

I found it interesting that he predicts that aged care, for example, as we develop more skills to keep people alive longer, will still be a role best filled by Homo Sapiens, whereas a network of AI doctors will be more efficient than a human one…

He discusses the irrelevance of the great religions that have dominated the human existence for so long, compared to the factual answers presented by AI, and does so in a most sympathetic way in my view.

He speaks about the ‘soul’, the inner you, the conscious, as being in fact little more than the product of the algorithm of the human brain – which of course, operates by electrical signals, which scientists are beginning to understand more and more…and are becoming more able to manipulate, again creating ‘Superhuman’ abilities in their subjects.

One of the parts that really caught my attention was the potential demise of liberalism and in fact democracy, since as we are all well aware (or should be), the algorithms that run Google, Facebook and the rest of the internet are literally beginning to know us better than we know ourselves…how many times have we heard people laugh about the fact that they were looking at washing machines on Amazon, and Facebook presented them with a series of ads for washing machines the next time you log in?! Really, rather spine chilling.

He summarises that eventually, the human species will relinquish ‘meaning’ for power, giving the Superhumans and the AI network an almost God like role, predicting the rise of a new quasi religion of Dataism…

Seriously, if you haven’t read this, I wholeheartedly recommend it, although it is not for the faint of heart. As I approach the close of my sixth decade, I find this intrusion of technology into everyday life overwhelming and somewhat terrifying, and although I use the Internet daily for my business, I honestly think otherwise, I might just being going a little bit modern Luddite and opting out altogether. And I hope my children are well enough equipped to ride out this third enormous change in the way we humans exist upon the planet.

I don’t have this available to gift, as Youngest Daughter snaffled it immediately, but I have just started on his third book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. I’ll keep you posted.