Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari

I thoroughly enjoyed my time reading Harari’s previous book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Harari discussed the progression of humankind and posed thought-provoking questions such as how humans became the most dominant species of the planet and what are the associated consequences. A sneak peek of Harari’s following book, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow was included in Sapiens. It briefly discussed how human’s behavior can subconsciously be impacted by the history of humankind. It then poses further questions on where humankind is heading towards based on past progression as well as the development of artificial intelligence. I’m not particularly interested in reading one person’s speculation of the future so I didn’t end up getting the book. But thanks to my friends, Annie and Patrick, for getting me this book for my birthday I ended up reading it and will share my takeaways below.

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.

Homo Deus

Harari discussed the possibility of humans being upgraded to superhumans or human god (“Homo Deus”) with the help of technology. Humans have reduced mortality from starvation, disease, and violence and our next challenge can be to overcome old age and to prevent death itself. After all, the cause of human death can always be boiled down to some sort of malfunction or degradation of the human body such as the heart stops pumping blood and cancerous cells. It might seem farfetched, but death is essentially caused by numerous technical problems which can all be worked on and possibly resolved.

Besides using technology to cure wounds, eliminate diseases, and possibly cheat death, technology can also be used to upgrade humans. With implants and prosthetic limbs, technology has already restored and in some cases upgraded human’s ability to perform daily tasks. The growing understanding of the brain and human genome can possibly help us engineer superhuman with the preferential genes that can outperform “regular” humans.

Although this does paint an optimistic future for humankind, it does present new challenges. If we gain the ability to upgrade our cognitive abilities or to select the genetic makeup of our children, what will be the impact on the non-upgraded humans? As technologies have usually shown to be first available to the wealthiest in the past, will this cause a bigger divide in society and stall social mobility?

Human’s Role Going Forward

Traditionally, life has been divided into two main parts: a period of learning followed by a period of working. Very soon this traditional model will become utterly obsolete, and the only way for humans to stay in the game will be to keep learning throughout their lives, and to reinvent themselves repeatedly. Many if not most humans may be unable to do so.

Artificial intelligence has been the big topic for several years now and there are more and more resources invested in this field. An AI defeated a chess grandmaster for the first time in 1988 and a reigning human world chess champion in 1997. And in 2016, it defeated one of the world’s top player in go, which is widely regarded as one of the most complex board games.

With the development of artificial intelligence, more and more tasks can be performed by machines. There might come a point where the vast majority of tasks will be performed by machines. If we do get to that point, what will be the roles of humans going forward?

Our current education system have us spending years obtaining degrees and skills to be prepared for the job market. However, in the future, the time for us to obtain a skill might outlast the time it takes for machines to render that skill obsolete. In this case, our only way to maintain our value in the workforce might be to constantly reinvent ourselves.

And let’s say that machines are able to do most of the tasks humans are able to do more effectively but humans still maintain control. In that case, what will be the purpose of humans when our problems are left for the machines to solve. What challenges can we take on?

Summary

Homo Deus is another thought-provoking book by Harari. Harari provided speculations on the future based on what has happened in the past. He’s not concerned about being right but on creating discussions around the potential future challenges of humankind.

Having read Sapiens, I found there to be too many overlapping contents. Homo Deus is a good book, but I would enjoy it much more if I haven’t read Sapiens first. If it’s me I would recommend Sapiens over Homo Deus as Sapiens is more information-heavy whereas Homo Deus has more speculation.

Have you read this book? And is there any book you would recommend? I’ll love to hear your thoughts. 🙂

I’m currently reading Upheaval by Jared Diamond.