Homo Deus is Yuval Harari’s follow-up to Sapiens, which was excellent.
I. Book Summary
For most of time, humans struggled to overcome three evils: famines, plagues, and wars.
In part because humans really had no good answers to these problems, God became the center piece of coping with this evils. It was God’s will, rather than human agency, that was the causal foundation for what happened on Earth.
The Turning Point
The Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution changed all this – rationality and science allowed humans to begin taming famines, plagues, and war – which also eroded God’s standing.
Together, the emergence of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution – as well as the decline of religion – led to a very turbulent 20th century, where numerous countries and societies experimented with new social structures.
Ultimately, capitalistic welfare states won out on the economic front, and Humanism (seeking meaning by looking inward rather than by following God’s will) is winning out on the social / spiritual front.
Because we’ve made so much progress defeating famine, plagues, and war – we’re now turning our attention to achieve immortality, happiness, and, ultimately, god like abilities.
Humanistic capitalism will be threatened by the rise of robots / computers that will undermine the foundations of both humanism and capitalism.
Because machines will be become more advanced than us, it won’t make sense for human intuition and reasoning to be the foundation for morality; and because machines will takeover the human economy, human centered capitalism / welfare states will no longer be the optimal way to structure an economy.
The two most likely futures are: techno-humanism (humans become part machine) or data-ism (humans become functionally obsolete and are replaced by intelligent machines that will likely not be conscious).
Harari indicates that techno-humanism would likely collapse on itself pretty quickly and that data-ism is our more likely future.
II. Harari is a Great Writer and Historian
It’s hard not to envy Harari as a writer: he’s logical, funny, insightful, and has an uncanny ability to elucidate complex subjects through pithy one-liners, stories, and thought experiments.
We’d all be a lot smarter if more non-fiction writers wrote with his intelligence.
Harari also does an incredible job of identifying and explaining the drivers of human material and cultural development.
III. Harari Adds Little to Futurism
Most of the main ideas in Harari’s analysis of the future can be found in deeper and more expansive works (writers along the lines of Ray Kurzwel, Robin Hanson, etc.)
While Harari’s writing and analytical abilities make him a first class historian, these skills do less work in enabling him to make insightful predictions about the future.
What I would have thought would be obvious topics of deep exploration – such as technical analysis of the computing power needed for a singularity type event, as well as the underpinnings of consciousness – receive very little treatment.
Harari just argues that data-ism will likely occur and that we can’t really predict what that will be like.
I would have loved to read a much deeper analysis of on how and when data-ism might occur, as well as some hard thinking about what economics and values might govern this new world.
Sapiens is required reading.
Homo Deus is worth reading, but, unfortunately, it’s not groundbreaking.