Homo Deus by Yuval Harari: The Predictions of a Stunning Book
A page-turner from the very beginning, Homo Deus, the sequel to Sapiens, the bestselling book by Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari, attempts to anticipate what the future holds for humanity.
Both books go together, complementing each other. Sapiens covers the history of human beings, while Homo Deus speculates about our future. These books dispense the kind of insight that revolutionizes our way of thinking, providing bright new perspectives that forever change the way we look at things.
It does not matter in what order you read them. Sapiens gives the reader a sweeping overview of the three great revolutions human beings went through: the Cognitive Revolution, which took place some 70,000 years ago; the Agricultural Revolution of 12,000 years ago, and the Scientific Revolution, which started around 1400 AD and is still going on, having become faster and more intense in the last 200 years. By contrast, Homo Deus looks forward, offering complex predictions on the ways in which the 21st century will be a landmark for humanity, taking us in completely new and possibly ominous directions.
In Sapiens the main point made by the author is: 70,000 years ago some small mutations happened to the brain of homo sapiens (we don’t know exactly what or how) that allowed them to communicate in much more articulate ways, making it possible for them not only to talk about facts and objective reality, but also about imaginary things. This more fluid form of language, which accounted for fantasy and fiction as well, let them create powerful stories (also known as myths) that influenced large numbers of people, who, therefore, began to share and believe in these narratives. These include the divine power of rulers, for example; the existence of unified nations; the superiority of home sapiens in relation to other species; or the concept of money, for that matter. None of these things have concrete existence in the real word; they are intersubjective, imagined realities.
These shared beliefs allowed humanity to work cooperatively in great numbers, even if they did not know or like the people they were dealing with. This ability to cooperate in large numbers gave human beings supreme power over nature, as no other species was able to act under the influence of mythologies. Homo sapiens rose above it all: elevating themselves from insignificant apes to masters of the universe. We have become both the most productive and destructive force on earth.
In Homo Deus, the author builds on the lessons and trends discussed in the previous book to make bold, big predictions. It focuses on our future: what radical possibilities and changes can be expected, given the stunningly powerful technological resources already at our disposal (computer science, genetic engineering, nanotechnology and big data). Although it’s impossible to predict what is going to happen with 100% accuracy, Harari makes a strong case for all the scenarios he anticipates. He’s not dealing in sci-fi, but registering powerful probabilities.
These are the main facts about the present and predictions we find in Homo Deus.
Today: Mostly, we have controlled or overcome famine, war and infectious disease.
- 1. Obesity kills three times as many people as famine and malnutrition.
- 2. Less than 5% of children die before reaching adulthood. In developed countries, the percentage is even lower, at 1%.
- 3. Wars are quickly disappearing if you take a long view of history; the law of the jungle was finally broken after the World War II. As an example, the author mentions that in 2012 some 56 million people died in the world. Of these, 620K due to violence (war killed 120,000 and crime, 500,000); 800,000 committed suicide and 1.5 million people died of diabetes. The obvious conclusion is that sugar is more dangerous than weapons.
- 4. Most people die of non-infectious diseases such as cancer, heart attacks, or old age-related ailments. This is a great accomplishment when compared to the horrific epidemics humans faced in the not so distant past.
- 5. The main source of wealth today is knowledge.
The near future: The main objective of today’s technology is to find solutions to fix the aging process, to eliminate death, to provide happiness, and to aid humans to develop divine powers (such as redesigning and creating life according to our wishes). As a consequence:
- 1. The economic elites of the homo sapiens are on the verge of upgrading themselves into a new species (what the author calls "homo deus"). These beings might be organic, inorganic entities endowed with AI (artificial intelligence), or a combination of the two (cyborgs).
- 2. The new techno-religions (or myths) coming out of Silicon Valley preach the pursuit of unlimited happiness through the acquisition of superpowers (humans might be able to redesign their own bodies, for example), eternal youth and immortality – or rather amortality (since the new humans won’t die of disease or old age, but may be killed in accidents or blown to pieces in terrorist attacks).
- 3. The technology that will buttress these goals is fast being developed, and much of it is already available.
- 4. The downside of what is to come is the creation of a lower class of useless human beings, made redundant and irrelevant as they won’t be able to perform anything better than a computer does. What is going to happen to these people?
Of course, this article offers only a simplification of the grand and complex ideas discussed in Homo Deus. I strongly recommend you read the book to get a more complete and detailed picture of these fascinating topics. Revelatory and essential, the ideas developed by Harari will linger with you for a very long time.