[Book Review] Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow – Yuval Noah Harari
Fri, 13 Apr 2018 || By Viyasa Rahyaputra

In the past, as vision of the future with flying cars and metallic buildings were pretty much in everyone’s mind. From the movie Back to The Future, we have seen how people foresaw the future, and planted set of expectations on what kind of future we would have. However, this book, Homo Deus, kind of puts a different picture in the frame. Homo Deus, written by the historian Yuval Noah Harari, is a compelling convincing narrative about the future of mankind, both conceptually and biologically, served in the middle of certain uncertainty of the future. Harari reflects back from the history, as he is a historian, and presents what we can expect instead of looming with predictions and forecasts. Reasonable as it sounds, the fact that the book has gained much recognition worldwide, and is mentioned several times by the world leaders as the go-to book of this decade, should be enough in putting this book in our next reading list. An interesting takeout from this book is that we are certainly facing a highly probable menace of power, ideology, and technology. The talks of power and ideology will be largely saturated and complicated along with the advancement of technology, both in positive and negative manners. More importantly, readiness is not for everyone.

The book is a direct continuation of Harari’s previous release, Homo Sapiens, where the book is hanging with unanswered questions in the end, especially with the questions of what more do we want and how do we evolve into beings that are more than ‘us.’ Harari continues the exploration of mankind, especially on the possibility on the continuation of mankind. The book departs with summarized point of view of the previous book, where achievements of mankind are highlighted, and takes the stance of what this means for the possible future. In this part Harari concludes that humans (the Sapiens) are able to surmount three main challenges we face; famine, war, and diseases. He noted that for the first time in the history, more people die from eating too much, not too little; more people died from old age than infectious diseases, and more people commit suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists, and criminals combined. This is the blessing of our revolution that enables us to literally rules the planet and victorious in becoming the dominant force on earth. After knowing we are slowly conquering what threatens us the most, then, according to the author, it is time for humans to evolve into god-like being, or what he called as ‘Homo Deus’. It is also a central argument offered by the book, that since we are still in the evolutionary stage, potential enhancement of mankind to be a near-god being is highly probable. He argues that currently we are on the state of pursuing higher state of happiness, defying death, and acquiring divinity, as we have been able to achieve harmony, prosperity, and health.

Going from this strong enthralling and thought-provoking points, the author goes on dividing the book into three parts; Homo Sapiens Conquers the World, Homo Sapiens Gives Meaning to the World, and Homo Sapiens Loses Control. The first part delves even deeper into the  addressing questions like how we get to this state of intelligence, what sets us apart with animals, and how we manage to stand as the sole superior life form in the planet. Much like the first book, we can expect a lot of titillating details and ideas on what makes us the current Sapiens. On Harari’s point of view, Sapiens are superior to animals because we have the ability to communicate and talk about intangible matters like religions, ideas, myths, and fantasies. The second part goes even deeper on what mankind has brought to the world, and extends Sapiens’ abilities in ‘playing’ with the intangible thins. This part mostly rummages on the concept of humanism, where humans put more meaning on worshiping humans, compared to the concept of theism where God is the source of fascinations and explanations of the world. Morality, ethics, and other values come from within humans, not from any external sources. This basic belief leads to his strong outlooks on the pursuit of eternal life, happiness, and divinity.

The third part, probably the most provoking, argues that, as the title suggests, Homo Sapiens loses control. This part highlights two main points; on algorithms and ‘dataism’. As we are at the dawn of technological revolution where robots and artificial intelligence begin to take central role in the modes of human activities, Harari argues that we are not bound for the threats of how robots would develop their own feelings and act as humans. However, we are going to be overrun by data, and we might become more reliable to what artificial intelligence and robot can provide us. Harari further mentioned that the current technology that Google possess is already able to predict what we like, what we prefer, and even what we must do. As we are becoming more predictable, more data about us is acquired, and people who has access to this data (for example, tech companies providing data storage services) will be more informed. This is then brought further by Harari that the power (resourceful information) is not for everyone. To support this, Harari argues that mankind is a set of algorithms, where there is set of patterns that we do in real life, even to the genetic level. The fact that we are all algorithm, we are meant for external maneuvers, as we are becoming a lot more predicted based on data (algorithms) of ourselves. This is where Harari also brings up the concept of ‘dataism’, where data is ‘worshiped, and we no longer rely on humanism’. Believes and ideologies will be bent and challenged even further, as we already have one in the present day. The things we conceive as unfit or unethical might one day be the very basic morale everyone hangs into.

Further, people will be divided into classes based on their acquisition of power, which is determined based on who has access to information and data. The ones who have access to utilize information will prevail. Coupled with the fact that technology will even allow us to ‘live forever,’ data-driven activities will only realize the state of God-like that Harari proposes in the beginning.’ Harari states that individuals will become just a collection of ‘biochemical subsystems’ monitored by global networks.

Only on the last part of the book that Harari mentions that the future is still the future, where it still remains uncertain. This reiterates that there should indeed be more cautious approaches incorporated in the overall development and technological advancements, but fear should not be the base of our development. Furthermore, as also stated in the beginning, the book does not attempt to predict the future. The book aims at untangling the past and present state of mankind that may or may not have implications on the possible vision of what we will be in the future. The book is able to detach the arguments from the typical visions of the future ubiquitously seen on science-fiction productions, and remain logical in shaping the dream-esque vision of the future. Indeed, it is too far to take this book and his arguments (for example, the human pursuit for happiness, eternal life, and divine power) ‘too seriously’, but it is important to keep ourselves reminded about what footprints we have left and where it may lead us. More angles on the environment, population, state sovereignty may be outstanding additions to the narrative, if only they are deemed to matter by the author. If the setbacks of such rapid human evolution is discussed, there will surely be more compelling coverage about tensions and clashes that usurp the previous complexities. The discussions on possible challenges of the future might balance out the notion of what ‘we might become’ and ‘what we might see,’ so we can prescribe more reasonable ‘what we should prepare.’ Nonetheless, the book surely accompanies our mind to a journey to the future by still keeping our childhood memories of how a future is but at the same time wrapping the too farfetched ideas in a very light and plausible way.

Editors: Atin Prabandari MA(IR) & Nabeel Khawarizmy Muna, S.IP