Posted on October 28, 2018
41. ‘Homo Deus’ by Yuval Noah Harari
Homo Deus is Harari’s follow-up to Sapiens. While that book charted the evolution of humanity, from the earliest days of Homo Sapiens up to the present, this one takes a look at the future, and where our ideas and our technology might take us.
Homo Deus starts quite hopefully, as Harari outlines the enormous progress our species has made away from massively destructive wars, famine and disease. He then lays out some of the major agendas that we’re likely to take on next: preventing death, maximising happiness, etc. We can see the beginnings of this in our current technology: the more we develop medicine, the further away we push our mortality. The more goods we are able to produce, the more everybody’s needs will be met.
But the future isn’t all sunshine and roses. We’re also going to have to face some pretty tough questions, and how we respond to them might fundamentally change us as a species. After all, the technology we use to cure the sick could equally be applied to the healthy, and this could lead us to start ‘upgrading’ ourselves to be stronger, more intelligent and longer lived. And if we do that, are we still human? The title, Homo Deus, refers to a possible next ‘step’ for humanity: the upgraded, superhuman species that will come after us. That idea could be exciting, or it could be terrifying – it’s up to you to decide.
There are some similar themes to Sapiens in Homo Deus. Harari repeats the idea that our stories have allowed us to dominate the planet, by enabling mass cooperation. He is also very concerned with animals and our treatment of them, which reveals more about us than we might like to admit. Throughout, there’s that familiar distant tone of voice that allows the reader to take a step back from everything and really look at their own beliefs. Harari discusses the current dominant world ‘religion’, humanism, and how it might be threatened by our development. (Given that we sanctify human life and worship human experience, what will happen when a new race of superhumans emerges?) He also discusses the environment, and how our obsession with humanism might well come at the cost of the planet. He talks about all these possible futures – even the horrifying ones – dispassionately, and tells the reader that, if we don’t like what seems to be in store for humanity, then it’s up to us to change it.
Only time will tell how prescient Homo Deus turns out to be (although Harari is not making any claims about predicting the future), but if you want to a jumping-off point to start thinking about the big questions currently facing humanity, you won’t get better than this. Although I didn’t enjoy Homo Deus as much as Sapiens (I was fascinated by the early history of our species in that book), it’s a very interesting read that will give you plenty of food for thought.
“All the predictions that pepper this book are no more than an attempt to discuss present-day dilemmas, and an invitation to change the future.”
Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts!
If you want to read it, you can buy Homo Deus here.
[Disclosure: Above is an affiliate link. If you buy a book through that link, I get a small cut, at no extra cost to you.]