Most of this is not about “tomorrow” but about yesterday and today. Most of the material that pertains most directly to the future begins with Chapter 8 which is two-thirds of the way into the book. But no matter. This is another brilliant book by the very learned and articulate Professor Harari. It should be emphasized that Harari is by profession a historian. It is remarkable that he can also be not only a futurist but a pre-historian as well as evidenced by his previous book, “Sapiens.”
This quote from page 15 may serve as a point of departure: “Previously the main sources of wealth were material assets such as gold mines, wheat fields and oil fields. Today the main source of wealth is knowledge.” (p. 15)
In the latter part of the book Harari defines this knowledge more precisely as algorithms. We and all the plants in the ground and all fish in the sea are biological algorithms. There is no “self,” no free will, no individuals (he says we are “dividuals”) no God in the sky, and by the way, humans as presently constituted are toast.
In antiquity, a prophet was a person who could see the hand of God moving in history. Dr. Harari leads us to redefine ‘prophet’ as a historian who sees the hand of technology moving in history. This is a compelling and very well-written book.
I simply could not resist its sub-title: A Brief History of Tomorrow. The book is a thorough exploration of the economic and religious currents driven by the accelerating advance of technology in our time. The world today is a largely free market capitalist economy worshipping the religion of secular humanism. This pair has brought Homo Sapiens to for the first time since the invention of agriculture and hence civilization, to a world largely free of famine, plague, and war. What’s to conquer next, death? Can we become Homo Deus, or will the technology we must depend on to achieve that goal get ahead of us and itself sit in the driver’s seat of history as a new religion of Dataism?
My favorite, perhaps because I long taught this in my classes was: “Radical Islam poses no serious threat to the liberal package, because for all their fervor the zealots don’t really understand the world of the twenty-first century, and have nothing relevant to say about the novel dangers and the opportunities that new technologies are generating all around us.” They are blindsided by the very modernity they reject, and it will leave them behind like the Madhist rebellion and its Islamic state in the Sudan in the late 1900s was left behind. Sure, they will kill a lot of Westerners and many more Middle Easterners, but they too will pass into oblivion. This book is a must read for the historian, the theologian, and the technologist. Unlike Alexander Graham Bell, we will not one day say: “What hath God wrought,” but rather “What have we wrought.”
This is a thought-provoking book, that provides a set of questions and issues to focus on when thinking about the shape of the future of humanity. Harari's starting point is that since humanity is no longer limited in major ways by the traditional curses of famine, epidemic and war, then humanity can more ambitiously take on projects, like longevity, that would have appeared god-like to earlier generations. But on the other hand, the technology that has enabled so much improvement in the quality of life also threatens mass unemployment because of quantum improvements in artificial intelligence and computing power. This could create an existential problem for humans: if their labor is not required for the economy, what are people good for?
The author does a very good job of describing the changes that science of technology have had on culture and society. But at the same time, he undervalues the contributions and role of religion and philosophy. His thesis is that the traditional theistic religions like Judaism, Christianity and Islam have been supplanted by "humanism." This is interesting, but unless you are a fundamentalist Christian, secular philosophies like humanism or Marxism are not religions. For Harari, religions are about organizing society, but there are many other non-social functions that religion performs that are not addressed by political philosophy such as transcendent meaning, the nature of the divinity and potential access to the divine. He also narrowly sees Judaism, Christianity and Islam as religions that seek answers in their sacred books (again like a fundamentalist caricature), when in fact those religions rely heavily on interpretation and post-scriptural scholarship and traditions, which evolve over time. Just imagine how much you would be missing of the three Abrahamic faiths if you looked only at the Tannakh (or Old Testament), the New Testament and the Koran.
Harari points out that humanism is being challenged by scientific findings that undermine basic understandings of the self (such as there is a unitary "me" that has free will). In fact these beliefs have been challenged for centuries by both philosophy and religion. Harari also makes the assumption that the mind is the same as the brain. This has been a thorny problem in philosophy for generations, because knowing all about brains does not give us access to the subjective experience of what it is like to be another person. Likewise he dismisses the soul as a fiction, but since the soul is non an empirical entity, it cannot be disproved by empirical science.
Where Harari writes about the future and the technology that is coming the book is actually interesting and thought provoking, but about 2/3 is devoted to him narrating history through his own biases. Such as throughout the book he condemns religion for all sorts of reasons, and yet claims our feelings are algorithms for understanding the world, as if religious teachings don't distill thousands of years of contemplation and wisdom about human feelings and cultural understanding.
All in all if your a Secular Liberal Humanist, whom sympathizes with Marx and Lenin, this book will speak right to you and reinforce your beliefs and cement your biases even further, as this book may as well be propaganda.
I felt that the author used his knowledge of history and the modern world to paint an enigmatic portrait of the future. I was impressed and captivated throughout. The amount of research and study it took to put his works together is a representation of the questions and ideas that he presents. His seemingly dark yet profound outlook on free will made me question my own foundational beliefs of cognition, while simultaneously, his relentless use of scientific facts and sound theories gave little room to argue. It is somewhat disheartening to entertain the idea that the world as we know it may be spiraling out of control, but comforting at the same time that the spiraling effect may answer the unanswerable questions that we humans have always had and never been able to answer. As far as the evolution of technology goes, I am an idealist of the Jacque Fresco school of thought. There is no reason to believe that we can't mutually coexist with technology and benefit from it no matter how advanced it becomes, barring the wrong people aren't influential enough to lead it down a path of avarice and clandestine ends. However, Harari's outlined suppositions possess an almost magnetic captivation, due to his matter of fact approach. His logic and reasoning are grounded with mostly objective knowledge. Unless you are primarily a subjective, spiritual, or religious person, it would be hard to argue his positions. And even then, you would be overwhelmed by the vast amount of knowledge. Being that he knows more about the various religions of the world than most people know about their own religion.
If you are a religious person that is scared to death to have your foundation shaken, this book isn't for you. Wether you take that as a challenge or a warning is up to you. At the very least this book will make a religious person very upset.
This entire book gave the impression of an attempt to present mundane rhetorical tricks as profound insights. The majority of the book was colored by a recasting of the definition of 'religion' in a way that added or elucidated nothing but was instead used for dramatic effect. This book felt like it was presenting material that had been cut from Harari's Sapiens (a better book indeed). I am tempted to believe that Harari was surprised by the success of Sapiens and simply wrote Homo Deus as a cash grab. I wish that I had not paid him for the scheme.
One of the best book I have ever read. And I have read a lot of books. It is so deep and reasonable that it is scary. Author has amazing ability to analyse us, world.
Opens up our horizont by millions miles.