Homo Deus

Yuval Noah Harari has written a book about the transformation of Homo sapiens to Homo Deus – man as God – Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. It is a logic continuation of his bestselling Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, released some years ago.

The times are changing – in the beginning of the 21st century it is more likely to die from your McDonald’s diet than to die from famine, Ebola or regular wars; sugar is more dangerous that gun powder. We have won several battles, and we are, according to Harari, heading for three new major  projects.

First. To invent immortality. It will take some time, that’s for sure, the first step is just to live longer lives. It is provoking, the journey is exhausting, but we can already see the signs. (It is like in a play – if a gun occurs in the first act, someone will fire it in the third…)

Second. To invent eternal happiness. Ice cream, drugs and gaming is not enough, we need to develop our biochemistry.

Third. To upgrade Homo sapiens to Homo Deus. It is no use to worry, at least not right now – mankind will upgrade itself, step by step, get more skills and power, until we, in a future, look back on our ancestors and find them as – another species. It is all about an evolution blending biology/body and technology. 

During the 20th century the main purpose of medicine was to cure – it was an egalitarian project, everybody deserves a life and body on a “normal” level. The purpose for the next generation of medical research might be to upgrade healthy people – give them extra skills and produce a kind of übermensch. (It could be dangerous – it is possible that this superman will treat ordinary people just as bad as Europeans treated Africans in times of colonization.)

The history of the planet Earth is divided in eras – the current era is Holocene, but it could be called Anthropocene instead – Homo sapiens has made a huge impact on the ecosystem. Anthropocene could also be connected to the humanism of the last – let’s say – 300 years. Nature has definitely lost its magic, God is not the supervisor anymore – what is left to believe in? Humanity.

But our bodies and identities are never stable and constant. Nor is humanity. Experiments on Homo sapiens have given clear results – it is possible to create or even erase complex emotions like love, anger, hate, fear and depression by stimulating the right locations in the brain. Our brains and bodies are nothing but algorithms – emotions are mathematics, full of complexity?

Well, we should consider that statement as a metaphor rather than a fact. In the 19th and 20th century, the body was considered as a machine – run by steam or electricity. The machine was the golden technology at that time, not the computer. The body is obviously a battlefield for ideologies. I think we are heading a new clash of ideologies – the struggle between humanism and post-humanism.

The reality will, according to Harari, consist of a net of biochemical and digital algorithms without any distinct intersections, everything interwoven, nothing isolated. But also stratified. Think about the social consequences of the upgrading – who will have access to the emerging technology?

The new religions and philosophies will not emerge in the caves in the Middle East or on the Indian countryside. Their origin will be in the laboratory. Socialism promised salvation through steam and electricity – the new techno-religions will promise salvation through algorithms, technology, DNA etc.

One of the major questions for the future deals with the differences between consciousness and intelligence. AI will produce intelligence, far more intelligence than we can imagine right now. But what about consciousness – who will take care of that? And what do we need it for?

Anyway, the development is not deterministic – we can still shape the destiny. Please, read Homo Deus, it is a good starting point!

Yuval Noah Harari

Fredrik Sandblad || 2017-06-28