"What will happen to society, politics and daily life when non-conscious but highly intelligent algorithms know us better than we know ourselves?"
The question posed by Harari at the end of Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow is a chilling reminder of our relationship with the future. His ideas compel us to imagine the possibility of a Terminator-like reality that could restrict human freedom someday. The technologies of the future could ultimately bear a seed of fear of being outwitted by machines in the battle of intellect. Perhaps we might also want to consider dystopian scenarios that have appeared in a myriad of fictional narratives since 1948. According to Harari, we are not there yet and rather living on the verge of a futuristic dream that also is a plausible nightmarish version of humanity. The author argues that we are, for the first time, at the very brink of liberating ourselves from the three terrors of the past: famine, plague and war. Now it is quite certain that we are living at the age of upgrades which he refers to in one of the catchiest lines of the book as, "For the first time in history, more people die today from eating too much than from eating too little; more people die from old age than from infectious diseases; and more people commit suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists and criminals combined."
Yuval Noah Harari came into the public light with his international bestseller Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind in 2014. Since then he has been endorsed by Barack Obama on public television, tagged in the reading lists of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg and featured in inspiring TED talks. It was quite evident that he was planning a sequel of Sapiens as he had left breadcrumbs in the book's afterword. Homo Deus remains both as a spiritual and rhetorical successor of Sapiens where Harari offers a brief history of the future.
This book has three parts. The first is considered to be the relationship between humans and animals, natural forces and the poetics and politics of lived histories. In the second part, Harari explains that since the language revolution or documented history can be dated 70,000 years ago, humanity has grown through its intermediary subjective realities like countries, borders, religion, money and companies. Human reality, in the same vein, has been able to give meaning to its actions and strives towards the undrawn future Harari is talking about. He also argues that humanism will be practised over religion with humanists believing that ethics and values mostly come from inside rather than from the outside. As the fundamental fears of famine, plague and war have been eradicated, human actions at present are mostly directed towards three new dreams: immortality, bliss and divinity. The final part of the book is a tale of human innovations that can upgrade humans into super human-like creatures. He also thinks that human life, perhaps, is a set of algorithms set to enter the big data paradigm and craft a science-fiction-like reality that is focused on making Homo Deus with the gift of eternal life.
In this book, Harari seems more interested in walking into the paved path of technologically driven probabilities of the future rather than looking at the universal human efforts to go back to the conservative roots every once in a while. Recent advancements in the field of genetics, neurology, psychology and economics, according to him, has undermined the humanist beliefs which he suggests have hindered humans from achieving dominance over everything. The new religion that he mentioned in this book can be called 'dataism', which has the potential to change humanity from any politico-economic theory. He also jokingly thought that "If Marx came back to life today, he would probably urge his few remaining disciples to devote less time to reading Das Kapital and more time to studying the Internet and the human genome." A bold claim one might say, but by deconstructing every political and economic part of the real-life experiences, he provides his techno-centred observations with utmost faith.
Reading this book mostly felt like a project written to entertain the readers than a basis for sound discussion. Harari's reliance on his versions of humanity seemed like an omnidirectional road with no return. A reader can identify his method as a beautifully crafted theory presented with fascinating experiments. In some cases, however, reading the book felt like a far cry from the magical aura Hariri's first book opted for. While trying to question every pre-existing version of humanism, (which is a fine way to introduce doubts about systemic production of narratives and perhaps challenge the new age of metanarratives) the book often got lost in its own echoes. As Louis Althusser, one of the champion theorists of ideology refers, "Ideology has very little to do with 'consciousness' – it is profoundly unconscious", Harari by no means is out of that equation. His big reliance on data is a clear outstretched idea that refers to grand development rather than individual experiences which a consumerist humanist society would by all means prioritise. He also treats future reality as a dominant whole while banishing the possibilities of the established institutions into non-existence.
The scope of this book is immense. It could foster new studies for new fiction, big data research, gender studies, politico-economic theories and most importantly a cautionary tale of what humans would become. This book is a pleasant read for most readers as it does not let its readers struggle with difficult issues like economic inequality, algorithmic bias, gendered narratives, climate change and issues that most often haunt us. It is an entertaining, technological, page-turner that focuses less on the problems of the present and more on the future of everything. Harari welcomes us to a future that, as always, is undrawn and yet to be fought for.