By Yuval Noah Harari
Yuval Harari has good news. There is a god and it's name is Dataism!
In Homo Deus, Harari, The New York Times best-selling author of Sapiens delivers a delightfully provocative look into a future void of God and liberal ideology and dominated by information algorithms.
Harari contends the chief projects of the twentieth century were overcoming famine, plague, and war. Mission (almost) accomplished. The new projects of the twentieth century are a tad more ambitious: gaining immortality, bliss, and divinity.
How will Homo Sapiens morph into Homo Deus? The answer is data. The "Internet-of-All Things" will serve to make us more healthy, happy, and powerful. At the same time Harari warns us, Dataism could subdue humans as mere functional cogs in the information wheel.
There is much to commend in this 450-page tome. Harari's brilliance and command of history are evident on every page. Near the end of his work, the author notes, "This book traces the origins of our present-day conditioning in order to loosen its grip and enable us to think in far more imaginative ways about our future." (401). It is in this "tracing" that we come to appreciate the author's scholarship. He addresses AI and the Aztec empire, Zeus and IMB's Watson with equal ease.
Harari is thoughtful, reflective, insightful, and provocative. He provides refreshing perspective. In the opening pages he tackles world peace, poverty, and global terrorism. Things are not as bad as we are led to believe.
Whereas in 2010 obesity and related illnesses killed about 3 million people, terrorists killed a total of 7,697 people across the globe, most of them in developing countries. For the average American or European, Coca-Cola poses a far deadlier threat than al-Queda. (page 18)
Refreshing! Harari refuses to be hoodwinked by the visceral emotional impact of terrorism. I appreciate that.
The progress he sees in homo sapien dominated history fuels his hope for Homo Deus, but it is progression tempered by caution:
The great human projects of the twentieth century - overcoming famine, plague and war - aimed to safeguard a universal norm of abundance, health and peace for everyone without exception. The new projects of the twenty-first century - gaining immortality, bliss and divinity - also hope to serve the whole of humankind. However, because these projects aim at surpassing rather than safeguarding the norm, they may well result in the creation of a new superhuman caste that will abandon its liberal roots and treat normal humans no better than nineteenth-century Europeans treated Africans. (p354)
Still, while Harari can show the decline of famine, plague, and war; he offers no solution for their ultimate demise. He can't, for he offers us nothing bigger than humanism and data.
For all his science, the author is, at times, surprisingly simplistic. He dismisses God, the Bible, Luther, Augustine . . . the whole Judeo-Christian worldview with a simple wave of his hand. The Life Sciences have deconstructed all of that! He constructs straw men (see 191, Catholicism and the infallibility of the Pope), which he burns with great delight. And while he chides Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker and other champions of the new scientific world for refusing to abandon liberal ideology, he refuses to abandon his moral certainty.
I was left scratching my head.
He decries God, but speaks with divine certainty of atheistic natural selection. He leans on mathematics, but how does random account for such precision? On more than one occasion he utters a moral "should." Where did that come from? How does natural selection spawn a moral world? For that matter, where does greed come from? Why do humans cherish happiness? What is the mind? Harari employs these concepts, but he cannot explain them.
Few books have left me questioning and confirming my Christian worldview like Homo Deus. Three-fourths into the book, Harari asks, "What, then, is the meaning of life?" I was left waiting for an answer that never came. But then, should I be surprised? Solomon spoke of the vanity of searching for meaning "under the sun." And as to man becoming "like God," Homo Deus has been the pipe dream of Sapiens since the beginning of time.