Summary of Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow

Overview

Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (2017) argues that human beings have come to a fundamental turning point in history. The great struggles that have defined human existence have largely been won. New technologies will allow for a fundamental change in human nature, for better or worse. It is impossible to predict the future, but humans should grapple with the new choices made possible by staggering technological change.

Throughout history, the main threats to human life have been famine, plague, and war. Following the Industrial Revolution and the international system put in place after World War II, all of these have been largely defeated. There is sufficient food for most people, epidemic diseases have mostly been tamed by medicine, and there has not been a major international conflict since World War II. Today the most serious threat to humankind is ecological damage that people have inflicted on themselves and the planet. Freed from famine, plague, and war, humans can focus on two major projects: achieving immortality and achieving happiness.

Prehistoric peoples saw themselves as being on a spiritual level with animals. Later, the development of agriculture led humans to use animals instrumentally. Humans began to develop new religious beliefs in distant gods. They started to see themselves as distinct from and superior to other creatures. This led to terrible animal suffering.

Despite human claims to be different in kind from animals, biologists now know that animal and human emotions are both simply algorithms. That is, they are biological decision-making processes that allow animals to make quick, complicated decisions important to their survival.

Deistic religions reigned until the Scientific Revolution. They were replaced by humanistic religions, which believe in human potential and ability to solve problems and shape the world. Scientific advances called into question religious notions such as the soul.

The difference between humans and animals is not spirituality or intelligence, but the human ability to cooperate and build up culture and innovations over time. Collective narratives about the world allow humans to collaborate. Religions are interested in creating order and unity. Science, on the other hand, is interested in providing humans with the power to achieve goals.

Since the Enlightenment, science has found a strong ally in the secular humanistic religion. The two ideologies have combined to achieve economic growth and to explore the meaning of the expanding possibilities and wealth of humankind. Humanism encourages humans to look for meaning in their inner selves. The morality of humanism is tied to what feels right, as long as others are not hurt.

While science and humanism have been linked in the past, the life sciences have continued to develop independently of the humanities, and their findings have undermined the concept that humans have authentic inner selves. Human selves are not unified; the self that has immediate experiences often has different sensations and desires than the narrative self, which creates memories and a sense of continuous identity.

The result of advancing technology may threaten humanist values. Consciousness has been separated from intelligence. Computer programs that do not have minds can now outperform human beings in numerous tasks. Algorithms will come to anticipate human desires and needs better than humans can themselves, devaluing human choice and individuality.

New religions, such as techno-humanism and dataism, are displacing humanism. Techno-humanism assigns value only to upgraded humans who possess cybernetic or genetic enhancements. Dataism is an ideology that valorizes data processing. Political, economic, and biological systems are understood as data mines. Rather than focusing on liberating individuals, the main goal of dataism is to allow information to be free and available to all. These new, non-humanistic religions do not privilege organic life or nature, including humans, and instead subordinate life processes under the rubric of algorithms and data

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