January 21, 2018

Homo Deus - A Brief history of tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari

Homo Deus - A Brief history of tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari

[Likewise the first book (Homo Sapiens, this book is also a great one to read]

The first part of the book looks at the relationship between Homo Sapiens and other animals. The second part of the book examines the bizarre world Homo sapiens has created in the last millennia. The third part of the book comes back to the early 21st century: our current predicament and possible futures.

Famine, epidemics and war

For thousands of years, famine, plague and war were always at the top of list of problems. Many thinkers and prophets concluded that famine, plague and war must be an integral part of God’s cosmic plan or of our imperfect nature and nothing short of the end of time would free us from them.

Yet at the dawn of the 3rd millennium, humanity wakes up to an amazing realization. Most people rarely think about these three issues as we managed to rein in famine, plague and war.  We know quite well that needs to be done in order to prevent famine, plague and war. In the 21st century, the average human is far more likely to die from binging at McDonald’s than from drought, Ebola or an al-Qaeda attack.

Until recently most human lived on the very edge of the biological poverty line, below which people succumb to malnutrition and hunger. Provisions were scarce; transport were too slow and expensive to import sufficient food; and the government were far too weak to save the day.

During the last 100 years, technological, economic and political development have created an increasingly robust safety net separating humankind from the biological poverty line. There are no longer natural famines in the world; there are only political famines.

In the 18th century Marie Antoinette allegedly advised the starving masses that if they ran out of bread, they should just eat cake instead. Today, poor people are following this advice to the letter. Whereas the rich people eat lettuce salad and steamed tofu with quinoa, and in the slums and ghettos, the poor gorge on Twinkle cakes, Cheetos, hamburgers and pizza. In 2010 famine and malnutrition combined killed about 1 million people, whereas obesity killed 3 million.

After famine, humanity’s second great enemy was plagues and infectious diseases. The most infamous outbreak (aka black death) began in 1330s, somewhere in east or central Asia. Between 75 million and 200 million people died - more than than a quarter of the population of Eurasia. The Black Death was not a singular event. More disastrous epidemics struck America, Australia and the Pacific Islands following the arrival of the first Europeans - they brought with them new infectious diseases against which the natives had no immunity. Up to 90% of the local population died as a result.

Both the incidence and impact of epidemics have gone down dramatically in the last few decades. In 2015 doctors announced the discovery of a completely new type of medicine of antibiotic -- teixobactin - to which bacteria have no resistance as yet.

For the first time in the history, when governments, corporations, and private individuals consider their immediate future, many of them don’t think about war as a likely event.

Homo Deus

Success breeds ambition and our current achievements are now pushing humankind to set itself even more daring goals. Humanity's next targets are likely to be immortality, happiness and divinity. And having raised humanity above the beauty levels of survival struggles, we will now aim to upgrade humans into gods and turn the Homo Sapiens into Homo Deus.

Throughout history, religions and ideologies did not sanctify life itself. Christianity, Islam and Hinduism insisted that the meaning of our existence depended on our fate in the afterlife. They viewed death as vital and positive part of the world. Human died because God decreed it.

Even ordinary people who are not engaged in scientific research, have become used to thinking about death as a technical problem.  For a technical problem, there should be a technical solution. Google Ventures is investing 36% of their $2bn portfolio in life science startups, including several ambitious life extending in the fight against death. Like them, there are many more VCs investing in a-mortality mission. Some experts believe that humans will overcome death by 2200, others say 2100. They maintain that anyone possessing a healthy body and a healthy bank account in 2050 will have a serious shot at immortality by cheating the death a death at a time.

Modern medicine hasn’t extended our natural life span by a single year, but it could save us from premature death and allowed us to enjoy the full measure of our years.


The second big project on the human agenda will probably be to find the key to happiness. In ancient Greece, the philosopher Epicurus explained that worshiping God is a waste of life that there is no existence after death. Happiness is the sole purpose of life. Most people reject such idea in those days, but it has become the default view.

Industrialized nations as Germany, France, and Japan established gigantic systems of education, health and welfare, yet these systems were aimed to strengthen the nation rather than ensure individual well-being. Even the welfare system was originally planned in the internet of the nation rather than of needy individuals. When Otto von Bismarck pioneered state pensions and social security in the late 19th century Germany, his chief aim was to ensure the loyalty of the citizen rather than to increase their well-being.

Material achievements alone will not satisfy us for long. Epicurus recommended to eat & drink in moderation and also to curb sexual appetites. In the long run, a deep friendship will make us more content than a frenzied orgy.

Achieving real happiness is not going to be much easier than overcoming old age and death. The glass ceiling of happiness is held in place by two stout pillars, one-psychological, the other biological. On the psychological level happiness depends on expectations rather than objective conditions. On the biological level, both our expectations and our happiness are determined by our biochemistry, rather than our economic, social or political situations.

According to Epicurus, we are happy when we feel pleasant sensations and are free from unpleasant ones.  A thousand things can make us angry, but anger is never an abstraction. It is always felt as sensation of heat and tension in the body, which is what makes anger so infuriating.

The biochemical pursuit of happiness is the number one cause of crime in the world (alcohol, drugs etc. ). People drink alcohol to forget, they smoke pot to feel peaceful, they take cocaine and meth. To be sharp and confident, whereas Ecstasy provides ecstatic sensations and LSD sends you to meet Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

The Buddhist view of happiness has a lot in common with the biochemical view. Both agree that pleasant sensations disappear as fast they arise. And that as long as people crave pleasant sensations without actually experiencing them, they remain dissatisfied. The Buddhist suggestions was to reduce our carving for plesant sensations and not allow them to control our lives.

The upgrading of humans into gods may follow any of three paths:
  1. Biological engineering,
  2. cyborg engineering,
  3. Engineering of non-organic beings.  

Biological engineering starts with the insight that we are far from realizing the full potentials of organic bodies. Bioengineering is not going to wait patiently for natural selection to work its magic. Instead, bioengineers will take the old Homo sapiens body and intentionally rewrite its genetic code, rewire its brain circuits, alter its biochemical balance and even grow entirely new limbs.

Cyborg engineering will go a step further, merging the organic body with non-organic devices such as bionic hands, artificial eyes, or millions of non-robots that will navigate our bloodstream, diagnose our problems and repair damage.

A bolder approach dispenses with organic parts together and hopes to engineer completely non-organic beings. Neural networks will be replaced by intelligent software, which could surf both virtual and non-virtual worlds, free from the limitations of organic chemistry. Breaking out of the organic realm could also enable life to finally break out of planet earth. Not even the toughest bacteria can survive on Mars. A non-organic artificial intelligence, in contrast, will find it far easier to colonize alien planets. The replacement of organic life by inorganic beings may therefore sow the seed of a future galactic empire, ruled by data.

For thousands of years history was full of technological economic, social and political upheavals, yet one remained constant: humanity itself. However, once technology enables us to re-engineer human minds, Homo sapiens will disappear, human history will come to an end and completely new kind of process will begin, which people like me and you cannot comprehend.

In the 21st century, the 3rd big project of humankind will be to acquire for us divine powers of creation and destruction and upgrade Homo sapiens into Homo Deus. This third project obviously consumes the first two projects and is filled by them. We want the ability to re-engineer our bodies and minds in order to escape the old age, death and misery, but once we have it, we may well think of the new human agenda as consistently really of only one project: attaining divinity.

History is often shaped by exaggerated hopes. Our future economy, society and politics will be shaped by the attempt to overcome death. It does not follow that inn 2100 humans will be immortal. Knowledge that does not changes behaviorist useless. But knowledge that changes behavior quickly loses its relevance. The more data we have and the better we understand history; the faster history alters its course and the faster our knowledge becomes outdated.

Looking back, many thinks that the downfall of the pharaohs and the death of God were both positive developments. May be the collapse of humanism will also be beneficial. People are usually afraid of change because they fear they unknown. But the single greatest constant of history is that everything changes.

With regard to other animals, humans have long since become gods. The Homo sapiens has rewritten the rules of the game.  Homo sapiens decide the fate of the other animals: there are 200K wild wolves still roam the earth, but there are more than 400 million domesticated dogs. The world contains 40K lions compared to 600 million house cats; 900K African buffalo versus 1.5 billion domesticated cows...

Pie-chart of global biomass of large animals prove that point:
Wild animals -  100 million tons
Humans - 300 million tons
Domesticated animals - 700 million tons

Who is afraid of Charles Darwin?

Why does the theory of evolution provoke such objections whereas nobody seems to are about the theory of relativity or quantum mechanics? If you really understand the theory of evolution, you understand that there is no soul. This is terrifying thought not only to the devout Christians and Muslims, but also to many secular people who don’t hold any religious dogma, but nevertheless want to believe that each human possesses an eternal individual essence that remains unchanged through life and can survive even death intact.

Evolution means change, and is incapable of producing everlasting entities. From an evolutionary perspective, the closest thing we have to a human essence is our DNA and the DNA molecule is the vehicle of mutation rather than the seat of eternity. This terrifies large numbers of people, who prefer to reject the theory of evolution rather than give up their souls.

Science knows very little about mind and consciousness. Current orthodoxy holds that consciousness is created by electromechanical reaction in the brain and the mental experience fulfills some essential data-processing function.

Value of Corporations

History provides ample evidence for the crucial importance of large scale cooperation. Victory almost invariably went to those who cooperated better. In order to mount a revolution, numbers are never enough. Revolution are usually made by small networks of agitators rather than by masses.

In the 19th century, several EU powers had claim to African territories. Fearing that conflicting claims might lead to an all out EU war, the concerned parties got together in Berlin in 1884 and divided Africa as it were a pie. They knew little about the courses the African rivers took inland, about the kingdoms and tribes that lived along their banks and about the local religion, history and geography. This hardly mattered to EU diplomats. They unrolled a half-empty map of Africa and divided the countries among them.

As bureaucrats accumulate power, they become immune to their own mistakes. Instead of changing their stories to fit the reality, they can change realities to fit their stories. In the end external reality matches their bureaucratic fantasies, but only because they forced reality to do so.

The borders of many African countries disregard river lines, mountain ranges and trade routes, split historical and economic zones unnecessary and ignores local ethnic and religious identifies. The same tribe may find itself riven among several countries, whereas one country may incorporate splinters of numerous rival clans. When EU powers left the African region, the new countries accepted the colonial borders, fearing that the alternative would be endless war and conflicts. Many of the difficulties faced by present day African countries stem from the fact that their borders make little sense.

Traditional & Modern Jews

Scientist pointed out that biblical Judaism was not a scripture-based religion at all. Rather it was a typical Iron Age cult, similar to many of its Middle Eastern neighbors. It had no synagogues, yeshivas rabbis or even a bible. Instead it had elaborated temple rituals, most of which involve sacrificing animals to a jealous sky god so that he would bless his people.

During the Second Temple period a rival religious elite gradually formed. Due to partly to Persian and Greek influences, Jewish scholars who write and interpret tests gained increasing prominence. These scholars eventually came to be known as rabbits and the test text they compiled were christened s ‘the Bible’. The clash between the new elite and the old priestly families was inevitable. Fortunately for the rabbis, the Roman torched Jerusalem and its temple in 7-AD while suppressing the Great Jewish Revolt. With the temple in ruins, the priestly families lost their religious authority, their economic power base and their very raison d’etre. Traditional Judaism disappeared.

Science & Religion 
In 1600, cities like Cairo, Istanbul you would find there a multicultural and tolerant metropolis where different religion coexisted without much conflict., Ottoman empire routinely discriminated against people on religious grounds. It was liberal paradise compared to Christian Europe.  Yes, Scientific Revolution began in London and Paris rather than in Cairo and Istanbul. It is customary to portray the history of modernity as a struggle between science and religion. In theory, both science and religion are interested above all in the truth and because each upholds a different truth, they are doomed to clash. In fact, neither science nor religion cares that much about the truth, hence they can easily compromise, coexist and even cooperate.

In medieval Europe, the chief formula for
knowledge was Knowledge= Scriptures X Logic
In Scientific Revolution, Knowledge = Empirical data x Mathematics
In humanism Knowledge = Experience x Sensitivity

Why did Marx and Lenin succeed where Hong and the Mahdi failed? Not because socialist humanism was philosophically more sophisticated than Islamic and Christian theology, but rather because Marx & Lenin devoted more attention to understanding the technological and economic realities of their time than to scrutinizing ancient texts and prophetic dreams. The discoveries and inventions created unheard of problems as well as unprecedented opportunities. The experience needs and hopes of the new class of urban proletariats were simply too different from those of biblical peasant.  To answer these needs and hope, Marx and Lenin studied how a steam engine works and other such inventions and how it influences the politics.

Since Marx & Lenin understand the realities of the new inventions, they had relevant answers to the new problems of industrial societies as well as original ideas about how to benefit from the unprecedented opportunities. In the 19th century few people were as perceptive as Marx and hence only a few countries underwent rapid industrialization. These countries conquered the world. Most societies failed to understand what was happening and therefore missed the train of progress. Countries like India remained for more preoccupied with God than with steam engines, hence they were occupied and exploited by industrial Britain.

In the 21st century, socialism, which was very up to date a hundred years ago failed to keep up with new technology. Russians and Cubans held on ideas that Marx and Lenin formulated in the age of steam and did nit understand the power of computers and biotechnology. Liberals adapted far better to the information age. This is why USSR failed and the liberal capitalists who eventually buried the Marxist.

Radical Islam is in a far worse position than socialism. It has not yet come to terms even with the industrial revolution - no wonder it has little relevance to say about genetic engineering and AI.  

In addition to social and ethical reforms, Christianity was responsible for important economic and technological innovations. The Catholic Church established medieval EU’s most sophisticated administrative systems and pioneered the use of archives, catalogues, timetables, and other technique of data processing.

Useless Class

Liberals uphold free markets and democratic elections because they believe that every human is a uniquely valuable individual, whose free choices are the ultimate source of authority. In the 21st century, three practical developments might make this believe obsolete:

  1. Humans will lose their economic and military usefulness, hence the economic and political system will stop attaching much value to them
  2. The system will continue to find value in human collectively but not in unique individuals
  3. The system will still find value in some unique individuals, but these will constitute a new elite of upgraded superhuman rather than mass of the population.

The idea that humans will always have a unique ability beyond the reach of non-conscious algorithms is just wishful thinking. The current scientific answer to this pipe-dream can be summarized in three simple principles:

  1. Organisms are algorithms. Every animal is an assemblage of organic, algorithmic shaped by natural selection over millions of years of evolution
  2. Algorithmic calculations are not affected y the materials form which the calculator is built. Whether an abacus is made of wood, iron, or plastic, two beads plus two beads equals four beads.
  3. Hence there is no reason to think that organic algorithms can do things that non-organic algorithms will never be able to replicate or surprise. As long as the calculations remain valid, what does it matter whether the algorithms are manifested in carbon or silicon?

When the algorithm developed by Frey and Osborne to do the calculations estimated that 47% of US jobs are at high risk. For example, there is a 99% probability that by 2033 human telemarketers and insurance underwriters will lose their jobs to AI (algorithms). There is a 98% probability that the same will happen to sports referees, 97 % that will happen to cashiers and 96% to chefs. Waiters -94%, Paralegal assistants - 94%, Tour guides - 91%, Bakers - 89%, Bus drivers - 89%, Construction laborers - 88%, Veterinary assistants - 86%, Security guards - 84%, Sailors - 83%, Bartenders - 77%, Archivists - 76%, Carpenters - 72%, Lifeguards - 67%, and so forth.

The data religion

Dataism declares that the universe consists of data flow, and the value of any phenomenon or entity is determined by its contribution to data processing.

If we take the really grand view of life, all other problems and developments are overshadowed by three interlinked processes.

  1. Science is converging on an all-encompassing dogma, which says that organisms are algorithms and life is data processing
  2. Intelligence is decoupling from consciousness
  3. Non-conscious but highly intelligent algorithms may soon know us better than we know ourselves.

These three processes raise three key questions, which I hope will stick in your mind long after you have finished this book

  1. Are organisms really just algorithms and is life really just data processing?
  2. What is more valuable - intelligence or consciousness?
  3. What will happen to society, politics and daily life when unconscious but highly intelligent algorithms know us better than we know ourselves?

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