Homo Deus – by Yuval Noah Harari
‘A brief history of tomorrow’
For thousands of years the top of our list of concerns were famine, plague and war. While this haven’t been completely solved, we’re pretty close and they have been transformed from incomprehensible and uncontrollable forces of nature into manageable challenges.
Having secured unprecedented levels of prosperity, health and harmony, and given our past record and current values, YNH predicts that humanity’s next targets are likely to be: Immortality, Happiness and Divinity.
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HUMANS NEW AGENDA
For thousands of years the top of the list concerns were FAMINE, PLAGUE and WAR. Of course these problems have not been completely solved, but they have been transformed from incomprehensible and uncontrollable forces of nature into manageable challenges
During the last 100 years, technological, economic and political developments have created an increasingly robust safety net separating humankind from the biological poverty line. Mass famines still strikes some areas from time to time, but they are exceptional, and they are almost always caused by human politics rather than natural catastrophies
After famine, humanity’s second great enemy was plagues and infectious diseases
- Between 75 million and 200 million died from the black death in the 1330s
- In England, 4/10 people died
- Florence lost 50,000 of its 100000 population
The Black Death was not even the worst. When Europeans settled onto Australia, they brought with them new infectious diseases which hte natives had no immunity, up to 90% of populations died as a result.
In 2050, undoubtedly we will face more resilient germs, but medicine in 2050 will likely be able to deal with it more efficiently than today
From the stone age, to the age of steam, from the Arctic to the Sahara, every person on Earth knew that at any moment the neighbours might invade their territory, defeat their army, slaughter their people and occupy their land. During the second half of the 20th Century this Law of the Jungle has been broken. In most areas war became rarer than ever
In agricultural societies, war killed 15% of all deaths, during the 20th Century violence was 5% of all deaths, and in the 21st Century it is less than 1% of all mortality
In 2012 56 million people died throughout the world, 620,000 died due to human violence and 1.5 million to diabetes. Sugar is now more dangerous than gun powder
Previously the main sources of wealth were material assets such as gold mines, wheat fields and oil wells. Today the main source of wealth is knowledge. We’ve transformed from a material based economy into a knowledge based economy. The profitability of war declined and war is now restricted to the parts of the world such as Middle East and Central Africa, where economies are still old fashioned material based economies. In 1998 it made sense for Rwanda to seize and loot the rich coltan mines of Congo, because the ore was high in demand – Congo had 80% of the reserves. In contrast it makes no sense for China to invade California and to seize Silicon Valley, for even if Chinese were to succeed there is no silicon mines to loot
Instead, the Chinese have earned billions of dollars from cooperating with hi tech giants such as Apple and Microsoft, buying their software and manufacturing their products
Like firefighters in a world without fire, so human kind in the 21st century needs to ask itself an unprecedented question:
What are we going to do with ourselves?
In a healthy, prosperous and harmonious world, what will demand our attention and ingenuity? This question becomes doubly urgent given the immense new powers that biotechnology and information technology are providing us
What will we do with all of this power?
What are the projects that will replace famine, plague and war at the top of the human agenda in the 21st Century?
Having secured unprecedented levels of prosperity, health and harmony, and given our past record and our current values, humanities next targets are likely to be IMMORTALITY, HAPPINESS and DIVINITY
Humans don’t die because a figure in a black cloak taps them on the shoulder, or because God chose it, or because mortality is an essential part of the cosmic plan
Humans always die due to a technical glitch: the heart stops pumping blood, the main artery is clogged by fatty deposits, cancerous cells spread to the liver, germs multiply in the lungs.
And what is responsible for all the technical problems? Other technical problems.
The heart stops pumping blood because not enough oxygen reaches the heart muscle, cancer cells spread because a chance genetic mutation rewrote their instructions, germs spread to the lungs because someone sneezed on the subway.
Can you imagine a more promising market than the promise of eternal youth? If you are close to 40, you can only imagine to have the youth of 25
If you could have that body back, how much would you pay for it?
Enough customers would pay whatever it takes, constituting a near infinite market
The right to the pursuit of happiness, has imperceptibly morphed into the right to happiness. Despite our unprecedented achievemens in the last few decades, it is far from obvious that contemporary people are significantly more satisfied than our ancestors. It is an ominous sign that despite higher prosperity, comfort and security, the rate of suicide in the developed world is higher than in traditional societies. According to the life sciences, happiness and suffering are nothing but different balances of body sensations.
We never react to events in the outside world, we react to sensations in our own bodies. Nobody suffers because she lost her job, because she got divorced or because government went to war. The only thing that makes people miserable is unpleasant sensations in their bodies.
Losing one’s job can certainly trigger depression, but depression itself is a kind of unpleasant bodily sensation. If last year, you got an unexpected promotion at work, you might be still in that same position. But the very pleasant sensations you experienced on hearing the news disappeared within hours. If you want to feel those wonderful sensations again, you must get another promotion.
And if you don’t get one, you might end up far more bitter and angry than if you remained a humble pawn.
If science is right and our happiness is determined by our biochemical system, the only way to ensure lasting contentment is rigging the system.
Forget economic growth, in order to raise happiness levels we need to manipulate human biochemistry. This is exactly what we’ve been doing over the last few decades. 50 years ago psychiatric drugs created a severe stigma, today it has been broken. For better or worse a growing population is taking these on a regular basis, not only to cure debilitating illnesses but also to face more mundane depressions and the occasional blues.
The upgrade of humans into gods may follow any of 3 paths:
Biological engineering, cyborg engineering, and the engineering of non-organic beings
Biological engineering starts with the insight that we are far from realising the full potential of organic bodies. For 4 billion years, natural selection has been tweaking and tinkering with the bodies, so that we have gone from reptiles to Sapiens, yet there is no reason to think Sapiens is the last station.
Bioengineering is not going to wait patiently for natural selection to work its magic, instead bioengineers will take the old Sapiens body and intentionally rewrite its genetic code, rewire its brain circuits, alter its biochemical balance, and even grow entirely new limbs.
A cyborg in contrast could exist in numerous places at once. A cyborg doctor could perform emergency surgeries in Tokyo, in Chicago and a space station on Mars
This may sound like science fiction, but it’s already a reality.
Monkeys have recently learned to control bionic hands and feet disconnected from their bodies through electrodes implanted in their brains. A bolder approach dispenses with organic parts all together and hopes to engineer inorganic beings. Breaking out of the organic realm could also enable life to finally break out of the planet Earth. For 4 billion years life remained on this tiny speck of a planet because natural selection made all organisms utterly dependent on the unique conditions of the rock.
This 3rd big project of humankind will be to acquire for us divine powers of creation and destruction, and upgrade Homo Sapiens into Homo Deus. We want the ability to re-engineer our bodies and minds in order, to escape old age, death and misery.
We fear collectively Super Humans. We sense that our fears and dreams will be irrelevant and we’ll have nothing more to contribute. Whether you’re a devout Hindu cricket player or an aspiring journalist, in an upgraded world you will feel like a Neanderthol hunter in Wall Street. You won’t belong.
Yuval’s predictions are focused on what humankind will try to achieve in the 21st Century and beyond – not what it will succeed in achieving. Predicting that humankind will try to gain immortality, bliss and divinity, is much like predicting that people building a house will want a lawn in their front yard – it sounds very likely, but once you say it out loud you can think of alternatives.
How Sapiens Conquered the World
Our televisions, books, fantasies are full of Simbas, Shere Khans and Big Bad Wolves of our planet – but they are all disappearing.
The world is now populated by humans and their domesticated animals.
How many wolves live in Germany today? (the land of Little Red Riding Hood and the big bad wolf?)
- Less than 100. But it is home to 5 million dogs
- The world contains less than 40,000 lions compare to 600 million house cats
- 900,000 African Buffalo versus 1.5 billion domesticated cows
- At present, more than 90% of the large animals in the world are either humans or domesticated animals
For these millennia the Homo Sapiens species became the single most important change in the global ecology, this is an unprecedented phenomena
Since the appearance of life about 4 billion years ago, never has there been a single species that changed the global ecosystem by itself, Homo-sapiens has rewritten the rules of the game.
This single ape species has managed within 70,000 years to change the global ecosystem in unprecedented ways. Our impact is on par with ice ages and tectonic movements – within a century, our impact may surpass that of the asteroid that killed off dinosaurs 65 million years ago
- Whereas the agricultural revolution gave birth to theist religions, the scientific revolution has given birth to humanist religions
- The founding idea of humanist religions such as liberalism, communism and Nazism is that Homo sapiens has some unique sacred essence that is the source of all meaning and authority in the universe
- Whereas theism justified traditional agriculture in the name of God, humanism has justified modern industrial farming in the name of man
- Industrial farming sanctifies human needs, whims and wishes, whilst disregarding everything else
- Industrial farming has no real interest in animals, which don’t share the same sanctity of human nature
- We are suddenly showing unprecedented interest in the fate of lower life forms, perhaps because we’re about to become one
- If computer programs attain superhuman intelligence and unprecedented power, should we begin valuing these programs more than humans?
- For an AI to exploit humans and even kill them to further its own needs and desires?
GROWTH ON A FINITE PLANET
Modern politicians and economists insist that growth is vital for 3 principal reasons:
- Firstly when we produce more, we consume more, raise our standard of living and live a happier life
- Secondly, as long as humankind multiplies, economic growth is needed merely to stay where we are
- Thirdly, we need growth to grow the pie for the poor
The obsession with economic growth might appear self-evident, but only because we live in the modern world.
Yet can the economy actually grow forever? Won’t it eventually run out of resources?
In order to rely on perpetual growth we must somehow discover an inexhaustible store of resources. One solution is to conquer new lands, however there are only so many islands and continents on Earth. We can conquer new planets, but that’s too far away, so we need a better method of expanding.
There are three kinds of resources to grow the economy – raw materials, energy and knowledge. With each passing generation science helps us discover new sources of energy or raw material, better machinery or production methods.
In order to provide every person in the world with the same standard of living as affluent Americans we would need a few more planets
But we only have this one.
If progress and growth do end up destroying the ecosystem, the cost will be dear to all species. An ecological meltdown will cause economic ruin, and might even threaten the existence of human civilisation. We could lessen the danger by slowing the pace of progress and growth.
If this year investors expect 6% return on their portfolios, in 10 years they could learn to be satisfied with 3%, in 20 years 1%, and then the economy will stop growing, yet the creed of growth rejects this idea.
Humankind finds itself locked in a double race. On one hand, we feel compelled to speed up scientific progress and economic growth.
A billion Chinese and Indians want to live like middle class Americans, and they see no reason why they should put their dreams on hold when the Americans are unwilling to give up their SUVs and shopping malls.
On the other hand, we must stay at least one step ahead of ecological Armageddon. Managing the double race becomes more difficult year by year, because every stride the Delhi slum dwellers get closer to the American Dream, it brings the planet closer to the brink.
In 2015 more ambitious targets were set in the Paris Agreement, which calls limiting temperature increases to 1.5 degrees. But many of the painful steps to reach this goal have conveniently been postponed to after 2030, effectively passing the hot potato to the next generation.
Current administrations are able to reap immediate political benefits from looking green, while the heavy political price of reducing emissions and slowing growth is bequeathed to future administrations.
HOMO SAPIENS IN THE 21ST CENTURY
Liberalism becomes obsolete
In the 21st Century, 3 practical developments will make the belief in liberalism belief obsolete:
- Humans will lose their economic and military usefulness, hence the economic and political system will stop attaching much value to them
- The system will continue to find value in humans collectively, but not in unique individuals
- The system will find value in some unique individuals, but these will constitute a new elite of upgraded super humans rather than the mass of the population
Humans are in danger of losing their economic value, because intelligence is decoupling from consciousness.
Which is more valuable, intelligence or consciousness? It was previously an amusing past time, now an urgent political and economic issue.
When AI, and Watson is able to assess you rather than a doctor, you will not get one, but an invite number of doctors available 24/7 in ever corner of the world. So even if it costs $100 billion to make work, in the long run it will be cheaper than training human doctors.
The most important question is, what will conscious humans do once we have highly intelligent non conscious algorithms that can do almost everything better? In the 21st century we might witness the creation of a massive new unworking class, people devoid of any economic, political or artistic value who contribute nothing to society.
Upgrading the rich
Angelina Jolie spent $3000 on genetic testing, and found out she had a gene with a high proportion of breast cancer, so she got a mastectomy and reconstructive treatments.
But in a world with a billion earning less than 2$ a day, they will never afford this, and the economic gaps are only increasing:
The 62 richest people are worth as much as the poorest 3.6 billion people These people together hold as much wealth as the bottom half of human kind
Medicine is undergoing a tremendous conceptual revolution:
- 20th century aimed to heal the sick
- 21st will increasingly aim to upgrade the healthy
Healing the sick was an egalitarian project, because it assumed a normative standard of physical and mental health that we should all enjoy. Upgrading the healthy is an elitist project, as it rejects the idea of a universal standard applicable to all and seeks to give some individuals an edge over others.
People want superior memories, above average intelligence and be a weapon in the bedroom. What would the elitist Indian, Brazilian or Nigerian elites prefer to do in the coming Century? Invest in fixing the problems of the hundreds of millions of poor, or in upgrading a few million rich?
In previous centuries the elite had a stake in fixing the problems of the poor because they were militarily and economically vital. In the 21st century the most efficient strategy (and ruthless) might be to let go of the useless third class carriages and dash forward with the first carriage only. In order to compete with Japan, Brazil might be better off with a handful of upgraded superhuman far more than millions of healthy ordinary worker
Where has all the power gone?
As data processing conditions change again in the 21st century, democracy might decline and even disappear. As both the volume and speed of data increases, institutions like elections, political parties and parliaments might become obsolete – not because they are unethical – but because they can’t process data efficiently enough.
The NSA may be spying on our every word, but to judge by the repeated failures of Americas foreign policy, nobody in Washington knows what to do with the data. Voters are beginning to sense that the democratic mechanism no longer empowers them.
The world is changing all around and they don’t understand how or why.
Technology is now moving so fast and parliaments and dictators alike are overwhelmed by data, they cannot process it quickly enough. Present day politicians are thinking on a far smaller scale than their predecessors a century ago. Consequently, in the 21st century politics is bereft of grand visions.
Government has become mere administration.
Government ensures teaches are paid on time and sewage doesn’t overflow.
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