Brief Book Review: Homo Deus
By Yuval Noah Harari
This is not an apocalyptic scenario. Algorithms won’t revolt and enslave us. Rather, they will be so good at making decisions for us that it would be madness to not follow their advice.
The first two thirds of Homo Deus feel like Sapiens, only with a whole lot more isms. Liberalism, humanism, dataism, capitalism, nationalism, socialism. I am much more to blame for personal ignorance of these concepts than Yuval Noah Harari. For me, these -isms represent transient, abstract ideas that I find hard to grasp, and this contrasted with my refreshingly down-to-earth experience reading the author’s first book telling ‘a brief history of humankind’.
However this intellectual shift represents the author’s overarching message in Homo Deus. According to Harari, we are on the verge of defeating humanity’s last concrete adversary: death itself. Once death joins famine, plague and war as previously thought inevitabilities of human existence, what have we left to discuss but the meaning of life? It is abstract ideologies like humanism and liberalism that will dictate human progress, and it’s more important than ever to consider such ideologies as we ride into an uncertain future.
The latter third of Homo Deus makes good on its promise to tell ‘a brief history of tomorrow’. After what seems like a whole lot of groundwork, Harari extends his ideas into the future and explores a time when computer algorithms understand us better than we do (which the book points out is less difficult than it sounds given most people don’t really know themselves well).
Computers will not only know which chess move to make, but also which movie we should to see, where to go on holiday, what to study in college, which job offer to accept, even whom to date and marry; using an impossible web of information far outstripping anything our puny brains could process. Once computers surpass our own decision making abilities, why would we not follow its advice?
Homo Deus won’t satisfy readers looking to delve deeper into ideas surrounding AI, free will and the future of the labour market. What it does do is give sceptics a realistic vision into this bizarre future, and a good foundation to approach these sci-fi concepts with an open mind.