Yuval Harari:

"Sapiens" (2011) and "Homo Deus" (2015)

(Copyright © 2015 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
The Israeli historian Yuval Harari wrote "Sapiens", subtitled "A Brief History of Humankind", that is not a brief history of humankind at all but an interesting philosophical theory that humankind is now witnessing the rise of a new, god-less kind of religion: Dataism. This is a general movement that views the universe as ruled by data. That observation is right on time, as i have also written in my book on Artificial Intelligence and the Singularity.

The centerpiece of his theory is the struggle between humanism and technology. Humanism gives meaning to humankind's story in the physical, heartless machinery of the universe, but technology increasingly attacks the foundations of humanism by showing that there is nothing special to human life, thought and feelings.

Harari is at his best in describing how central to modern society is the covenant between humanism and science. Harari is at his worst making big statements without any foundation: most of the book is shallow if not empty.

As it is often the case, the continuation, "Homo Deus", is far less interesting: it recycles the same themes and it is a much more superficial study of humankind. A list of all the books that Harari should have read before writing "Homo Deus" would occupy many days of my life. The only difference between this new book and the previous one is that Harari points dangerously towards the Kurzweil-Moravec kind of futuristic (and wildly unscientific) thinking, except, of course, that he is a much better philosopher and therefore sees the existential dangers where others only see the material benefits. His really good point is that the search for immortality and omnipotence (i.e. divinity) will deprive human life of any meaning: humans will become little more than robots programmed to self-maintain forever with the help of technology. The other part of his pessimistic vision is that only an elite will benefit from the technologies of immortality, but i think that history has proven him wrong over and over again: all high-tech eventually becomes a commodity that every person in the world, even the poorest, can use (as has been the case with shoes, clean water, ..., mobile phones... and the Internet). His conjectures about liberalism and democracy are a bit naive. I suspect that there are bigger threats to the future of democracy than software robots.

Most of these thoughts were best expressed in "Sapiens".