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Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Review: Homo Deus - A Brief History of Tomorrow

Sequels are rarely as good as their example, but I've had good luck with non-fiction, as long as the author picked a completely different topic instead of rehashing the same-old same-old. Unfortunately, the title, Homo Deus should have given me a clue.

Sapiens was a great book, covering Humanity's past and the rise of civilization. Homo Deus is Harari's attempt to predict the future. Let me try to summarize his argument in this book:

  • The rise of civilization was a result of human organization: human beings learned to believe the big myths (such as the existence of money, god, or the social order) in order to organize to create big projects (like irrigation, the pyramids, or expensive exploration).
  • The rise of science and technology created conflicts between the scientific enterprise and religion ("everything we know is already in the holy book"), and demanded a new "religion" that reflected the new reality: humanism.
  • Humanism values the preciousness and uniqueness of human experience. Hence, one man one vote, equality under the law, democracy, and the emphasis on freedom.
  • The further development of science and psychology means that the human experience is no longer unique: how can you say that you have a unique self if a drug or electrodes placed in your brain can modify your experience so distinctly that you're no longer the same person?
  • The new religion that reflects this reality is "dataism". Collect and use data to choose which unique self you want to be, and share that data with the internet so everyone can learn from and use that data.
  • Alternatively, our AI overlords and algorithms might make that selection for us.
I won't claim that the above 6 bullet points summarizes the whole book, but safe to say that the above is enough for you to decide whether it's worth your time. If someone else had summarized the book like this before I read it, I don't think I would have needed to read it.

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