Homo Deus [Book Review]

I’m finally recovering from my broken clavicle, so this will be the last book review for a while. I can at least run again, but I still can’t throw my yo-yo without causing the screws in my bone to cause some uncomfortable pain throughout my shoulder.

So let’s just get to the book.

Homo Deus. And it’s quite the heavy book. It’s not excessively long, but it’s thick cover and pages make it feel more like a tomb that you could cast spells from. But I still read all 400 pages.

The odd thing I learned about this book is the reasoning why we should care a little bit about history. History gives us a perspective on why we are in the situations that we currently have to deal with. It also gives us light on the assumptions that we feel we have to live up to. The book gives us an example about lawns; how a symbol of wealth and royalty became an affordable commodity that now the middle-class family can maintain. It takes up so much time and effort, yet it’s one of the most prized components of owning a home.

I personally prefer berry bushes and rock gardens, but I do just enjoy a nice apartment. Minimal upkeep-based responsibilities!

And history is over two-thirds of this book. And you wouldn’t really think it because the description on the book is how the author, Yuval Noah Harari, is going to predict the future of human kind. This work is on the transformation of homo sapiens to the futuristic species “Homo Deus,” the next generation of humankind in possible evolution terms. But this is only in the last third of the book. You NEED the history to follow his thought process in order to be in alignment with these theories.

The history itself is very well written. And it’s in a form that I actually enjoyed. It wasn’t about “who did this”, and “this event did that”; the junk that you would find in textbooks. Homo Deus paints a bigger picture and summarizes these overflowing trends on politics, religion, science, and how our faith in these themes has evolved through time.

The book also details our faith in the 21st century of humanism, the belief that we are individuals that control our fate by our own free will. This has been paired with our massive success in science and technology. In the dark ages, the society looked to a higher being for a bountiful harvest, a healthy family, and their “pre-labeled” rank within society. Religions were the corporations of the past which collected taxes, owned land, and even decided judgement based by ancient scriptures and environmental signs.

But now we can fertilize our crops, vaccinate our kids, and go to school to develop our own career. When someone has a medical emergency, we may pray for a fast recovery, but that’s after we call 911 and show our faith in humanity for a medical remedy.

But the trend in science has not been able to prove that we are individuals, but more or less “dividuals” that respond to external inputs from what we sense in our environment and a computed output based on our neural wiring and our current biochemical/hormonal stimuli. We are essentially complicated algorithms with a side effect of conscience. And at this rate of technological progression, there will be a time where computers and electronic networks will surpass almost all human capabilities in terms of algorithmic calculations.

This book doesn’t really discuss the issue on what to do with all the jobless personnel. It’s about how we are slowly putting less faith in ourselves, but in the data that we are collecting about ourselves and having another algorithm crunch those numbers for us. We wear wristbands that count our steps. We have Amazon and Facebook track our likes and purchases that can then recommend more links to follow and items to buy. More people are putting pure faith in online matching sites to see who’s compatible with whom in terms of long-term relationships.

It’s now easy to read your genome and discover which traits you are prevalent in, so the medical system can deliver us preferred lifestyle choices. From controlling our binge-eating of high sugar content, to staying out of the sun more, to even having preventive surgery done before cancer can take place and becomes metastatic (spreading).

While we as a society have had drastic improvement in old age issues; including starvation, plague, and war; the trend has now moved forward towards enhancing the healthy. As companies and algorithms control the data, wealth, and land of the nation, it leaves the majority behind. Possibly all of humankind. This isn’t as much of a state of poor, impoverished population. Rather, it’ll look bleak compared to genetically enhanced and extremely wealthy minority that has more of a say in how the mass population’s faith in the data will guide their lives. And even then, this minority of “Homo Deus” will still be in the same predicament; the only difference is that they will have more money to spend.

Overall, there’s a lot more to the book that what I wrote about in this review. And regardless of all this information, the book flows extremely well. The content is well sewn together, and there’s enough detail to feel satisfied in each topic without losing the reader too much (and there’s 30 pages of bibliography to back up its facts).

I personally would enjoy having a personal algorithm take the load of personal decision making off my back, and at least give me a detailed schedule / to-do list that I could follow. I feel like I spend enough time worrying about how this single bachelor is going to spend his Friday evenings and the following weekends.

But in that same case, I wish there would have been more “predictive branches” of the possible futures that we could have. Yes, I know there’s no definitive way we can know how it will unfold. But it’s also fun to imagine what it will entail. But there’s still enough of that to truly give this book a good rating. Thank you, Harari.

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