Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow

In his new book, Yuval Noah Harari challenges the reader with tough questions about our technology-fuelled future and what it holds for the human species.

Yuval Noah Harari, who made a big splash with his book Sapiens — A Brief History of Human Kind — now takes a run at questioning our future with Homo Deus — A Brief History of Tomorrow.

His new book charts our evolution from newly settled tribal agrarians through city and nation dwellers, through products of the Industrial Revolution and modern science up to where we find ourselves now — in the age of technology.

His premise (still debatable, this reviewer thinks) is that mankind has conquered plague, famine and war as uncontrollable inevitabilities and is now pursuing the godlike goals of immortality, eternal pleasure and absolute power. This is being done through breakthroughs in areas such as genetic engineering, designer pharmaceuticals, artificial intelligence and the Internet.

Harari, a professor of history at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is a brilliant thinker with the ability to connect the dots throughout a wide geographical and historical swath. Adroitly referencing Gilgamesh, the Bible, Chekov, Freud, Nicolae Ceausescu, and many other history makers who came in between them, he illustrates insightful points about the evolution of man and society and draws parallels not drawn before. How, for instance, does the adoration of Elvis Presley mirror the rise and power of an Egyptian pharaoh? (No spoilers here; you have to read the book.)

His thesis is that homo sapiens, having for the most part reached the apex of humanism, are now on the cusp of a technological revolution so vast, complex and fast-moving that it threatens to engulf and change the very nature of the species.

Homo Deus is no easy read; it challenges the reader with tough questions. What is the difference between the mind and the brain? What is consciousness? What makes us human? Is there such a thing as a soul?

If technology is indeed changing the world in a profound way, what will it mean for mankind? Will we still prize individual freedom? Equality? Or will the masses simply become slaves of the few who own the technology, reduced to an animal state and exploited in the way homo sapiens have exploited cows, horses, pigs and other “lesser” animals?

Once Big Data takes over as the new religion, as Harari thinks it already has, intelligence will be decoupled from consciousness, and he asks what this will mean. Will we be reduced to algorithms, controlled by the technology we created to help us control the world? Will Google know us better than we know ourselves? Will we still value human life? Can we stay one step ahead of ecological disaster or will we become extinct as we are extinguishing other species?

To his credit, the author does not supply superficial answers. Instead, he invites the reader to think intelligently about questions facing all of us. When human beings control the planet, when we become gods, what will we do with it? And what will we do with ourselves?