Homo Deus

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow - Yuval Noah Harari

[I got a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

Interesting for the possibilities it presents, even if I’m not 100% convinced about some of the scientific explanations. On the other end, not being a specialist, I’m not discarding them either.

The writing style was very easy to follow and engaging, making it a pleasant read that I kept going back to. Some themes that could’ve been fairly dry, like recapping humanity’s history and evolution, were done so in a way that explained the essential parts without making them unpalatable.

A lot of theories in this book hinge on organisms being driven by algorithms, like machines are. Biological algorithms, that is: stimuli triggering responses that follow a set of instructions (see threat – produce adrenaline – react, that kind of instructions). Well, why not! I do enjoy my little world of believing that, because I’m a human being, I am exceptional, but if I think about it, I’m still an organic machine, with needs for fuel, and a limited self-repair ability. And so, as algorithms-based beings, there’s a fine line to thread between creating always more powerful computers, and maybe one day being driven by them, with their ability to process so much more data, and so much faster. AIs composing music or haiku, after being programmed with complex sets of algorithms to reproduce what would touch human ears and trigger emotions: something that is both fascinating (how far we’ve gone) and frightening (we’re not so unique anymore).

Following this, the book explores potential outcomes: if we end up building machines that can perform better and faster (like the Google automated car that will apply the brakes in time vs. a tired human who won’t react fast enough) , won’t we become obsolete? What can we do then, what kinds of occupations for us, and if none—can a sustainable economy grow out of this, making it sustainable for everybody, or will humans just have to go down the road of extinction?

In general, though I felt this book wasn’t going far enough in presenting those possibilities both exciting and scary (improved humans vs. free will as being only the product of our desires/algorithms). Sometimes I had the feeling I had already read something similar in a previous chapter. Somehow it seems to be better inspiration for a sci-fi novel than for actual theories about what may happen in the future?

Still, it’s food for thought. Also, from other reviews, it may be that a previous book (“Sapiens”) by this author would be more interesting, so I may be tempted to read it later.