Homo Deus, the bottom line:
I thought writing a quick Homo Deus Review would make sense considering that I recently published my thoughts on Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari’s previous book.
The good news is, like the previous one, this book is a page-turner. It reads like a story, but it gives you a lot of food for thought about mankind. The question is not to figure out where we come from, it is to guesstimate where we are going, technology helping (or not).
If you are interested in tech & innovation discussions, this book is among the ones you need to read, that’s for sure.
Yep! Yuval Noah Harari says humanity is doomed!
(My Homo Deus review).
My personal story with Homo Deus, A Brief history of Tomorrow is very easy to explain. Bluntly, I was at originally planning on buying Yuval Noah Harari’s book Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind and I decided to pick both.
Very original. I know.
But I liked the message sent by the books covers. One was showing a fingerprint. The other was showing a digital fingerprint. Something with electronic connectors into it. One was about the past. The other was about the future of our society.
And that was more than enough to catch my attention. So I got home with both books, I read them in turn, and I had a great time doing just that. Here’s why!
As usual, here is what you get on this page:
- A brief overview of the book (that includes my SMART takes).
- A much more comprehensive commentary of what the book is about, with the author’s main topics explained in detail.
- The book’s main themes, questions, and conclusions in bullet points.
- Why the book was worth my time, why it will be valuable to you, and additional reading suggestions if you are interested in the topic!
My Homo Deus review: a brief overview (for starters).
As usual, let me start this Homo Deus review with a brief comment – the more comprehensive part comes next.
To put things simply, Homo Deus is the story that follows-up on Sapiens. As Yuval Noah Harari writes it himself, Sapiens showed us where we come from, while Homo Deus shows us where we are going.
I guess one of the key conclusion of my Sapiens book review was that we – as Sapiens – are expansionist dangerous beasts which funnily enough depend on social constructs (such as family, communities, religions or capitalism) to strive.
In contrast, the key take of my Homo Deus review would be that we – still Sapiens – see ourselves as god-like beings. Not only did we conquer the world, we also need to challenge life and dominate it. Whatever it takes.
As to the reading experience itself, I would say that – as for the first book – I had a great time reading Homo Deus. Yuval Noah Harari’s writing style is sharp and easy to follow. All in all, the book is a real page-turner because it is written like a story. But Harari also gives the reader a huge amount of food for thought. Which is precisely what you want from a good book. Don’t you?
I’m getting into the details with a much more comprehensive book review below (keep reading!), but in short, here is what the book says:
My Homo Deus review: The comprehensive part
(now we’re talking).
Now, let me continue this Homo Deus review with a much more comprehensive comment of the book.
As I said before, Homo Deus looks at where we are going. And it does it by exploring four main ideas.
The first idea is that there is a “human agenda”. Need a hint? That would have something to do with immortality. The second and third ideas focus on how sapiens conquers the world and tries to give it a meaning. The fourth idea finally deals with a loss of control. As if we could do just about everything and anything without facing the consequences.
As usual, this more comprehensive part of the book review starts with the main themes and questions considered in the book – in bullet points. I’ll then elaborate on the themes more extensively. Let’s dig in!
The book in bullet points
Yuval Noah Harari explores these major themes:
- Human evolution.
- What humans want (and what that’s gonna cost).
He also asks a variety of questions, including:
- What is the next step in human evolution?
- How did we manage so far?
- What was the impact of the scientific revolution?
- Do we need a meaning in life?
- Or would we rather have power?
- Could Humanism be the next religion?
- What if Homo Deus lost control?
Sounds interesting, right? Now, let’s get into the details. Just keep reading!
My Homo Deus review – Theme #1: The Human Agenda.
A key take of this Homo Deus review is that there is a human agenda out there.
While Sapiens explained how mankind fought and struggled over 70000 years to become what it is, Harari says that a major consequence of innovation is that mankind can now start looking ahead.
The fear of wars, starvation, and plagues got all our attention for thousands of years. Until now, mankind focused on surviving. This is still the case in various parts of the world, sadly. But otherwise humans tend to move forward.
Famines and catastrophes are nowadays “managed” with policies and international organizations of all sorts. Health has improved and poverty has decreased. The way governments see wars has also changed, and in most minds, peace has become the norm.
Hence, what matters to most of us is the next step. And the next step is going to be about technology. Harari puts forward a duty to protect the planet, but for most people, the major stake is to keep going, and technology is the key to doing just that.
So, the big challenge (and the elephant in the room) is to keep surviving. Beyond life and death, I mean.
While people fight individually, for themselves, the real stake these days is the survival of mankind, once again. But survival isn’t about fire and war anymore. It is about studying genetics and making mankind stronger. Through knowledge accumulation.
In short? The same, but different. Which means that there is definitely an agenda.
My Homo Deus review – Theme #2: Taking over the world.
Now, this part of my Homo Deus review will remind you what I wrote in my Sapiens overview, that’s for sure. That’s because part of the book actually recapitulates the logic and conclusions of the first book – which serves as a basis.
We took possession.
As Yuval Noah Harari explains in his first book, the world used to be a sum of distinct ecosystems. And Sapiens sort of got them together, at a dear price.
Countless species have disappeared in the process, but the world is now ours. The price to pay to reach the successive revolutions we all know about, in sum.
We took possession of the earth with the agricultural revolution. We learned how to exploit resources of all kinds. Then the scientific revolution stepped in and new ways of seeing the world made us think differently.
In short, and that is THE key take of the book, we shifted from doing things “in the name of Gods” to doing things for ourselves.
Homo Deus wants superiority, but there is more than that.
So humanity and Homo Deus are synonyms to superiority, but there is much more. Another key take in this Homo Deus review comes as follows: humans live an experience in which they want to experience. Said differently, humans have feelings. They are conscious beings and they have a consciousness.
The question is, what is this consciousness about?
Are we souls or are we chemistry? Are we minds or are we a sort of code that could be decoded and cracked? Or, said differently, to what extent are we able to adapt through a little bit of cheating?
Connection is still a relevant concept, but it is changing.
The previous point leads to this one: Homo Deus has evolved from ape to sapiens because of its ability to coordinate itself.
In Sapiens, coordination was a matter of creating groups, communities, and social constructs to make everything work. And the same applies to the human god. Connecting with others is still the only way to move on. Except that, in modern times, the notion of connection is changing. Some call this the connection revolution, and it has an impact on how we will keep moving on.
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My Homo Deus review – Theme #3: Something between meaning and power.
Another difference between Sapiens – the struggling human – and Homo Deus is that while the former had to keep moving on to survive, the latter tries to give a sense to his life. Or to gain in power. It depends.
First, Homo Deus has learned how to use stories.
For a long time, stories were used to explain what didn’t make sense. Call that “religions” for instance.
Nowadays, the gods have lost part of their aura because things can be explained by science. Hence, the stories we tell stick around because we want them to, from the King to the success of Apple and Steve Jobs, stories simply have another role to play nowadays.
Stories have become a matter of convincing and describing. They help us work together and coordinate our actions. Somehow, they have become another way to give our lives a meaning.
Interestingly, this has also given a lot of authority to science. The question isn’t to find out whether science competes with religion anymore. It is to see how both interact with each other, from moral and ethics to pure facts.
At the same time, another key idea in my Homo Deus review is that sometimes humans are happy to trade meaning for power.
Do things make sense? Not always. But we need to stay in charge so we do whatever it takes to keep going.
Just meaning isn’t worth a lot if you can’t control your destiny, so we keep investing in growth and progress, whatever that means…
What that means is simple. If we have no (or few) gods left and no meaning either, what do we have? Yuval Noah Harari calls this a humanist revolution.
What matters is the way we live and experience life. We have faith in humans, we are our own gods in a sense, and our feelings guide us. That leads to new religions, such as socialism and capitalism. Or free markets, utilitarianism, and individualism.
This part of the book is very interesting. Just get it and see for yourself…
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My Homo Deus review – Theme #4: Losing control?
This leads us to the fourth big theme of this Homo Deus review, i.e. the loss of control.
Yuval Noah Harari has a point here. At the end of the day, freewill and individual freedoms become the norm, but how do they actually work? What guides our actions and decisions, after all?
His answer is fascinating: biology. Our brain reacts to experiences and it has control.
Freewill is outdated! Technology proves that biological factors rule our world. Hence, while we see Sapiens as the ultimate evolution of freedom, the reality is much simpler: we are not in charge!
What’s in for us next?
Beyond the idea that Sapiens is not in charge, the question of its future role is important. In fact, another take of this Homo Deus review is that humans will stop being useful.
With the rise of technology and Artificial Intelligence, the world will turn to non-conscious automated decision-making!
Hence, and as also argued by Martin Ford in The Rise of the Robots, the Homo Deus might become what Yuval Noah Harari calls a “useless class” of “superfluous people”.
Soon enough, technology will make decisions and build empires. And we won’t even know it. If you don’t believe that, have a look at the Tapscotts’ book on the Blockchain revolution and see for yourself. You’ll be amazed!
>> Related Reading: Don and Alex Tapscott think there is a Blockchain Revolution.
But what then? What happens when technology “hacks humanity”? Would that be the end of humanism? Harari says that we are already there. Health is about technology and genetics are one of the industries of the future (to use a term borrowed from Alec Ross).
The question is, how long will we be able to act as individual minds?
This brings us to the last step of this Homo Deus review: what comes next. Yuval Noah Harari is provocative here, but why not!
In Sapiens, Harari largely insisted that humans used social constructs such as religions, communities and doctrines to evolve. In Homo Deus, he writes that those constructs will keep evolving in ways we don’t expect.
In short, the next religions will come from the Silicon Valley. Call them “data-religions”, ”techno-humanism”, or “dataism”. The point is that new mindsets and priorities are about to dominate. And Harai calls that a new “mental spectrum”.
In this case, humanity would not be about sapiens and mankind anymore. It would be about data and technology, alongside humans.
My Homo Deus summary: Yuval Noah Harari’s main conclusions
The author comes to the following conclusions.
- The next step in human evolution depends on a human agenda and could lead to humans wanting to survive beyond death.
- So far we have progressed through coordination, but technology will be the next evolution factor.
- Scientific revolution helped to dissociate stories from mysticism and gods. Hence, we now act in our own name but not in the name of god anymore.
- We all try to give a meaning to our lives but in reality, we are more interested in power.
- Humanism, i.e. humans and experiences first could be the next doctrine, but the religion of the future might well be about technology and dataism.
- If that happened, however, humans would only have a very small role left to play.
Food for thought.
As usual, let me finish this Homo Deus review with some food for thought.
First things first, Homo Deus is an interesting read if you are into revolutions and evolutions discussions. Not to forget technology and automation.
For that, the Sapiens + Homo Deus books are a good pair. In the first, Yuval Noah Harari explores the issue of how mankind got there. In the second, he goes for technology and the various considerations that come with it.
Innovation is a big topic and I’ve explored it with various books on I’ll Make You Think Smart.
Some like Klaus Schwab or Alec Ross see the potential of it. In fact, Ross’ book really goes into the details as to what the industries of the future could be and his book is a fascinating page-turner. But others like Martin Ford rather see the dramatic aspects only.
>> Related reading: Here’s what Alec Ross thinks of The Industries of the Future.
>> Related reading: Klaus Schwab sees a Fourth Industrial Revolution, do you?
Yuval Noah Harari does things a bit differently. His tone is not just a matter of promoting, complaining or denouncing. He tells a story, he takes both sides into consideration, and he asks questions. That’s it, and that’s good enough for me.
Your turn now, get the book!
That’s it for now, but don’t stop here! My reading notes are meant to give you a very comprehensive overview of the books I read and some food for thought for the month. That’s why I’ll Make You Think SMART is the Kick-Ass Book Reviews blog after all!
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