Book Review: Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow

OK, on GR’s five-star scale, I have to give this book a six. It’s not quite at the literary and narrative level of Mutherjee’s “The Gene,” but it’s definitely a must-read. Of course, you first have to read Harari’s first book, “Sapiens,” which I said actually should be the standard history text for all high school students. “Sapiens” is a mesmerizing, thought-jarring examination of how we’ve become the human beings we are, though I also couldn’t help adding my own mildly cynical title – “Nothing matters.” “Homo Deus” is an examination of where we might be headed in our evolutionary path; my title for this sequel would be “And What If It Did?” The book is just a fascinating mixture of religion, philosophy, art, music, culture, architecture, politics, anthropology, science, medicine and more and the magic of it is how well Harari weaves all these disparate studies into a single cohesive reflection on what our future may be like. Along the way, there are many points on which I disagreed with his assessments of this point or that – I do not agree, for example, that Buddhism only says that the pursuit of happiness will only result in more misery because (in scientific terms) you just keep trying to chase more and more pleasurable sensations; I think Buddhism also deals much with how to avoid concentrating on misery and suffering. I also don’t agree that today’s U.S. government is trying to legislate happiness rather than the pursuit of happiness. And there are many other such points along the way where I found myself engaging with him in the book – but it’s also true that he actually engages you on many of these very points. There is a strong “free will vs. determinism” theme to the book, both philosophically and scientifically, and it’s very hard to come away without a sense that determinism wins. Still, the three questions with which he closes the book, definitely bear reflection and he gives us much with which to address them – Are organisms realy just algorithms and is life really just data processing? What’s more valuable, intelligence or conciousness? And what will happen to society and daily living when non-conscious but highly intelligent algorithms know us better than we know ourselves? These are intriguing questions and he gives you plenty of background and insight with which to address them.