Book Review – Homo Deus

A promising book by Yval Noah Harari, it fails to deliver on the suggested topic of conversation. At least in terms of the amount of words committed to a technical description of the process of transcendence. Instead, it offers a surprise consolation in widening the conversation about the truth of the human mind. I think this happens due to the author’s intense background in philosophy and history. Interpreting people’s motivation to transcend their humanity rather than a labored exploration of enabling technical processes may be more likely in such case. When he does interpret the implications of technology to transcend humankind, he is yet fully detailed in his descriptions. The review of future conditions for humanity is credibly presented. Also, I found the conversation about motive highly accessible. Most of all, the insights revealed is useful knowledge.

A Long Introduction

The writing is pitch perfect, the analyses given and supporting arguments are done with perfect execution. The information, facts and historical look at society as a roadmap for the future is interesting. The book does an excellent job in sustaining the reader’s interest. The story is like a solid work of fiction that is difficult to put aside.

All the more remarkable that the book is not fiction. Quite the opposite. The work is a vast description of the nature of people expressed with sober scholarship rather than erudite creativity. Probably one of the most thorough distillations of how people’s minds really work. Here lies the problem. Not for me, but probably for many others.

The book is long. The first chapter is a good intro, but it seems the majority of the chapters are one massive intro for the final two or three chapters. The reason is the author is building the case for his closing arguments.

Perpetual Blindness

You can summarize 90% of the book as follows. Humans are premier experts in making up stuff in our minds. The way humans think and cooperate gives us the greatest ability to conquer Earth, Mars, animals, you name it. Humans control life and themselves through narratives. Our lives are situated upon a bedrock of commonly agreed upon things we mentally contrive. He describes this process of auto embellishing life very well, but perhaps he over did it a bit.

Chancellor Palpatine Loves Unlimited Power

Little of the book is actually about the Homo Deus concept itself. Rather, as he forewarns in the first chapter, he describes the evolution of mentality that has led to the quest to transcend humanity through either systems of thought or the technological enterprise. He is sceptical that humans will achieve this, but he does a great job cataloging the multiple facets of human nature to expose humanity’s desire to use technology to gain more power over life itself.

Historical, cultural, and ideological discussions seem to take up the majority of printed space. While you’d think there would be more discussion and review of technologies that enable a Trans-humanist reality, the overwhelming focus is to explain why people seek this future rather than the steps to achieve it. Along the way, the author shows the cost of this quest deposited across history.

What is it all really about? The author shows, in detail, that the technological drive is about power. Technology creates power for humans. Meanwhile, technology can’t create or sustain meaning or fill the emotional void. In the pursuit for more power, those who would acquire it nonetheless would simultaneously seek to retain the meaning and true fulfillment. Well, maybe those goals are incompatible.

Descriptive Stairs Without Handrails

Like I said, the book is long. Perhaps a genuine exploration of human nature and objective history takes a while since humans possess several layers. Notwithstanding the preset biases of readers, the author does a great job uncovering history, motivation, and context in a way that is accessible.

The material is rife with facts, analysis, and argumentation that is focused. A danger does exist. The book itself is a poison pill for anyone uncertain of their worldview. I’ve never said this before, it is one of the few books I would not recommend to most persons. Unless you’ve made up your mind about certain things and can capably measure paradigm deconstruction, the book is written well enough that it can upend cultivated cultural anchors leading into a pre-nihilistic disposition.

A book like this offering to unwind established notions and accepted conventions is not always a bad thing if it also mitigates with constructive structural substitutes. Certainly, that can be controversial as well, but acknowledges the impact of words. The facility with which the book bridges the mind to a meta-cognitive perception to observe the varying dimensions of human thought reflects its effective delivery. Read with caution because either some ignorance is bliss or better appreciated in its decline.

Above The Mountain’s Peak

Besides the reservations expressed, it is actually one of the most profound works of a kind of meta-cognitive illustration of the meta-psycho-sociological description of human thought and expression across all domains of human activity I’ve read. A few spheres of human activity receive more exploration than others. The presentation does seem to detour extensively to clarify contradictions among persons who seemed to project objective values in assessing reality, but who in other instances cater closely to fashionable narratives otherwise.

Technological Turning Point in Human History

Artificial Intelligence. What a loaded word. Anyway, I’ve held the view that AI will not become the sci-fi movie variety. Nowhere will there appear a race of machines like in the Matrix movies to enslave mankind. The Terminator movie franchise will remain fiction. Instead, humans think this may occur for purely emotional reasons. What this book revealed to me instead is that there will be a rise of AI, but of a different sort.

Rather than AI achieving consciousness, seeing their superiority and thus enslaving mankind, something else will occur instead. AI will continue to be cultivated in Silicon Valley, applied to smartphones, home automation, doctor offices, food services and every occupation and activity you know. AI will run driverless cars, drones, and trucks. Eventually, AI will make most decisions for people and they will do this on behalf of those who own, fund, and deliver the AI. A most indirect and remote way for one group of humans to enslave and conduct the lives of other humans through algorithms set to parameters they fund and commission. The evolution of control and power. That is what AI is destined to become. A collection of artificial minds each curated for specific tasks cultivated by the biological minds of a narrow group of human beings safely expressed upon the rest of humanity and nature itself.

Kirk’s Khan Awakens

Who will oversee the machines that oversee everyone else? The author makes a few predictions. First, he mentions people who have naturally encrypted minds. The kind of people who are too hard for other people, let alone advanced machines, to figure out. Second, people with natural talents or developed skills useful for sustaining the machines or doing things that the machines, despite their powers, can’ t or shouldn’t touch. Third, the general category of person who have upgraded themselves, mentally and physically to exceed the socio-economic norm for machine oversight of the general population. Authentically superior human style people whose minds, resources, and living existence is so different as to be far removed from the conventions of AI and society itself.

Data Driven Life

The author explains one way we are moving into this situation. Simply that no one is forcing anyone into this future. Humans are implicitly, indirectly chosing this future. Every time you manage your life by smart phone, wearable health tracker, smart watch, or a multitude of online encounters, the combine free choices of the present civilization is bringing about this reality. Due to human nature, we are drawn to convenience in which harm is hidden or easy to ignore. Therefore, the sea of data humans are collectively building is changing existence itself. AI will be formulated to eventually use this vast trove of unending data to enhance some, empower some, oppress or suppress others while converting the day-to-day lives of many into a highly orchestrated computer program.

Using Computers as a Concept for Life

To me, it seems the last chapter of the book is about humans getting too excited about computers. People are talking about computer technology like it has a personality. We have even gone so far as to say people’s bodies and minds are computer programs. The response from some is to treat humans, society, and nature as one big database and program. Figure out the program, the data relationships then you can transform existence and the universe.

The passion for computers has blinded some of the greatest minds and confined their thoughts to a type of scientism that is convenient by virtue of its narrow definition. The idea of modeling all of reality according to the conventions of computer technology and mathematics is perhaps tied to the success people have had using computer technology commercially. Just because some people got rich and powerful through technology doesn’t mean they are sources of truth in matters outside of creating, launching, and selling technology based solutions.

Computers, programs, IT process are useful tools to improve things, but they are just mechanisms. Personifying technology is no different from saying hammers and nails will take over the world because all the buildings are made from them. Although people may lock their eyes to computer screens, held in the hand or on a desk, or weave the Internet into refrigerators, walkways, and cars, those are just mechanized enhancements. A computer world, despite the human mind’s instant skillful ability to experience even contrived experiences as real, is still an artificially produced thing. As a result, the application of computers will remain dependent on humans as the fuel for their existence. Humans can exist without computers, but machines do not operate apart from people.

The idea of describing the human body and mind as a computer is simply the operation of Western Analytic Philosophy aka the age-old Aegean/European inclination to categorize extensively, aggressively deconstruct the definition of nature, atomize observed natural so as to dominate and control the parts and the whole. Therefore, there is no Homo Deus nor an AI Singularity. Rather, just a more refined set of techniques to allow humans to cope with nature, deal with each other and allow mankind to participate more actively in the process of natural selection.

Life existed well before machines and is too vast to surrender to the comparatively meager contrivances of man. Worry, doubt about the future existence of mankind are not so much about machines, but a subtle expression of concern that man is yet self-destructive. Are we to use these tools to benefit the broader tribe of humanity or as a detached method to diminish or hinder the broader population so as to increase the prosperity of a few.

The author’s description of a Silicon Valley religion centered around data and technology is on point. There does seem to be an elevation of technology as the unbiased, untouchable, inevitable way of the future. The author’s explanation of this new wave of belief and his questions about conscious and non-conscious intelligence are interesting but may prove irrelevant. I think on the day you understand consciousness itself, many questions we think are important give over to a new reality.

The Most High God

The AI doomsday predictions, the fear of Trans-humans supplanting Homo Sapiens are proxies for the sense of disparity between those who can harness resources (technical, political and otherwise) to the fullest and those who lack access and opportunity. The conflict between having things and accomplishments versus relationships and health among all.

An echo of the divine resides in the mind of man. Creation is the clue. The creative facility is threaded throughout creation itself including prominent creators such as humans. The traces then of ancestral creative activity is reflected in man’s own inability to cease creating and push to transcend however unevenly or, at times, misguided. The quest may lead somewhere or not, but as mankind advances more, it becomes more difficult to state that such advancement is random emergence but the result of well applied intent.

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