It was a chance visit to the book fair held infront of IIUM library that I stumbled on this book, ‘Homo Deus’, written by Yuval Noah Harari, an Israeli historian in the History Department of the University of Jerusalem. He gained prominence after his previous book, ‘Sapiens’ that detailed the history of man from the past to the recent memory, which received plenty of praises especially from big names such as Bill Gates, Barack Obama and Elon Musk and that put him into my reading list.
A Ghost in the Shell?
‘Homo Deus’ (Literal for Divine Human) is the companion book to ‘Sapiens’, in which it tried to outline ‘a brief history of tomorrow’, whereas Sapiens covered ‘the history of yesterday’. In other words, it is a historian take on what the future might hold for the entire human race and civilization, by taking clues and insights from our current track record and state of technology. What makes Harari stands out from the rest that discussed about ‘Futurism’ is that rather than repeating on the old narratives of either ‘technology is only profoundly for our benefit,’ or that of ‘technology will bring the destruction to us,’ he took another path altogether…
That is, the changes that the new technology will bring to us will be so revolutionary and ground breaking it is unfathomable to predict fully even in a half a century time, as the changes might affect the way we think; a direct rewiring of the physical brain either through chemical or genetic means meant that the new human species that resulted from it will be unlike we have seen before, either in behavior or in thought.
Three Scourges of Humanity
However, let us not jumping the gun. Harari introduced his book by a brief explanation that for most of human civilization, the species as a whole are often at the mercy of nature; no civilization or political entities that existed before are strong enough to eradicate, let alone control the ‘3 scourges of humanity’ which are famine, plague and war/violence.
That all change with the advent of technological and scientific sophistication in the 21st century, working in tandem with the bureaucratic nation-state and the elaborate interconnectivity between states wrought by globalization and modern diplomacy. Famine and plague were non-existent in the developed and relatively well-off countries (The poorest of Americans are also the most obese, and most deaths are now caused by diet-related diseases and cancer, instead of deadly infectious diseases), for countries that do experience famine and plague, it is often related with the failure of local governance or civil war, instead of ecological failure (because that can be covered by modern irrigation, agriculture and usage of fertilizers).
Modern, bureaucratic and democratic nation states (with a pinch of apocalyptic nuclear weapons at their disposal) partaking in the free market system that in turn made globalization possible also curbed costly ‘total war’ and unnecessary, wasteful conflicts over raw resources, which is the norm for most of recorded history. Now, it is more profitable for China to be called as ‘the world’s factory’ through perusing their countless population for production and trade rather than waging a potentially apocalyptic, nuclear war over silly ideologies or raw natural resources.
The Discontent Man
When all of these scourges are covered, comes the genius in Harari’s insight, in which he postulated that, knowing the inquisitive and never content nature of human beings, they will find another cause or objective to achieve (much like when the US won the Cold War against the USSR as sole superpower, their focus changed from struggle against Communism to that of War On Terror). And with the accumulated wealth of scientific and technological knowledge gained through the pursuit to eradicate the ‘scourges’, they will instead focus it on, as what I understand, attaining (limited) divinity for themselves.
Humanism, Hubris and Steroids
Harari’s thought that this new focus is the logical conclusion of the humanism philosophy, which is to put Man to a god-like status by taking matter to their own hands. In that vein, he outlined two of the most plaguing aspects of human existence, the first being ruled by a basic pain/pleasure principle and the other being the problem of facing mortality. From an Islamic perspective, truly this is Man’s hubris par excellence.
He said that the current trend of medical technology had already achieve a limited control over some aspects of the two aspects; our pleasure and pain receptors are often modified by psychosomatic drugs and our healthcare science and services have reached to the level that anyone relatively well-off and live a healthy life can live up to the natural life expectancy age of 90 instead of dying prematurely.
Pulling over to the previous point of Man being impatient, discontent creature, Harari predicted that the next logical step for the health sciences would be altogether alter the human body by some means of modifications, that will break the human nature altogether and in its’ place a new species will emerge.
Waiting for (Homo) Godot?
He named this new phase of human species as ‘Homo Deus’, and the upgrade path will generally follow three routes, whichever reached first: biological/genetic engineering, cyborg engineering or that of engineering of non-organic, robotic beings. This process however, will follow a slippery slope manner; in which what began as a technology or science dedicated to heal or improve the lives of disabled person (like that of plastic surgery to treat World War 1 disfigured soldiers), might end up in its matured state, improving the already healthy and ‘perfect’ human being (cosmetic surgery business boom in South Korea?) The research industry on this field will be fueled by investors and businesses seeking profit on the lucrative notion that one can alter themselves for a longevity in life or something along that line.
With that in mind, he noted that after all the artificially imposed ‘evolution’ processes going on the well-to-do societies, a new kind of species will emerge in which it is so far away removed from the original human nature (to think of it, with no pain sensation, pure pleasure, no fear, always happy, hardworking to fault!) that it is simply unfathomable how these new species of ‘Man’ will think and react to their predecessor ‘Homo Sapiens’.
And with it, come the end of a ‘short’ review for this book. Allah Knows Best.