Imagine a world where Silicon Valley billionaires have cracked the secrets to immortality, where babies are born beside computers that will monitor them throughout their eternal—or at least very long—lives, anticipating their every need. Imagine a world where art, religion, and the basic tenets of humanism have all gone the way of the typewriter. Imagine all the people...valuing networked connectivity above everything else. It isn’t hard to do if you’re Yuval Noah Harari, author of Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.
Homo Deus is a winding, scarily fascinating series of predictions about how technology—specifically nanotechnology, biotechnology, and information technology—will one day reshape the way humans organize, develop values, and ultimately evolve as a species.
Harari, a historian at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is known for the surprise best seller Sapiens (published in English in 2014), which retold human history from the Stone Age to the present as a story of the victory of networked behavior over individualism. Homo Deus picks up where Sapiens left off. It’s unclear whether the book is offered as a warning or a techno-fantasy. Like most science fiction, I suppose, it’s a little of both.
Because of rapid advances in technology, he predicts, humans (or at least Silicon Valley titans) will evolve into immortal, godlike beings and add a new branch to our evolutionary tree: the titular Homo deus. In the end, Harari describes a new religion, what he calls Dataism, in which connectivity is the source of all meaning, and the only experiences worth having are those posted to Facebook, Instagram, or whatever comes to replace them.
Inherent in this prediction/fantasy/nightmare is a contradiction: While technology makes humans more powerful, it also risks infantilizing us. If Harari’s future were ever to occur, we’d end up as stunted, imperious, demanding babies coddled by our all-powerful technology. So who would the real gods be then?