Monday, May 15, 2017

Yuval Noah Harari's "Deus Homo": Book Review

I've been urging this book on friends. Harari's predecessor, Sapiens, gave a brisk take on humanity's past and present. In a few hundred lively pages, this Israeli thinker credited the power of "imaginary orders," fictions like money and theism driving trade and breaking our ancestors out of their foraging. He argued for the centrality of this drive, while acknowledging its many drawbacks and failures.

His follow-up takes us to the future, extrapolating from now. Transhumanism beckons with dreams, but at what cost? If we give over by algorithms to Google and Facebook our intelligence, summed up in data tracking our every, freely given move in exchange for "free e-mails and funny cat videos," what will happen to our long-cherished consciousness? Harari warns that corporations and capital don't need our bodies and minds. They only want our data, to control us better than we can ourselves.

He denies we have a stable self. Humanism's undermined. Why promote a supreme human anymore?

Harari takes in a lot of topics, applying as before pop culture adroitly, whether a song from his native land or Angelina Jolie's mastectomy as somehow relevant case studies. Numbers, he demonstrates, trump the desires that politics, faith, or games satisfy for now. When reality will be worked over by bean-counters and sold back to us as escapist fantasies we can immerse ourselves in, what then? How will our feeble attempts at transformation compare with the forces arrayed to lure us in, to be "gods"?

Futurist assure that all will benefit. Harari disagrees. Few can afford the luxury life-extension vitamins and regimens peddled even now. Why would overlords care about sustaining the 99%?

In conclusion, he leaves us pondering this fate we are rushing towards heedlessly. Concentration of resources no longer relies on taking territory, but on cyber-war. Amassing wealth can happen with clicks. As we give over to AI analyses all of our tasks, they will decide for us, and against us, likely. (Amazon US 11/11/16)

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