A small peak into the future with ‘Homo Deus’

After I’ve heard so many good things about the book Homo Deus by historian Yuval Noah Harari, I was happy to finally find the time to read it. In this book, Harari brings the discussion on humanity’s future and our quest to upgrade humans into gods.
Harari is, in my opinion, an excellent storyteller. Besides, he talks about topics that naturally interest me as I’m a trend researcher looking at sociocultural trends, such as free will and people’s pursuit of happiness in modern society. But the one topic that captivated me the most was Harari’s view on how the concept of “religion” has evolved and in turn changed people’s behaviours.

If I were to briefly summarise, Harari plotted a timeline of how people’s “religious” beliefs have evolved over time. In the past people believed in gods – they believed gods were responsible for the weather, for death, for wealth etc. Since a couple of centuries ago, we started to believe in ourselves and our power, better known as humanism. “The humanist religion worships humanity, and expects humanity to play the part that God played in Christianity and Islam, and that the laws of nature played in Buddhism and Daoism. Humanism expects the experience of humans to give meaning to the cosmos” (Homo Deus, p. 259).

However, looking forward into the future, Harari perceives dataism as the new religion. “Whereas humanism commanded: ‘Listen to your feelings!’ Dataism now commands: ‘Listen to the algorithms! They know how you feel.’” (Homo Deus, p. 457). The author explains that if we share data with, for example, wearable biometric devices that measure your blood pressure and heart rate 24 hours a day; allow Google and Facebook to read all your e-mails and keep a record of all your likes, etc; then the great algorithms of the Internet of Things could or would even tell you  whom to marry and which career to pursue. This change in religions could be seen as a shift from objective realities (religious mythologies and the human authority in humanism) to a fact based ‘religion’ (dataism).

What I liked the most about Homo Deus is that unlike most topical articles and books on technology, networks, and digitalisation that emphasise and speculate on the future, Harari takes a different approach – he maps out and highlights the historical events that have led up to and influenced our current beliefs. Eventually he ends with a peak into the future. It’s this historian approach that intrigued me the most.

P.S., If you are curious about Homo Deus and would like a sneak preview, you could watch this Tegenlicht documentary in which the author has been interviewed (Tegenlicht is normally in Dutch, but in this documentary all interviews are in English).

– Pauline Taks

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