Book Summary: Homo Deus

Part I – Homo Sapiens Conquers the World

Chapter 1: The New Human Agenda

The End of Homo Sapiens

  • Across time, wars have become responsible for less deaths. Sugar has become more dangerous than gunpowder.
  • Whereas in ancient agricultural societies human violence caused about 15 per cent of all deaths, during the twentieth century violence caused only 5 per cent of deaths, and in the early twenty-first century it is responsible for about 1 per cent of global mortality.
  • For the first time in history, more people die today from eating too much than from eating too little; more people die from old age than from infectious diseases; and more people commit suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists and criminals combined.
  • For the average American or European, Coca-Cola poses a far deadlier threat than al – Qaeda.
  • Previously, the main source of wealth was material assets such as gold mines, wheat fields and oil wells. Today, it is knowledge. But you cannot invade Silicon Valley and loot them.
  • Terrorists are like a fly that tries to destroy a china porcelain shop. The fly is so weak that it cannot budge even a single teacup. So it finds a bull, gets inside its ear and starts buzzing. The bull goes wild with fear and anger, and destroys the china shop. This is what happened in the Middle East in the last decade. Islamic fundamentalists could never have toppled Saddam Hussein by themselves. Instead they enraged the USA by the 9 / 11 attacks, and the USA destroyed the Middle Eastern china shop for them.
  • Success breeds ambition, and our recent achievements have pushed humans to set more ambitious goals. Having secured unprecedented levels of prosperity, health and harmony, and given our past record and our current values, humanity’s next targets are likely to be immortality, happiness and divinity.
  • Having reduced mortality from starvation, disease and violence, we will now aim to overcome old age and even death itself. Having saved people from abject misery, we will now aim to make them positively happy. And having raised humanity above the beastly level of survival struggles, we will now aim to upgrade humans into gods, and turn Homo sapiens into Homo deus.
  • More thinkers and scientists address this openly today. Gerontologist Aubrey de Grey and inventor Ray Kurzweil are examples. In 2012, Kurzweil was appointed as director of engineering at Google, a year later the company launched a Calico, whose mission was to solve death. Google is investing 36 percent of its 2-billion-dollar portfolio in life science businesses, including many ambitious life-extending projects.
  • We will always strive to conquer death.

The Pursuit of Happiness

  • Epicurus believed that the greatest good was to seek modest, sustainable pleasure in the form of a state of ataraxia (tranquility and freedom from fear) and aponia (the absence of bodily pain) through knowledge of the workings of the world and limiting desires
  • Epicureanism was rejected in the past, but today is the default view. Epicurus saw the pursuit of happiness as an individual’s quest, but modern thinkers saw it as a collective effort.
  • Bentham wanted the greatest good for the greatest number of people. He called on society to collaborate not for the glory of the king, but so that everyone would be better off.
  • It is tempting to think that peace and prosperity will bring happiness, but Epicurus warned us of this – he told us that becoming happy was hard work. The blind pursuit of fame and wealth will bring misery, he called for moderation in everything.
  • Despite the many technological and the political breakthroughs that took place over the last 50 years, the reported subjective well-being of Americans was the same in the 1950’s and the 1990’s.
  • We have a psychological and biological ceiling for happiness. Psychologically, we are only happy when reality meets our expectations, not when we live in peace and prosperity. In fact, the better our conditions, the greater our expectations become.
  • Biologically, we are limited by our capacity to feel pleasure and pain. In fact, it doesn’t matter what happens in the external world, but only what happens biochemically within our brains. We don’t feel angry because something bad happened in the world, we feel angry because that event created a biochemical reaction that made us feel angry. We are reacting to our own anger.
  • Yet, being dependent on pleasure is risky, since the more we crave it, the more it controls our lives, and prompts us to get more of it – often at the expense of more important things.
  • Some people think it’s the journey, and not the experience itself, that makes us happy, but this hardly matters, since all it means is that our experience of pleasure is varied.
  • Because our biochemical system is central to our happiness, so much effort has been invested in rigging this system – through psychiatric drugs.
  • 2,300 years ago, Epicurus warned about the extreme pursuit of pleasure, saying that it would lead to misery. Later, Buddha made a more radical claim, that the pursuit of pleasure was itself the root of suffering – that our feelings were ephemeral vibrations that left us craving for more, instead of satisfying us.
  • To become happy, we need to slow down our pursuit of pleasure, not accelerate it.
  • To the capitalist, happiness is pleasure, and any lack of pleasure is pain.
  • Every day millions of people decide to grant their smartphone a bit more control over their lives or try a new and more effective antidepressant drug. In pursuit of health, happiness and power, humans will gradually change first one of their features and then another, and another, until they will no longer be human.

The Human Experience

  • Over thousands of years, we have discovered new tools and knowledge, but our deep brain structures are the same. We can relate to Biblical stories and Shakespeare because they still resemble our own experiences. But the turning point will come when technology enables us to engineer human minds. That is when human history will come to an end.
  • Up till now increasing human power relied mainly on upgrading our external tools. In the future it may rely more on upgrading the human body and mind, or on merging directly with our tools. The upgrading of humans into gods may follow any of three paths: biological engineering, cyborg engineering and the engineering of non-organic beings.
  • No clear line separates healing from upgrading. Medicine almost always begins by saving people from falling below the norm, but the same tools and know-how can then be used to surpass the norm. Viagra began life as a treatment for blood-pressure problems. To the surprise and delight of Pfizer, it transpired that Viagra can also overcome impotence. It enabled millions of men to regain normal sexual abilities; but soon enough men who had no impotence problems in the first place began using the same pill to surpass the norm, and acquire sexual powers they never had before.
  • It would surely come in handy if the little girl had a stronger-than-normal immune system, an above-average memory using genetically engineered babies. And even if you don’t want that for your child – what if the neighbours are doing it for theirs? Would you have your child lag behind? And if the government forbids all citizens from engineering their babies, what if the North Koreans are doing it and producing amazing geniuses, artists and athletes that far outperform ours?
  • But we cannot hit the brakes on progress. First, we don’t know where the brakes are. Second, hitting the right brakes would collapse the economy.
  •  The paradox of knowledge is that, Knowledge that doesn’t change behavior is useless, and knowledge that does change behavior is quickly forgotten. The more data we have and the better we understand history, the faster history alters its course, and the faster our knowledge becomes outdated. When Marx’s diagnosis was adopted, capitalist countries in the west improved the conditions of their workers – thus Marx’s predictions did not come true.

Chapter 2: The Anthropocene

The Garden of Eden

  • At present, more than 90 per cent of the large animals of the world are either humans or domesticated animals.
  • In the Garden of Eden myth, humans are punished for their curiosity and wish to gain knowledge. God expels them from paradise. But in the myth about Newton and the apple, nobody berates the scientist for his efforts – just the opposite.
  • Teachers all over the world propagate the story of Newton to encourage curiosity – implying that if we knew enough, we could create paradise here on earth.
  • But God is present in the Newton myth – Newton himself is God.
  • When enough scientific knowledge is accumulated, humankind will become divine – we will come full circle to the biblical Tree of Knowledge.
  • Archaic hunter-gatherers were just another species of animal. Farmers saw themselves as the apex of creation. Scientists will upgrade us into gods.

Animal-Human Relations a Prelude?

  • In recent years, many of our relationships with animals have come into question. We have become much more interested in the lives of lower life forms, but perhaps this is because we will become one ourselves, not very long from now.
  • Artificial Intelligence will undoubtedly be more intelligent than we are, and if that is true, should we then surrender our fate to it? Should we allow it to kill a human if it determines that it is the best course of action? And if it shouldn’t be allowed to do that, why should humans be able to do so with pigs and cows?
  • Perhaps humans have a magical spark that is unique to us. But if that were the case, where did it come from, and how can we be sure that AI cannot attain it?

Chapter 3: The Human Spark

Is There a Human Spark?

  • Scientists have not found that humans or animals have souls, but scientists doubt the existence of souls not because of lack of evidence but because the idea of “soul” contradicts fundamental principles of evolution. This is why the theory of evolution is attacked so vehemently by Christians.
  • Almost half of Americans believe the Biblical creation story literally, as reported in a Gallup poll in 2012.
  • The theory of relativity or quantum mechanics, even though they do not appeal to our common sense, rarely makes anyone angry. But evolution challenges our notion of what it means to be an individual – and this even makes some secularists uncomfortable.
  • “Individual” literally translates to “what cannot be divided.” That is, our true self is a holistic entity, that cannot be divided. The belief further implies that while everything else changes – our brains and body – we will essentially remain the same person from birth until death and beyond.
  • But the only part of us that is unchanging is not a soul, but DNA, and the latter is a vehicle of mutation.

Why the Stock Exchange has no Consciousness

  • Another reason we think humans should be treated with more dignity than say, robots, is that we have consciousness. We know what it is like to feel certain things. But what about animals?
  • In the days of Descartes, people thought that animals did not experience anything.
  • Before discussing whether animals are conscious, let us examine what science knows about minds and consciousness in general.
  • In truth, science knows very little about mind and consciousness. One accepted idea is that electrochemical reactions in the brain create consciousness and that our mental experiences is a form of data processing. But no one can explain how the subjective experiences of anger or love emerge, as a result.
  • Perhaps consciousness is something that emerges after a system becomes large enough. The brain is very complex, there are over 80 billion neurons connected through intricate webs. The interaction of these neurons may create consciousness.
  • When one car moves, nothing happens, but when millions move at the same time, we get traffic jams. When traders buy and sell a few stocks, nothing out of the ordinary emerges, but when enough traders do so, it may lead to an economic crisis that no one can explain.
  • But this explanation does not explain anything, since a traffic jam can be understood by examining all of its component parts. If you follow each car, you will be able to understand why a traffic jam occurred. “Traffic Jam” is just a word we use as a shorthand for a complicated situation, but we cannot do the same with consciousness. “Anger” is not just a shorthand; it is a real subjective feeling that exists outside the realm of electrochemical reactions.
  • The more we try to map our brain, the more redundant the mind becomes. If nothing happens in the mind, that does not take place in the brain, then why do we need a mind? And if something does happen in the mind, that does not take place in the brain, where does it happen?  
  • Our ethical systems and legal systems are built on the presumption that minds exist – not so much that brains exist, we need agency.
  • The alternative is to view all the conscious experiences of living things as a form of mental pollution – and this is the best theory of consciousness that modern science can give us.

The Wrong Angle

  • Maybe the problem is that the life sciences see life is about data processing. In the same way that scientists used to think about brains and minds as steam engines, today’s scientists see them resembling computers.

Large Scale Cooperation

  • History has been kind to groups that cooperate well – this may be our greatest advantage over animals and robots. The story behind any successful revolution is effective cooperation. Rome conquered Greece not because they were better toolmakers or thinkers, but because they cooperated better.
  • The communists were successful at consolidating power at first through small numbers of highly organized people. They kept their grip on power until the late 1980’s.
  • In 1989, the communist dictator of Romania, Ceausescu, organised a mass demonstration of support in Bucharest. In the previous months, the Berlin Wall had fallen and support to Eastern European countries dissipated. The demonstration was an attempt to prove to the world, that he was still popular and feared, despite these developments.
  • But cooperation, no matter how successful, cannot determine individual worth. A beehive is more powerful than a butterfly, but is a bee superior to butterfly? Our worth as a species is a result of our cooperation, but why should this be enough reason to think of ourselves as superior to other species?
  • An inter-subjective reality is when people share a common belief. Most people derive meaning from their lives by reinforcing the beliefs of their tribes, but history shows us that these beliefs are always in flux – what is the most important thing for one generation will not matter to the next.

Part II – Homo Sapiens Give Meaning to the World

Chapter 4: The Storytellers

The World of Stories

  • Humans experience the physical world, but also live in the world of stories (money, gods, nations, corporations). Technology in the next century will likely make these fictions more powerful.
  • Our ability to tell stories started during the Cognitive Revolution 70,000 years ago – when we could talk about things that existed in our imagination.
  • 12,000 years ago, the Agricultural Revolution helped strengthen inter-subjective networks (people that shared the same fictions).
  • The Sumerian gods functioned as legal entities that could own fields, slaves, give and receive loans, pay salaries and build canals and damns. Today, the corporations do.
  • But the Sumerians had difficulty remembering details about their gods – until the invention of money and writing 5,000 years ago. This allowed them to collect taxes and establish kingdoms.
  • Because of writing, humans could organize societies in an algorithmic fashion. Algorithms explain what emotions are and how brains function. They can be a set of methodical steps to make calculations and resolve problems. People in illiterate societies make these calculations in their head. People in literate societies organize into networks, so that each person is a small step in a large algorithm – and it is the algorithm that makes important decisions (bureaucracy).

But it Works

  • Fictions allow us to cooperate better. The price we pay is that these fictions determine the goals of our cooperative system.
  • Proof of success for each cooperative system is defined by the goals that have been presupposed.
  • To a Muslim mullah, success would constitute an ever-growing Muslim population. For a school principle, it would be improved exam results, while for pharaonic Egypt, it would be taxation, irrigation, and pyramid construction.

Chapter 5: The Odd Couple

Science and Religion are an Odd Couple

  • It is often said that God helps those who help themselves. This is a roundabout way of saying that God doesn’t exist, but if our belief in Him inspires us to do something ourselves – it helps.
  • Ancient religious myths were helpful when they called people into action that was beneficial to them but were not objectively true. Modern science is a collective story, but it is not a myth – it is based on reality. Antibiotics will cure infections whether you believe in them or not.
  • For these reasons, one may suspect that we are moving towards a world without fictions, but this not necessarily true. Science may help us build the technology to make our existing fictions and more accessible, it may allow us to blur the lines between reality and fiction.
  • Religion shouldn’t be defined as a belief or lack thereof in gods, but as anything that “confers superhuman legitimacy on human social structures”, this may be Christianity or Communism.
  • Religion is interested above all in order. It aims to create and maintain the social structure. Science is interested above all in power. Through research, it aims to acquire the power to cure diseases, fight wars and produce food.

Religion is a Deal; Spirituality is a Journey

  • Academic studies that require a few years of studying, passing exams, before acquiring a job is a deal. But academic studies that take you to an unknown destination is a spiritual journey.
  • Why is the latter considered a spiritual journey? The origins are in dualistic religions of the past that believed in two gods, one good and one evil. The good god created pure souls that lived in the world of spirit. The bad god, Satan, created another world made of matter, where everything disintegrates. To breathe life into his world, Satan tempted souls from the world of spirit and locked them up in material bodies.
  • This is why humans are good souls trapped inside evil bodies. After the body disintegrates, and the soul can escape into the spiritual world, its craving for earthly pleasures draw it back to another body. The soul thus moves from body to body, wasting its time on food, sex, and power.
  • Dualism calls on people to break free from these material shackles and embark on a journey to the spiritual world. During this quest, we must reject material temptations and deals. Because of this legacy, any journey where we deny the deals and temptations of the material world is a “spiritual journey.”
  • Institutionalized religion conflicts with spirituality since it tries to cement the worldly order instead of escaping it. It is not threatened by people who preoccupied with food or sex, but by spiritual truth-seekers like Luther, who refused to settle for rituals and deals offered by the church.

Chapter 6: The Modern Covenant

  • The deal of modernity is simple: it is the exchange of meaning for power.
  • Throughout history, we have believed that we were part of a cosmic plan. This plan gave people’s lives meaning but placed strict limits on what they could do.
  • Modern culture rejects this belief – the new belief is that life has no script; the universe is blind and purposeless. During our brief stay on earth, we can do whatever we want, and then we will never be heard of again when we are gone.

The Modern Motto is ‘Shit Happens’

  • But if shit just happens, then there is no script to bind our behavior. We can do whatever we want, if we can find a way. Our ignorance is our only impediment. Wars, plague, and droughts don’t offer us meaning, they are just problems for us to eradicate.
  • The modern deal dangles the possibility of omnipotence in front of us, since it is constantly researching, inventing, and discovering, yet the abyss of nothingness is below us, supplementing our lives with constant existential angst.
  • In ancient times, economies did not grow, because people did not launch new ventures. They did not launch new ventures, because credit was not available. Credit was not available, because there was no trust in the future.
  • This has all changed in the modern era. Even epidemics are opportunities. If enough new ventures succeed, people will have more trust in the future, more credit will be made available, and the economy will grow, as will science.
  • When capitalism encourages people to specialize in jobs that take away family time, and this becomes the expected dogma, then it is entering the religious domain. The gift of capitalism is proving that not everything is a zero-sum game.
  • The greatest scientific discovery was the discovery of ignorance – knowing how much more there is to know.
  • The Communist Manifesto accurately describes the nature of the modern world, that it constantly requires uncertainty and disturbance. That all relations and ancient prejudices are wiped away, and new structures become old before they can ossify. It is difficult for people to live in such a world, or to govern it.
  • The value of growth in modernity keeps people in the rat race and keeps the world functioning. Governments fear stagnation and constantly aim for more growth, while as individuals, we are pushed to make more money and improve our standards of living. This value was not a hard sell, since humans are greedy by nature.
  • But capitalism has its shortcomings, we are going on a ride that we can neither understand nor control. On one hand, we are experiencing an ecological disaster, but production and growth have remained constant. In the long run, despite some economic crises and wars, we have managed to overcome famine, plague, and war – things that were thought impossible to overcome.

Chapter 7: The Humanist Revolution

  • While the modern deal does not include deriving meaning from a cosmic plan, it does allow you to derive meaning independently – and this is how humanism succeeds what came before it.
  • For ages, prophets and philosophers thought that the death of God would pose a great threat to law and order. But today, Muslim Syria is much more violent than atheist Netherlands.
  • Humanism states that personal and universal meaning can be derived from internal experiences.
  • The rise of humanism was a result of centuries of hard work by writers and thinkers who dispelled the notion that humans were merely corruptible beings who could not determine what was considered good or beautiful. Today, ‘the voter knows best’ and ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ are accepted truths.
  • The death of God proclaimed by Nietzsche describes a world where God has become an abstract idea that people accept or reject.
  • In medieval Europe, the chief formula for knowledge was: Knowledge = Scriptures × Logic. If people wanted to know the answer to an important question, they would read scriptures and use their logic to understand the exact meaning of the text.
  • The Scientific Revolution proposed a very different formula for knowledge: Knowledge = Empirical Data × Mathematics. If we want to know the answer to some question, we need to gather relevant empirical data, and then use mathematical tools to analyse them.
  • No amount of data and no mathematical wizardry can prove that it is wrong to murder. Yet human societies cannot survive without such value judgements.
  • As humans gained confidence in themselves, a new formula for acquiring ethical knowledge appeared: Knowledge = Experiences × Sensitivity.
  • This formula has also changed the way we see war. Historical narratives war of Shakespeare, Homer, and Virgil described what the emperors and heroes did. Ordinary soldiers were just a detail. But over the last two hundred years, the emperors have been pushed aside, and the feelings of soldiers have become important, as described in films such as Platoon, All Quiet on the Western Front, Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, and Blackhawk Down.
  • It is liberal politics that believes the voter knows best. Liberal art holds that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Liberal economics maintains that the customer is always right. Liberal ethics advises us that if it feels good, we should go ahead and do it. Liberal education teaches us to think for ourselves, because we will find all the answers within us.

The Humanist Wars of Religion

  • There are three types of humanism and each would respond differently to the following question: Who made better music, Beethoven or Chuck Berry?
    • Liberal humanism: It all depends on what your feelings tell you.
    • Socialist humanism: it doesn’t matter because musical tastes are defined social forces acting on people.
    • Evolutionary humanism: Clearly Beethoven, he is superior in quality.
  • These groups blamed each other for the world’s problems for almost a century, and battles for control. Communist and Fascist regimes took over many countries where liberal ideas were exposed as naïve if not dangerous. Just give people freedom and they will live in peace? Yeah right.
  • The Second World War started off has a conflict between a mighty liberal alliance and an isolated Nazi Germany. Now we remember it as a great liberal victory, but it hardly looked like that at the time. The liberal alliance had a higher GDP than Germany.
  • Eventually, the Germans lost because the liberal countries allied themselves with the Soviet Union, which paid a higher price for the conflict. 25 million Soviet citizens died, compared to half a million Britons and half a million Americans.
  • Communism deserves a lot of credit for the defeat of Nazism, it was also the great beneficiary of the war, at least in the short term.
  • The Soviet Union was an isolated communist pariah and emerged out of the war as one of two global superpowers, and the leaders of an expanding international bloc (Eastern Europe, China). Revolutionary and anti-colonial groups look admiringly at Moscow and Beijing, while identifying liberals as the racist European empires.
  • These empires, when they collapsed, were replaced by military dictators or socialist regimes, not liberal democracies. Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet premier, famously said to the liberal West ‘Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will bury you!”
  • In the 1960’s and 1970’s, many Third world leaders and First World intellectuals believed this to be true. The world ‘liberal’ was a term of abuse in many universities in the West. Students in Europe and the U.S hung Che Guevara’s heroic portrait over their beds.
  •  In 1968 the wave crested with the outbreak of protests and riots all over the Western world. Mexican security forces killed dozens of students in the notorious Tlatelolco Massacre, students in Rome fought the Italian police in the so-called Battle of Valle Giulia, and the assassination of Martin Luther King sparked days of riots and protests in more than a hundred American cities. In May students took over the streets of Paris, President de Gaulle fled to a French military base in Germany, and well-to-do French citizens trembled in their beds, having guillotine nightmares.
  • By 1970, the world had 130 countries, only 30 of them were liberal democracies.
  • In 1975, the liberal camp suffered its most humiliating defeat. The war ended with the North Vietnamese David defeating the North American Goliath. Soon after, the communism took over Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia.
  • People all over the world watched as helicopters evacuated the last Americans from the rooftop of the American Embassy in Saigon. Many were sure that the American Empire was falling, and this was right before Indira Gandhi proclaimed the Emergency in India – it looked like the world’s largest democracy was turning into another socialist dictatorship.
  • Liberal democracy increasingly looked like an exclusive club for ageing white imperialists, who had little to offer the rest of the world, or even their own youth. Washington presented itself as the leader of the free world, but most of its allies were either authoritarian kings (such as King Khaled of Saudi Arabia, King Hassan of Morocco and the Persian shah) or military dictators.
  • Despite this support, the Warsaw Pact had numerical superiority militarily. Liberal democracy was only saved by nuclear weapons, NATO adopted the doctrine of MAD (mutual assured destruction), which promised to respond to any Soviet attack with an all-out nuclear strike.
  • After the 1970’s, which belonged to Socialism, everything changed.
  • Liberal democracy crawled out of history’s dustbin, cleaned itself up and conquered the world. The supermarket proved to be far stronger than the gulag.
  • It began in southern Europe, where authoritarian regimes in Greece, Portugal, and Spain collapsed, giving way to democratic governments. In 1977 Mrs. Gandhi ended the Emergency and re-established Indian democracy. During the 1980’s, democratic governments replaced military dictatorships in South America and in South East Asia (Brazil, Argentina, Taiwan, South Korea). In the late 1980’s and early 1990s, the liberal wave became a tsunami, sweeping away the mighty Soviet empire.
  • As the Soviet Empire imploded, communist regimes everywhere were replaced.
  • If a liberal had fallen asleep in June 1914 and woken up in June 2014, he or she would have felt very much at home.
  • Once again, people belief in individual freedom, and that world peace would result from it.
  • The entire twentieth century looks like a big mistake. Humankind was speeding on the liberal highway back in the summer of 1914, when it took a wrong turn and entered a cul-de-sac. It then needed eight decades and three horrendous global wars to find its way back to the highway. Of course, these decades were not a total waste, as they did give us antibiotics, nuclear energy and computers, as well as feminism, de-colonialism and free sex… In the early twenty-first century, this is the only show in town

Part III – Homo Sapiens Loses Control

Chapter 8: The Time Bomb in the Laboratory

Liberalism is like any other religion; in that it is based on factual statements that aren’t scientifically sound. One belief is that voters and buyers do not make their decisions randomly, liberalism acknowledges the existence of external influences but thinks that people ultimately make up their own minds freely.

Free Will is an Illusion

  • The last nail in freedom’s coffin is provided by the theory of evolution. Just as evolution cannot be squared with eternal souls, neither can it swallow the idea of free will. For if humans are free, how could natural selection have shaped them?
  • But free will is not an ethical judgement, it is a factual statement that might have held water during the days of Locke, Rousseau and Thomas Jefferson, but the latest findings in the life sciences contradict it.
  • To the best of our knowledge, people act either randomly or deterministically, but there is little room for freedom. Free will exists only in our imaginations. Further, it contradicts the theory of evolution, which states that animals choose things based on their genetic code. Fit genes eat nutritious food and copulate with suitable mates, while unfit genes become extinct. If animals were free to do what they wanted, then natural selection would not have a function.
  • The counter argument is that people feel free, that they act according to their desires, but that is no the question. Rather, it is whether they choose their desires in the first place.
  • Even if you say that your preferences followed a long process of abstract reasoning, you cannot explain why you chose to embark on one train of reasoning over another.
  • There is only a stream of consciousness and desires accompany it, but there is no permanent self who owns these desires. The next time an idea pops into your head, ask yourself why you had that thought and not another.

Experiencing vs Narrating

  • We are even more fragmented than that. Our left and right hemispheres disagree with regards to how we interpret reality. Gazzinga discovered this through a series of famous experiments. The left-brain rationalizes our experiences. Similarly, Kahneman found that we have a narrating self and an experiencing self. The narrating self is like the left-brain, in that it constantly spins yarns about what happened in the past, and it takes many short cuts – like journalists, politicians, and poets.
  • The narrating self-ranks events based on the average between the last experience it can remember and the worst experience (The peak-end rule), it is also blind to duration. So, if you are a doctor, and you want your patient to feel the least amount of pain, make sure their final few moments are great, even if it takes a lot more time for that to be possible.

Chapter 9: The Great Decoupling

  • Liberals promote free markets and democratic elections because they believe that individuals are unique and valuable, who’s free choices are the source of authority. In this century, we will see three practical developments that will nullify this belief.
    1. Humans will lose military and economic usefulness. The economic and political system will not value them so much.
    2. The system will find humans collectively valuable but will see no value in individuals.
    3. The system will find value in some individuals, but they will be a new elite of superhumans.
  • Until today, intelligence and consciousness have gone hand in hand. Now we are developing non-conscious intelligence that outperforms conscious beings in tasks that require intelligence. The question becomes: what is more important, consciousness or intelligence?
  • For armies and companies, intelligence is mandatory, but consciousness is optional.
  • Most professionals, including doctors and pharmacists, will be replaced by AI.
  • ‘The Future of Employment’ is a published paper in 2013 that surveys the chances of different jobs being replaced by algorithms within 20 years.
  • The algorithm developed by Frey and Osborne to do the calculations estimated that 47 per cent of US jobs are at high risk.
  • Jobs like waiters, paralegal assistants, tour guides, bakers, bus drivers, construction laborers, veterinary assistants, security guards, and sailors have a high likelihood of losing their jobs (above 80 percent).
  • As algorithms take over many aspects of human life, the system may still need humans, but not necessarily individuals. Humans can continue to invest money, make music, and teach, but the system will understand them better than they understand themselves, and will make their most important decisions for them. Individuals will lose freedom and authority.
  • The liberal belief in individualism contains 3 important assumptions.
    1. I am an individual: I have an essence that cannot be divided into parts. There are many outer layers, but inside, there is an unchanging core, an authentic self.
    2. My authentic self is free.
    3. From these assumptions, I can conclude that I know things about me that nobody else can know. Only I know my authentic self. I cannot trust anyone else to make choices for me, because they don’t have access to my self-knowledge.
  • But life sciences challenge these assumptions.
    1. Organisms are algorithms, and humans aren’t individuals – we are dividual and contain no single inner voice.
    2. The algorithms that constitute humans are not free. They were shaped biologically and environmentally and make decisions randomly or deterministically but never freely.
    3. Thus an external algorithm can know me better than I know myself. An algorithm that monitors the systems that make up my body can know me much more precisely than I do. This algorithm can eventually replace the customer and the voter.
  • If scientific discoveries and technological developments split humankind into a mass of useless humans and a small elite of upgraded superhumans, or if authority shifts altogether away from human beings into the hands of highly intelligent algorithms, then liberalism will collapse.

Chapter 10: The Ocean of Consciousness

  • The most interesting place in the world from a religious perspective is Silicon Valley, that’s where the promises of salvation through algorithms and genes are.
  • There are two main techno religions, techno-humanism and data religion. Data religion argues that humans have finished their cosmic task and should now make way for new kinds of entities. The next chapter will discuss the nightmares involved with this.
  • Techno-humanism sees humans as the focal point of creation and adopt many humanist values, it also agrees that Homo sapiens have run their historic course, that is why we must use technology to create Homo deus – a superior human. Homo deus will be somewhat like humans but will have upgraded physical and mental abilities.
  • The goal of techno-humanism is to upgrade the human mind, but this is tricky and dangerous, since we don’t really understand the mind.
  • Humans can see only a minuscule part of the electromagnetic spectrum. The spectrum in its entirety is about 10 trillion times larger than that of visible light. Might the mental spectrum be equally vast?
  • One of the most important articles about the philosophy of mind is titled ‘What is it Like to Be a Bat?’ The article was written in 1974, by Thomas Negel, who points out that our human mind cannot imagine the subjective world of a bat. We can engineer systems to simulate bat behavior, but we can’t know what it feels like to be a bat.
  • Our challenge today is a new one, as liberal humanism makes way for techno humanism, and medicine has shifted its focus towards upgrading the healthy rather than curing the sick.
  • Doctors, engineers and customers no longer want merely to fix mental problems – they seek to upgrade the mind. We are acquiring the technical abilities to begin manufacturing new states of consciousness, yet we lack a map of these potential new territories.
  • Our data about human minds comes almost exclusively from tests done on psychology students in Western universities, we have no idea where to aim towards. Unsurprisingly, positive psychology has taken the lead in this field. In the 1990’s, Martin Seligman, Ed Dinner and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi argued that psychology should not only study mental illnesses, but mental strengths as well.
  • Over the last two decades, positive psychology has made important first steps in the study of super-normative mental states, but as of 2016, the super-normative zone is largely terra incognita to science.
  • Humanism emphasized the difficulty of identifying our authentic will. Our inner voice is often a cacophony of conflicting noises. We often try to ignore our authentic voice because it can make us feel uncomfortable, but humanism also demanded that we should face this fear and overcome it, regardless of how difficult it might be to do so.
  • Technological progress is different, it does not want you to listen to your inner voices, it wants to control them. This is essentially what drugs like Prozac and Ritalin do.

Chapter 11: The Data Religion

  • Dataism says that everything consists of data flows and the value of any phenomenon or entity is determined by its contribution to data processing. This is not a new idea.
  • Since Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, scientists have seen organisms as biochemical algorithms. And since the Turing Machine, computer scientists have learned to assemble sophisticated algorithms. Dataism is the combination of both ideas, and thereby collapses the barrier between animals and machines.
  • Dataism offers the world groundbreaking technologies and a theory that unifies all scientific disciplines. But in doing so, it has inverted the traditional pyramid of learning. We learned by distilling data into information, information into knowledge, and knowledge into wisdom. But Dataists think that people cannot deal with large amounts of data, and thus they cannot distil this data into information, knowledge, or wisdom – it is better to trust Big Data. And they think processing data is a task for algorithms that have greater capacities than us.
  • When one adopts the dataist perspective, the world looks very different. Capitalism and communism are no longer competing ideologies or political institutions but are at bottom competing data-processing systems. Capitalism uses distributed processing; communism uses centralized processing.
  • The stock market is the most efficient data processing system humankind has created.
  • Capitalism beat communism not because it was more ethical, but because distributed data processing works better than centralised data processing.
  • Dictatorships use centralized processing and democracies prefer distributed processing, in the last few decades, democracy has gained ground because under the conditions of the 20th century, distributed processing works better. But conditions are continuously changing, which is why political systems are continuously disrupted, and this also suggests that we may witness another shift.
  • Today, governments cannot keep up with overwhelming data of the internet. By the time the government comes up with a plan to restructure the internet, the latter would have morphed ten times.
  • The NSA may be spying on your every word, but to judge by the repeated failures of American foreign policy, nobody in Washington knows what to do with all the data. Never in history did a government know so much about what’s going on in the world – yet few empires have botched things up as clumsily as the contemporary United States. It’s like a poker player who knows what cards his opponents hold, yet somehow still manages to lose round after round.
  • Whereas Hitler and his ilk planned to create superhumans by means of selective breeding and ethnic cleansing, twenty-first-century techno-humanism hopes to reach that goal far more peacefully, with the help of genetic engineering, nanotechnology and brain–computer interfaces.

History in a Nutshell

The Dataist perspective of history is a process of improving the efficiency of the human data-processing system, through four methods.

  1. Increasing number of processors: 100,000 people in a city > 1,000 people in a village. This stage began during the Cognitive Revolution.
  2. Increasing variety of processors: Different processors in the same system leads to creativity. This stage began during the Agricultural Revolution.
  3. Increasing number of connections between processors: A poor connection is fatal to the system. This stage started with the advent of money and writing.
  4. Increasing freedom of movement along existing connections: If data cannot flow freely, connecting processors is barely useful. This stage began around 1492, with the first explorers and conquerors to connect the whole world.

Information Wants to be Free

  • Writing a private diary – a common humanist practice in previous generations – sounds to many present-day youngsters utterly pointless. Why write anything if nobody else can read it? The new motto says: ‘If you experience something – record it. If you record something – upload it. If you upload something – share it.’
  • According to Dataism, human experiences are not sacred and Homo sapiens isn’t the apex of creation or a precursor of some future Homo deus. Humans are merely tools for creating the Internet-of-All-Things, which may eventually spread out from planet Earth to cover the whole galaxy and even the whole universe. This cosmic data-processing system would be like God. It will be everywhere and will control everything, and humans are destined to merge into it.
  • Once we abandon the homo-centric world view in favour of a data-centric world view, human health and happiness may seem far less important.
  • What will happen to society, politics and daily life when non-conscious but highly intelligent algorithms know us better than we know ourselves?
  • What’s more valuable – intelligence or consciousness?
  • Are organisms really just algorithms, and is life really just data processing?


  1. Humans will become Gods. Homo Sapiens (wise humans) is evolving into Homo Deus (god humans) with god-like mastery over our environment and the ability to create (and destroy) life.
  2. Wellness and Wellbeing will Dominate. With problems of human survival (pandemics, famine and violence) solved, humans will increasingly focus on the god-like pursuits of chasing immortality (wellness) and enduring happiness (wellbeing). Google’s Calico offshoot has the modest mission to solve the problem of immortality.
  3. The Rise of the “Useless Class. The cost of upgrading the human condition will be expensive and reserved for a tiny elite. Meanwhile, the masses will see jobs disappear as they are replaced by ever more effective and ever more efficient technology. Unlike the lumpen proletariat of yesteryear, the new “useless class” will not even be able to sell their labour.
  4. The Death of Humanism. The dominant religion of the early 21st Century – humanism (celebrating human intelligence, human experience (sensations, emotions and thoughts) and human values) – will be eroded by advances in science and technology. Specifically, the human sciences will challenge the human superiority and human exceptionalism that is implicit in humanism, including erroneous beliefs in the uniqueness of human sentience (feelings), human sapience (reason) and free-will. We are just animals with a God-complex.
    • For Harari, the implications for human democracy, human freedom and human rights will be significant. Think of the challenges to humanist politics (the voter knows best), humanist economics (the customer is always right), humanist aesthetics (beauty is in the eye of the beholder), humanist ethics (if it feels good – do it!) and humanist education (think for yourself!).
  5. The Rise of Techno-Humanism. In their pursuit of immortality and happiness, humans will turn to technology to upgrade themselves through biological (genetic) engineering , cyborg (bionic) engineering and computer (AI) engineering.
  6. AI Sapience beats Human Sentience. “The Great Decoupling” of sentience (our ability to feel) and sapience (our ability to reason) will result in AI technology that is smarter and more intelligent than humans. Non-conscious but highly intelligent algorithms will know us better than we know ourselves, and we will increasing rely on AI algorithms to inform and guide us in life, love and work.
  7. I’m in Love with your Algorithms. Just as AI understands humans as sets of algorithms (formulae) to predict and explain behaviour, humans will follow suit. Individuals will not longer be seen as irreducible and indivisible selves, but as divisible ‘dividuals’ made up of constellations of ‘if this, then that’ style algorithms that code for personality, passions and profile. Think on steroids, or the Quantified Self mantra of “self-knowledge through numbers”.
  8. Dataism becomes the New Religion. The religion of Humanism will be replaced by a new religion “Dataism”, as we replace a homo-centric world view in favour of a data-centric world view. Already with adepts in Silicon Valley, Dataism celebrates life as data processing, individuals and organisations as algorithms, and the value of a human life in terms of its capacity to transform experience into data.
  9. The Internet of All Things (AKA The Matrix). If humankind is indeed a single data-processing system, then our output will be the creation of a new and even more efficient data-processing system, called the Internet-of-All-Things. Once this mission is accomplished, Homo sapiens will vanish.
  10. The End of Humanity. The next step in evolution will ultimately see humans transform from semi-evolved simians into pure information and in doing so break free from their carbon-based biological chains.

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