Homo Deus

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Book by Yuval Harari.

Interview with author on Intelligence Squared - [1]

TED - [2]

Key Excerpts

Book Notes

Summary - life is Getting much better as civilization approaches Kardashev Scale 1.

  • Ruthless billionaires and small interest groups

flourish in today’s chaotic world not because they read the map better than anyone else, but because they have very narrow aims. In a chaotic system, tunnel vision has its advantages, and the billionaires’ power is strictly proportional to their goals. If the world’s richest man would like to make another billion dollars he could easily game the system in order to achieve his goal. In contrast, if he would like to reduce global inequality or stop global warming, even he won’t be able to do it, because the system is far too complex

  • When you mix a practical ability to engineer minds with our ignorance of the mental spectrum and

with the narrow interests of governments, armies and corporations, you get a recipe for trouble. We may successfully upgrade our bodies and our brains, while losing our minds in the process. Indeed, techno-humanism may end up downgrading humans. The system may prefer downgraded humans not because they would possess any superhuman knacks, but because they would lack some really disturbing human qualities that hamper the system and slow it down. As any farmer knows, it’s usually the brightest goat in the herd that stirs up the greatest trouble, which is why the Agricultural Revolution involved downgrading animal mental abilities. The second cognitive revolution dreamed up by techno-humanists might do the same to us.

  • The humanist revolution caused modern Western culture to lose faith and interest in superior mental

states, and to sanctify the mundane experiences of the average Joe. Modern Western culture is therefore unique in lacking a special class of people who seek to experience extraordinary mental states. It believes anyone attempting to do so is a drug addict, mental patient or charlatan. Consequently, though we have a detailed map of the mental landscape of Harvard psychology students, we know far less about the mental landscapes of Native American shamans, Buddhist monk

  • For more than a century psychologists and biologists have conducted extensive research on people

suffering from various psychiatric disorders and mental diseases. Consequently, today we have a very detailed (though far from perfect) map of the sub-normative mental spectrum. Simultaneously, scientists have studied the mental states of people considered to be healthy and normative. However, most scientific research about the human mind and the human experience has been conducted on people from Western, educated, industrialised, rich and democratic (WEIRD) societies, who do not constitute a representative sample of humanity. The study of the human mind has so far assumed that Homo sapiens is Homer Simpson

  • Techno-humanism agrees that Homo sapiens as we know it has run its historical course and

will no longer be relevant in the future, but concludes that we should therefore use technology in order to create Homo deus – a much superior human model.

  • The new

projects of the twenty-first century – gaining immortality, bliss and divinity – also hope to serve the whole of humankind. However, because these projects aim at surpassing rather than safeguarding the norm, they may well result in the creation of a new superhuman caste that will abandon its liberal roots and treat normal humans no better than nineteenth-century Europeans treated Africans.

  • Unlike in the twentieth

century, when the elite had a stake in fixing the problems of the poor because they were militarily and economically vital, in the twenty-first century the most efficient (albeit ruthless) strategy may be to let go of the useless third-class carriages, and dash forward with the first class only. In order to compete with Japan, Brazil might need a handful of upgraded superhumans far more than millions of healthy ordinary workers

  • Twentieth-century medicine aimed to heal the sick. Twenty-first-century medicine is

increasingly aiming to upgrade the healthy. Healing the sick was an egalitarian project, because it assumed that there is a normative standard of physical and mental health that everyone can and should enjoy. If someone fell below the norm, it was the job of doctors to fix the problem and help him or her ‘be like everyone’. In contrast, upgrading the healthy is an elitist project, because it rejects the idea of a universal standard applicable to all, and seeks to give some individuals an edge over others.

  • Medieval aristocrats claimed that superior blue blood was flowing through their veins, and

Hindu Brahmins insisted that they were naturally smarter than everyone else, but this was pure fiction. In the future, however, we may see real gaps in physical and cognitive abilities opening between an upgraded upper class and the rest of society.

  • Liberalism can coexist with socio-economic gaps. Indeed, since it favours liberty over equality, it

takes such gaps for granted. However, liberalism still presupposes that all human beings have equal value and authority. From a liberal perspective, it is perfectly all right that one person is a billionaire living in a sumptuous chateau, whereas another is a poor peasant living in a straw hut. For according to liberalism, the peasant’s unique experiences are still just as valuable as the billionaire’s.

  • The great human projects of the twentieth century – overcoming famine, plague and war – aimed to

safeguard a universal norm of abundance, health and peace for all people without exception. The new projects of the twenty-first century – gaining immortality, bliss and divinity – also hope to serve the whole of humankind. However, because these projects aim at surpassing rather than safeguarding the norm, they may well result in the creation of a new superhuman caste that will abandon its liberal roots and treat normal humans no better than nineteenth-century Europeans treated Africans. 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. What new religions or ideologies might fill the resulting vacuum and guide the subsequent evolution of our godlike descendants?

  • On a more sinister note, the same study implies that in the next US presidential elections, Facebook

could know not only the political opinions of tens of millions of Americans, but also who among them are the critical swing votes, and how these votes might be swung. Facebook could tell you that in Oklahoma the race between Republicans and Democrats is particularly close, Facebook could identify the 32,417 voters who still haven’t made up their mind, and Facebook could determine what each candidate needs to say in order to tip the balance. How could Facebook obtain this priceless political data? We provide it for free. In the high days of European imperialism, conquistadors and merchants bought entire islands and countries in exchange for coloured beads. In the twenty-first century our personal data is probably the most valuable resource most humans still have to offer, and we are giving it to the tech giants in exchange for email services and funny cat videos.

  • Naturally, Google will not always get it right. After all, these are all just probabilities. But if

Google makes enough good decisions, people will grant it increasing authority. As time goes by, the databases will grow, the statistics will become more accurate, the algorithms will improve and the decisions will be even better. The system will never know me perfectly, and will never be infallible. But there is no need for that. Liberalism will collapse on the day the system knows me better than I know myself. Which is less difficult than it may sound, given that most people don’t really know themselves well.

  • According to the life sciences:

1. Organisms are algorithms, and humans are not individuals – they are ‘dividuals’, i.e. humans are an assemblage of many different algorithms lacking a single inner voice or a single self. 2. The algorithms constituting a human are not free. They are shaped by genes and environmental pressures, and take decisions either deterministically or randomly – but not freely. 3. It follows that an external algorithm could theoretically know me much better than I can ever know myself. An algorithm that monitors each of the systems that comprise my body and my brain could know exactly who I am, how I feel and what I want. Once developed, such an algorithm could replace the voter, the customer and the beholder. Then the algorithm will know best, the algorithm will always be right, and beauty will be in the calculations of the algorithm.

  • Even preprogramming the system with seemingly benign goals might backfire horribly. One popular

scenario imagines a corporation designing the first artificial super-intelligence, and giving it an innocent test such as calculating pi. Before anyone realises what is happening, the AI takes over the planet, eliminates the human race, launches a conquest campaign to the ends of the galaxy, and transforms the entire known universe into a giant super-computer that for billions upon billions of years calculates pi ever more accurately. After all, this is the divine mission its Creator gave it.

  • In the nineteenth century the Industrial Revolution created a huge new class of urban proletariats,

and socialism spread because no one else managed to answer their unprecedented needs, hopes and fears. Liberalism eventually defeated socialism only by adopting the best parts of the socialist programme. In the twenty-first century we might witness the creation of a new massive class: people devoid of any economic, political or even artistic value, who contribute nothing to the prosperity, power and glory of society.

  • Larson

suggested that professional pianists play three pieces one after the other: one by Bach, one by EMI, and one by Larson himself. The audience would then be asked to vote who composed which piece. Larson was convinced people would easily tell the difference between soulful human compositions, and the lifeless artefact of a machine. Cope accepted the challenge. On the appointed date, hundreds of lecturers, students and music fans assembled in the University of Oregon’s concert hall. At the end of the performance, a vote was taken. The result? The audience thought that EMI’s piece was genuine Bach, that Bach’s piece was composed by Larson, and that Larson’s piece was produced by a computer.

  • As algorithms push humans out of the job market, wealth might become concentrated in the hands of the tiny elite that owns the all-powerful algorithms, creating unprecedented social inequality.

Alternatively, the algorithms might not only manage businesses, but actually come to own them. At present, human law already recognises intersubjective entities like corporations and nations as ‘legal persons’. Though Toyota or Argentina has neither a body nor a mind, they are subject to international laws, they can own land and money, and they can sue and be sued in court. We might soon grant similar status to algorithms

  • In May 2014 Deep

Knowledge Ventures – a Hong Kong venture-capital firm specialising in regenerative medicine – broke new ground by appointing an algorithm called VITAL to its board. VITAL makes investment recommendations by analysing huge amounts of data on the financial situation, clinical trials and intellectual property of prospective companies. Like the other five board members, the algorithm gets to vote on whether the firm makes an investment in a specific company or not.

  • Some economists predict that sooner or later, unenhanced humans will be completely useless.

While robots and 3D printers replace workers in manual jobs such as manufacturing shirts, highly intelligent algorithms will do the same to white-collar occupations.

  • This raises a novel question: which of the two is really important, intelligence

or consciousness? As long as they went hand in hand, debating their relative value was just a pastime for philosophers. But in the twenty-first century, this is becoming an urgent political and economic issue. And it is sobering to realise that, at least for armies and corporations, the answer is straightforward: intelligence is mandatory but consciousness is optional.

  • At the beginning of the third millennium, liberalism is threatened not by the philosophical

idea that ‘there are no free individuals’ but rather by concrete technologies. We are about to face a flood of extremely useful devices, tools and structures that make no allowance for the free will of individual humans. Can democracy, the free market and human rights survive this flood?

  • Medieval crusaders

believed that God and heaven provided their lives with meaning. Modern liberals believe that individual free choices provide life with meaning. They are all equally delusional.

  • However, as we will shortly see, the notion that you

have a single self and that you could therefore distinguish your authentic desires from alien voices is just another liberal myth, debunked by the latest scientific research.

  • Presently, you often fail to realise your most

cherished and authentic desires due to external distractions. With the help of the attention helmet and similar devices, you could more easily silence the alien voices of priests, spin doctors, advertisers

  • My brain without self-doubt was a revelation. There was

suddenly this incredible silence in my head . . . I hope you can sympathise with me when I tell you that the thing I wanted most acutely for the weeks following my experience was to go back and strap on those electrodes. I also started to have a lot of questions. Who was I apart from the angry bitter gnomes that populate my mind and drive me to failure because I’m too scared to try? And where did those voices come from?’ 7 Some of those voices repeat society’s prejudices, some echo our personal history, and some articulate our genetic legacy. All of them together, says Sally, create an invisible story that shapes our conscious decisions in ways we seldom grasp. What would happen if we could rewrite our inner monologues, or even silence them completely on occasion?

  • shooting fast enough, and panic and incompetence are making me continually jam my rifle.’ Luckily

for her, the assailants were just video images, projected on huge screens all around her. Still, she was so disappointed with her poor performance that she felt like putting down the rifle and leaving the simulator. Then they wired her up to the helmet. She reports feeling nothing unusual, except a slight tingle and a strange metallic taste in her mouth. Yet she began picking off the terrorists one by one, as coolly and methodically as if she were Rambo or Clint Eastwood. ‘As twenty of them run at me brandishing their guns, I calmly line up my rifle, take a moment to breathe deeply, and pick off the closest one, before tranquilly assessing my next target. In what seems like next to no time, I hear a voice call out, “Okay, that’s it.” The lights come up in the simulation room . . . In the sudden quiet amid the bodies around me, I was really expecting more assailants, and I’m a bit disappointed when the team begins to remove my electrodes. I look up and wonder if someone wound the clocks forward. Inexplicably, twenty minutes have just passed. “How many did I get?” I ask the assistant. She looks at me quizzically. “All of them.”’

  • Due to obvious ethical restrictions, researchers implant electrodes into human brains only under

special circumstances. Hence most relevant experiments on humans are conducted using non-intrusive helmet-like devices (technically known as ‘transcranial direct current stimulators’). The helmet is fitted with electrodes that attach to the scalp from outside. It produces weak electromagnetic fields and directs them towards specific brain areas, thereby stimulating or inhibiting select brain activities

  • Experiments performed on Homo sapiens indicate that like rats humans too can be manipulated,

and that it is possible to create or annihilate even complex feelings such as love, anger, fear and depression by stimulating the right spots in the human brain. The US military has recently initiated experiments on implanting computer chips in people’s brains, hoping to use this method to treat soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. 4 In Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, doctors have pioneered a novel treatment for patients suffering from acute depression. They implant electrodes into the patient’s brain, and wire the electrodes to a minuscule computer implanted into the patient’s breast. On receiving a command from the computer, the electrodes use weak electric currents to paralyse the brain area responsible for the depression. The treatment does not always succeed, but in some cases patients reported that the feeling of dark emptiness that tormented them throughout their lives disappeared as if by magic.

  • To the best of our scientific understanding, determinism and randomness have divided the entire

cake between them, leaving not even a crumb for ‘freedom’. The sacred word ‘freedom’ turns out to be, just like ‘soul’, an empty term that carries no discernible meaning. Free will exists only in the imaginary stories we humans have invented.

  • If Marx

came back to life today, he would probably urge his few remaining disciples to devote less time to reading Das Kapital and more time to studying the Internet and the human genome.

  • In order to get a seat on it, you need to understand twenty-first-

century technology, and in particular the powers of biotechnology and computer algorithms. These powers are far more potent than steam and the telegraph, and they will not be used merely for the production of food, textiles, vehicles and weapons. The main products of the twenty-first century will be bodies, brains and minds, and the gap between those who know how to engineer bodies and brains and those who do not will be far bigger than the gap between Dickens’s Britain and the Mahdi’s Sudan. Indeed, it will be bigger than the gap between Sapiens and Neanderthals. In the twenty-first century, those who ride the train of progress will acquire divine abilities of creation and destruction, while those left behind will face extinction.

  • The socialists created a brave new

religion for a brave new world. They promised salvation through technology and economics, thus establishing the first techno-religion in history, and changing the foundations of ideological discourse. Before Marx, people defined and divided themselves according to their views about God, not about production methods. Since Marx, questions of technology and economic structure became far more important and divisive than debates about the soul and the afterlife. In the second half of the twentieth century, humankind almost obliterated itself in an argument about production methods. Even the harshest critics of Marx and Lenin adopted their basic attitude towards history and society, and began thinking about technology and production much more carefully than about God and heaven.

  • 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 addition, liberalism itself smarted from the experience, and is less conceited than it was a century ago. It has adopted various ideas and institutions from its socialist and fascist rivals, in particular a commitment to provide the general public with education, health and welfare services. Yet the core liberal package has changed surprisingly little. Liberalism still sanctifies individual liberties above all, and still has a firm belief in the voter and the customer. In the early twenty-first century, this is the only show in town

  • The supermarket proved to be far stronger than the gulag. The blitzkrieg

began in southern Europe, where the authoritarian regimes in Greece, Spain and Portugal collapsed, giving way to democratic governments. In 1977 Indira Gandhi ended the Emergency, re-establishing democracy in India. During the 1980s military dictatorships in East Asia and Latin America were replaced by democratic governments in countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Taiwan and South Korea. In the late 1980s and early 1990s the liberal wave turned into a veritable tsunami, sweeping away the mighty Soviet Empire, and raising expectations of the coming end of history. After decades of defeats and setbacks, liberalism won a decisive victory in the Cold War, emerging triumphant from the humanist wars of religion, albeit a bit worse for wear.

  • According to evolutionary humanists, anyone arguing that all human experiences are equally

valuable is either an imbecile or a coward. Such vulgarity and timidity will lead only to the degeneration and extinction of humankind, as human progress is impeded in the name of cultural relativism or social equality. If liberals or socialists had lived in the Stone Age, they would probably have seen little merit in the murals of Lascaux and Altamira, and would have insisted that they are in no way superior to Neanderthal doodles.

  • The greatest scientific discovery was the discovery of ignorance. Once humans realised

how little they knew about the world, they suddenly had a very good reason to seek new knowledge, which opened up the scientific road to progress.

  • Yet in fact modernity is a surprisingly

simple deal. The entire contract can be summarised in a single phrase: humans agree to give up meaning in exchange for power.

  • t would accordingly be far more correct to view modern history as the process of formulating a

deal between science and one particular religion – namely, humanism. Modern society believes in humanist dogmas, and uses science not in order to question these dogmas, but rather in order to implement them

  • As individuals, scientists and priests may give immense importance to the truth; but as

collective institutions, science and religion prefer order and power over truth. They can therefore make good bedfellows. The uncompromising quest for truth is a spiritual journey, which can seldom remain within the confines of either religious or scientific establishments.

  • n fact, neither science nor religion cares that much about the truth,

hence they can easily compromise, coexist and even cooperate.

  • Consequently, although science has much more to contribute to ethical debates than we commonly

think, there is a line it cannot cross, at least not yet. Without the guiding hand of some religion, it is impossible to maintain large-scale social orders. Even universities and laboratories need religious backing

  • Religion is anything that confers

superhuman legitimacy on human social structures. It legitimises human norms and values by arguing that they reflect superhuman laws.

  • Consequently the rise of science will make at least some myths and religions mightier than ever. To

understand why, and to face the challenges of the twenty-first century, we should therefore revisit one of the most nagging questions of all: how does modern science relate to religion? It seems that people have already said a million times everything there is to say about this question. Yet in practice, science and religion are like a husband and wife who after 500 years of marriage counselling still don’t know each other.

  • sn’t it the fruit of abandoning intersubjective myths

in favour of objective scientific knowledge? And can’t we expect this process to accelerate in the coming decades? As technology allows us to upgrade humans, overcome old age and find the key to happiness, so people would care less about fictional gods, nations and corporations, and focus instead on deciphering the physical and biological reality.

  • Fiction isn’t bad. It is vital. Without commonly accepted stories about things like money, states or

corporations, no complex human society can function. We can’t play football unless everyone believes in the same made-up rules, and we can’t enjoy the benefits of markets and courts without similar make-believe stories. But the stories are just tools. They should not become our goals or our yardsticks. When we forget that they are mere fiction, we lose touch with reality. Then we begin entire wars ‘to make a lot of money for the corporation’ or ‘to protect the national interest’. Corporations, money and nations exist only in our imagination. We invented them to serve us; how come we find ourselves sacrificing our lives in their service?

  • Yet even though Herodotus and Thucydides understood reality much better than the authors of the

Bible, when the two world views collided, the Bible won by a knockout. The Greeks adopted the Jewish view of history, rather than vice versa. A thousand years after Thucydides, the Greeks became convinced that if some barbarian horde invaded, surely it was divine punishment for their sins. No matter how mistaken the biblical world view was, it provided a better basis for large-scale human cooperation.

  • If you distort reality too much, it will weaken you, and you

will not be able to compete against more clear-sighted rivals. On the other hand, you cannot organise masses of people effectively without relying on some fictional myths. So if you stick to pure reality, without mixing any fiction with it, few people would follow you.

  • If you want to launch a revolution, don’t ask yourself,

‘How many people support my ideas?’ Instead, ask yourself, ‘How many of my supporters are capable of effective collaboration?

  • "In 2010 famine and malnutrition combined killed about 1 million people, whereas obesity killed 3 million."
  • "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. In 2012 about 56 million people died throughout the world; 620,000 of them died due to human violence (war killed 120,000 people, and crime killed another 500,000). In contrast, 800,000 committed suicide, and 1.5 million died of diabetes. 23 Sugar is now more dangerous than gunpowder."

  • . Whereas in 2010 obesity and related illnesses killed about 3 million

people, terrorists killed a total of 7,697 people across the globe, most of them in developing countries. 25 For the average American or European, Coca-Cola poses a far deadlier threat than al- Qaeda

  • diseases. It is technically feasible with current in vitro technology

to overcome mitochondrial genetic diseases by creating a ‘three-parent baby’. The baby’s nuclear DNA comes from two parents, while the mitochondrial DNA comes from a third person. In 2000 Sharon Saarinen from West Bloomfield, Michigan, gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Alana. Alana’s nuclear DNA came from her mother, Sharon, and her father, Paul, but her mitochondrial DNA came from another woman. From a purely technical perspective, Alana has three biological parents. A year later, in 2001, the US government banned this treatment, due to safety and ethical concerns.

  • Even if famine, plague and war become less prevalent, billions of humans in developing

countries and seedy neighbourhoods will continue to deal with poverty, illness and violence even as the elites are already reaching for eternal youth and godlike powers. This seems patently unjust. One could argue that as long as there is a single child dying from malnutrition or a single adult killed in drug-lord warfare, humankind should focus all its efforts on combating these woes. Only once the last sword is beaten into a ploughshare should we turn our minds to the next big thing. But history doesn’t work like that. Those living in palaces have always had different agendas to those living in shacks, and that is unlikely to change in the twenty-first century.. critique - if humans upgrade their capacity for empathy and open source, this assumption may be invalidatedreaching out is not the same as obtaining. History is often shaped by exaggerated hopes. Twentieth-century Russian history was largely shaped by the communist attempt to overcome inequality, but it didn’t succeed - critique - was that really its aim or was that just false advertising?

  • According to a 2012 Gallup survey, only 15 per cent of Americans think that Homo sapiens evolved

through natural selection alone, free of all divine intervention; 32 per cent maintain that humans may have evolved from earlier life forms in a process lasting millions of years, but God orchestrated this entire show; 46 per cent believe that God created humans in their current form sometime during the last 10,000 years, just as the Bible says