I just finished reading Yuval Harrari’s “Homo Deus.” It is an intriguing book although Harari does meander a bit in articulating his speculations for the next thousand years for human beings.
He starts by laying the groundwork on how the past chapters of our existence will lead to the future. He says, “Three problems preoccupied us right from the beginning: Famine, plague and war. They all are under control. However, humans are rarely satisfied with what they have. Humanity’s next targets are likely to be immortality, happiness, and divinity. We are aiming to upgrade humans into gods, hence Homo Deus.”
In his opinion, of the three targets, death is a technical problem that we can and should solve. “In a world without death, there is no need for heaven, hell or reincarnation, the mainstay of most religions.”
He rightly points out that being happy does not come easy. “Reality matches our expectation, we are happy, but expectations keep going up. Our biochemical systems are designed to survival and reproduction, not happiness. A change in our biochemistry is required.”
Then, he comes to the main point of the book, which is that Homo Sapiens has run its course and will no longer be relevant in the future. “A superior model, Homo Deus will have upgraded physical and mental abilities that will enable it to hold its own even against the most sophisticated algorithms.”
“Upgrading humans into gods will require biological engineering, cyborg engineering, and engineering of non-organic beings. Bioengineering will involve rewriting genetic code, rewiring brain circuit, and altering biochemical balance. Cyborg Engineering will deal with merging organic bodies with non-organic devices, such as bionic hands and artificial eyes. Finally, neural networks will be replaced by intelligent software, able to surf virtual and non-virtual worlds.”
You may ask what happens to soul in this transformation.
Harari does not believe in the existence of soul. “Theory of evolution cannot accept the idea of souls, if by ‘soul’ we mean some thing indivisible, immutable and potentially eternal. Evolution means change and it is incapable of producing everlasting entities”.
Then he goes on to describe the concept of free will and meaning of life, and slays both of them.
“Medieval crusaders believed that God and heaven provided their lives with meaning; modern liberals believe that individual free choices provide life with meaning. Both are equally delusional,”
He makes a persuasive argument against free will. “Decisions are reached through a chain reaction of biochemistry events, each determined by previous events, are certainly not free. If humans are free, how could natural selection have shaped them? Neural events in the brain indicates the person’s decision begin from a few hundred milliseconds to a few seconds before the person is aware of the choice. If I am indeed the master of my thoughts and decisions, can I decide not to think about anything at all for the next sixty seconds? Try that, and see what happens.”
According to Harari, even Homo Deus may not be the end point of our existence. That would arrive in a way a new “religion” Dataism predicts.
“Dataism declares that the universe consists of data flows, and the value of any entity is determined by its contribution to data processing. Exactly the same mathematical laws apply to both biochemical and electronic algorithms. According to Dataists, Homo Sapiens are not a precursor to some Homo Deus, but are merely tools for creating the Internet-of-all-things, which may eventually spread out from earth to pervade the whole galaxy and even universe. This cosmic data processing system would be the God, and humans are destined to merge into it.”
We are created by nature to create a network. That may provide meaning to our lives.
To me this is a bold and homocentric view. Many, if not most, scientists believe that we are not unique in this universe. There are trillions of planets and it is hard to imagine that life exists on only one of them. For sure, the creatures in other planets may be way backward, may be just single cell organisms. Many of them, however, may be way advanced. If they are, it is not hard to imagine that they may have gone on the same path and their living beings are also subsumed into a cosmic data processing system.
In that case, we would be providing just the latest connection to this universal system already in existence. Once connected, we (or our data version) will be able to post stories on the intergalactic FaceBook, and send those aliens pictures using Instagram.
Oh well…who know what lies ahead for us.