Yuval Noah Harari2017
A determined effort to step back from the small-scale considerations – climate change, obesity, that sort of thing – and focus on the force that transcend these problems and are driving the changes in society and technology that we see all around us.
Harari sees three primal desires driving the twenty-first century: to defeat death, to engineer the human mind and emotions, and to achieve practical omnipotence in addressing real-world problems. And he explores all three of these desires with the perceptiveness of a historian while demonstrating an impressive scientific depth of understanding.
This is a book full of passages to make one think. Is religion just a technology for imbuing events with meaning? – and if so, are humanism and science just religions, advocating a different set of values? Is science really about the acquisition of power, rather than about the acquisition of knowledge or understanding? As a scientist myself I don't think I'm looking for power, but I have to say I'm less confident about that belief applied to science as a whole after reading Harari's analysis.
Harari rides his ideas to their logical conclusions, in the emerge of trans-humanism and Data-ism as alternative driving ideologies for the twenty-first century. The former looks to upgrade humans, and therefore to introduce real empirical inequalities between upgraded and "natural" humans; the latter regards everything through the lens of data processing, and so argues that humans need to step aside in favour of the unconscious but intelligent algorithms we've created. He then spins round and argues that both these trends are destructive of liberalism and the core of current humanist thinking, and so are essentially political as well as philosophical and technical questions. It's an impressive feat and, if we believe it, poses massive challenges – not least in finding a common language within which to discuss them and determine a way forward.
Finished on Sat, 24 Feb 2018 06:37:20 -0800. Rating 5/5.