Homo Deus. Chapter one: The New Human Agenda
If you are no longer suffering from starvation, plagues and violence, what is next on your agenda? Immortality, nonstop happiness, supergod powers and maybe a replacement for your lawn
I have always been fascinated by future and how the trends will evolve. Blame it on my marketing bias, but it is in my blood to read and even try to anticipate consumer dynamics.
Therefore, Homo Deus - A Brief History of Tomorrow is my book. In fact, it is the second bestseller of Yuval Noah Harari, the author of Sapiens. A Brief History of Humankind.
The 4 review links on the 4 chapters of Sapiens can be found at the end of this article*.
I will have the same approach with Homo Deus, reviewing each chapter, due to its complexity and density of information (500 pages again:)
Yesterday’s world agenda (by yesterday I mean thousands of years before yesterday, which we call the twenty first century) consisted of three problemes: famine, plague and war. What is the agenda for tomorrow (by tomorrow I mean hundred of years after today, which is the twenty first century)?
1. Separated from the biological poverty line, humankind will face a higher risk of being killed by obesity rather than famine and malnutrition. While there are still countries in the world like Syria, Sudan or Somalia where people starve to death, this is not because of natural catastrophes. We no longer speak of natural famines in the world, but of political famines. In 2014 more than 2.1 billion people were overweight, compared to 850 million who suffered from malnutrition. Unfortunately, the forecast for 2030 is not at all optimistic: half of the world population will be overweight. Nowadays, obesity is killing three times more people than faminine and malnutrition combined.
2. While we undoubtely face more resilient germs than we did centuries ago, medicine is more able to deal with them, therefore humankind will face a higher risk of dying because of old age rather than from infectious diseases. The Black Death from the 1330s - when the flea bacterium Yersinia pestis started infecting humans bitten by fleas - killed more than a quarter of the population of Eurasia. Francisco Eguia, one of the slaves carried by a Spanish flotilla who left the island of Cuba on its way to Mexico did not know that he was infected with the smallpox virus. Mayas and Aztecs blamed different bad gods for spreading the disease. In less than a year, more than a third of Mexico’s population was killed. Two centuries later, by 1979, The World Health Organization declared that humanity had won against smallpox due to a successful global vaccination campaign. The past century growing populations and better transport are to call for the rapid spread of new diseases around the globe. In the same time the medicine advancement is able to cure new plagues faster. In 2015 doctors anounced the discovery of teixobaction - a new type of antibiotic to which bacteria have no resistance as yet. Humankind has now the knowledge and tools to prevent plagues and if any epidemic episode gets out of control is because of human incompetence rather than divine anger.
3. Escaped from the Law of Jungle, according to which even if two states were at peace, war was always an option, humankind is more likely to commit suicide than to be killed by soldiers, terrorists and criminals combined. While in ancient agricultural societies human violence caused about 15% of all deaths, in the twenty first century is responsbile only for 1% of global mortality. Sugar and Coca Cola pose a far deadlier threat for the average American or European than Al-Qaeda. It may sound cruel and insenstive after so many terrorists attacks, but Harari speaks in figures and statistics and he is right. Humankind overall - with exceptions - learned that the true wealth is knowledge, not the gunpowder. Terrorism is a strategy of weakness adopted by those who lack access to real power.
4. Humans are rarely satisfied with what they already have, so they crave for more. The new human agenda will consist of immortality, happiness and divinity. Having reduced mortality from starvation, disease and violence, we would like to live forever and happy. And having raised humanity above the basic needs struggles, the next step is to upgrade Homo Sapiens into Homo Deus, a superhuman.
5. There is a Queen song - Who wants to live forever - released 30 years ago. Most probably Freddie Mercury had no idea that someday people might achieve it, while he was another AIDS victim. Humans always die due to technical errors - heart stops pumping blood, cancerous cells spread in he body, germs multiply, etc. Every technical problem should have a technical solution and now the speciality of death is taken care by engineers working on solutions. In 2012 Ray Kurzweil, a winner of US National Medal of Technology and Innovation was appointed a director of engineering at Google and a year later Google launched “Calico”, a sub-company whose mission was “to solve death”. In 2009 Google hired another immortality true beliver, Bill Maris to manage the Google Ventures investment fund, who is investing up to 36% of its $2billion in life sciences start-ups. Kurzweil believes that there are high chances that by 2050 whoever has a healthy body and a healthy bank account could cheat death by one decade at a time. The average life expectancy rose from 40 to 70 in the past century, why not rise to 150 by the end of the twenty first century? Will you still marry and have children at 30 in this case? Just imagine 120 years of long lasting relationships…
6. The second big project on the human agenda will probably be to find the key to happiness. The ancient philosopher Epicurus explained that worshipping gods is a waste of time, that there is no existence after death and that happiness is the sole purpose of life. This was a personal quest, but nowadays it is a collective project. Nowadays thinkers, politicians and even economists envision a replacement of GDP with GDH - Gross Domestic Happiness. Would you like to be highly productive but unhappy or young, happy and wealthy?:) If you needed just a loaf of bread to make a starving medieval peasant happy, what do you need for a bored, overpaid and overweight employee now? Happiness depends on two pillars: psychology and biochemistry. Can we manipulate human biochemistry to increase the global happiness level?
7. Humans are trying to upgrade themselves into gods. Imagine you could buy the wisdom of Athena, the beauty of Aphrodite and the madness of Dionysus. Enough with all smart tools that we have around, we will soon crave for upgraded bodies and minds (and the plastic surgery is just a small debut)! Biological engineering, cyborg engineering and the engineering of non-organic beings are the three possible ways to achieve that. But how humans would look and think like will be something that we can no comprehend. Moreover, our descendants supergods could love, hate, create and destroy in a much grander scale than us, just like the Greek gods.
8. You cannot count on death to save you from becoming completely irrelevant in the future world. Even if the supergods that are going to replace Sapiens could not walk the streets by 2100, the world would still look so much different than today. Nobody can hit the brakes because nobody knows where they are and the modern economy needs constant and indefinite growth in order to survive. On February 3, 2015 the British Parliament voted in favour of the so-called “three-parent embryo” law, allowing the treatment for mithocondria in the UK (tiny organelles within human cells responsible for many deadly diseases). Healing is the initial justification for every upgrade (Viagra started as a blood pressure pill).
9. Do you have a lawn in front of your home? Stone Age hunter-gatherers did not cultivate grass at the entrance of their caves. Neither the ancient Greeks, Jews or Chinese. It all started with the castles of French and English aristocrats in the late Middle Ages. Therefore, considered a trade of nobility, grass is nowadays the most widespread crop in the USA after maize and wheat and the lawn industry accounts for billions of dollars. Mario Gotze scored the decisive goal in the World Cup final in 2014 on te Maracana lawn. We learn history not to predict the future, but to free ourselves for the past cargo and imagine alternative destinies. Maybe a monkey garden?
10. Last, but not least, the relationship between humans and animals is the best model we have for future relations between superhumans/gods and humans.
*Links on my reviews for Sapiens. A brief History of Humankind
P.S. The author, Yuval Noah Harari is an Israeli historian, teaching history at the Hebrew Univeristy of Jerusalem. He (yes, he) married his husband in Toronto Canada, 15 years ago, he is a vegan and does not have a smartphone.