...[a] spellbinding book ... We are just at the start of this process of data-driven transformation and Harari says there is little we can do to stop it. Homo Deus is an 'end of history' book, but not in the crude sense that he believes things have come to a stop. Rather the opposite: things are moving so fast that it’s impossible to imagine what the future might hold ... This is a very intelligent book, full of sharp insights and mordant wit. But as Harari would probably be the first to admit, it’s only intelligent by human standards, which are nothing special. By the standards of the smartest machines it’s woolly and speculative. The datasets are pretty limited. Its real power comes from the sense of a distinctive consciousness behind it ... Nietzsche once wrote that humanity is about to set sail on an open sea, now that we have finally left Christian morality behind. Homo Deus makes it feel as if we are standing at the edge of a cliff after a long and arduous journey. The journey doesn’t seem so important any more. We are about to step into thin air.
Harari has, for my taste, a tendency to overstate the reach of such technological 'fixes.' Editing every disease-linked gene in the human genome is not as easy, or as technically feasible, as Harari might wish it — in part, because many diseases, we now know, are the consequences of dozens of gene variants, and of gene-environment and gene-chance interactions. But the writing in this section is lively and enables Harari to raise the most provocative question of this book: If humans succeeded by virtue of their 'algorithm,' then why couldn’t another such algorithm topple us in turn? ... Harari is not the first to describe this progression of the human species, but his account may well be one of the most chilling to date. Yet even Harari, a master of the catchy story and historical vignette, fails to convince me entirely ... Such concerns aside, Harari’s book still remains essential reading for those who think about the future.
Harari presents three possible futures. In one, humans are expendable. In a second, the elite upgrade themselves, becoming essentially another species that sees everyone else as expendable. In a third, we join the hive mind, worshiping data over individuals (or God). 'Connecting to the system becomes the source of all meaning,' he writes. In any case, he says convincingly, 'the most interesting place in the world from a religious perspective is not the Islamic State or the Bible Belt, but Silicon Valley.' I enjoyed reading about these topics not from another futurist but from a historian, contextualizing our current ways of thinking amid humanity’s long march — especially a historian with Harari’s ability to capsulize big ideas memorably and mingle them with a light, dry humor.
Few forecasters have the audacity to write like that. Fewer still have the intellectual firepower and literary skill to carry off such a monumental sweep of history, philosophy, religion, science and technology. Specialists will cavil at his somewhat cavalier treatment of their expertise. But it is thrilling to watch such a talented author trample so freely across so many disciplines. Harari’s skill lies in the way he tilts the prism in all these fields and looks at the world in different ways, providing fresh angles on what we thought we knew. No matter how scary and incomplete, the result is scintillating.
...lively, provocative and sure to be another hit among the pooh-bahs. But readers ought to be prepared: Almost every blithe pronouncement Harari makes (that 'the free individual is just a fictional tale concocted by an assembly of biochemical algorithms,' for instance) has been the exclusive subject of far more nuanced books, whose arguments have in turn been disputed by other intellectuals. I do not mean to knock the handiwork of a gifted thinker and a precocious mind. But I do mean to caution against the easy charms of potted history ... This dystopian vision rests on many questionable assumptions, of course. One of them is that we don’t have free will, and never did, a philosophical question that Harari insists on treating as settled ... Harari promises that Homo Deus is not a prophecy. Let’s hope so.
Whether one accepts Harari’s vision, it’s a bumpy journey to that conclusion. He rousingly defends the argument that humans have made the world safer from disease and famine—though his position that warfare has decreased remains controversial and debatable. The next steps on the road to dataism, he predicts, are through three major projects: 'immortality, happiness, and divinity.' Harari paints with a very broad brush throughout, but he raises stimulating questions about both the past and the future.