Thursday’s Guest Blog: John Bailey on Books

Homo Deus or Homo Data: our future awaits

Dr Yuval Noah Harari of recent Homo Sapiens fame, who has a PhD in History from Oxford and lectures in history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, can now add the term futurist to his credentials. And regarding Homo Deus, his latest publishing endeavour, it is perhaps pertinent to know that in 2012 he was awarded the Polonsky Prize for Creativity and Originality in the Humanistic Disciplines. Why?

Because in Homo Deus Dr Harari invites readers to journey back to the future where most homo sapiens will not play even a minor part. His projections include AI running the show, or most of it, without us and developments happening faster and more fundamentally than ever before in history. And this is not science fiction. It is a brilliantly argued view of the future that extends farther down the road we are travelling along already.

The 20th century, he declares, will count for very little, although ironically Dr Harari has to use a medium more than five hundred years old to promote his latest thoughts in print. But however the message in this book is delivered it cannot, must not, be ignored. And don’t be misled by its subtitle, it is far from a Brief History of Tomorrow. Its 400 pages carry a thoughtful and extremely relevant message about the way the world and those that inherit it will have to reconcile themselves with likely developments.

Dr Harari established his writing credentials and much else about thinking anew in Homo Sapiens, his much-acclaimed previous title. This new collection of insights burnishes his reputation further even though his projections vary from provocative to downright alarming. For example, he asks us to imagine that war is obsolete and death overcome, that humanity’s next challenges are likely to be immortality and the powers of creation in fact for Homo Sapiens finally to become Homo Deus. Perhaps more tellingly, he suggests data as the new religion in a world dominated by algorithms and the more efficient superior intelligence of AI – all without consciousness of course!

You have been warned; don’t buy this book at your peril! Go straight to publishers Harvill Secker’s website to hear Dr Harari’s illuminating podcast on Homo Deus and, for a further view and more insights, try this excellent exposition, where almost the full story is presented. As a final treat, read Dr Harari here, in conversation about his vision of our future.

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— Guest blogger John Bailey was for many years one of London’s best known journalists and spent most of his career in what was Fleet Street. He is an avid bibliophile and record collector, champion advocate for press freedom, and a student of history whose guided tours of London are known to and fondly recalled by exhausted walkers on all five continents.

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