Wednesday July 19, 2017

How humankind is on the verge of transforming itself: Yuval Harari

Yuval Harari predicts the future of power, ecology and happiness 2:12

Listen to Full Episode 53:59

​Yuval Harari's book Sapiens was translated into 40 languages and championed by Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Barack Obama. Now we have his follow-up book, Homo Deus, which is already an international sensation. In it, Yuval Harari argues that humankind is on the verge of transforming itself: advances creating networked intelligences will surpass our own in speed, capability and impact. But where will this leave us? Will we be enslaved by algorithms we can scarcely understand? Or will we incorporate these advances and become like gods? **This episode originally aired October 11, 2016.

​Yuval Harari makes it clear that he's not offering prophecies, but rather possibilities. Throughout our collective history, we were scourged by famine, plague and war. But we're on the verge of eliminating all three, he argues. And given that advances in artificial intelligence are already exceeding what unaided human brains are capable of, he's fascinated where our technologies may lead us. 


"When humankind possesses enormous new powers, and when the threat of famine, plague and war is finally lifted, what will we do with ourselves? What will the scientists, investors, bankers and presidents do all day? Write poetry?

Humanity's next targets are likely to be immortality, happiness and divinity. Having reduced mortality from starvation, disease and violence, we will now aim to overcome old age and even death itself. Having saved people from abject misery, we will now aim to make them positively happy. And having raised humanity above the beastly level of survival struggles, we will now aim to upgrade humans into gods, and turn Homo sapiens into Homo deus."


Yuval Harari teaches history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He knows how history can be used to draw facile or dangerous conclusions. Perhaps that's why he's skeptical about using the past to predict what will happen in the future.

"Many scholars try to predict how the world will look in 2100 or 2200. This is a waste of time. Any worthwhile prediction must take into account the ability to re-engineer human minds, and this is impossible. There are many wise answers to the question: 'What would people with minds like ours do with biotechnology?' Yet there are no good answers to the question 'What would beings with a different kind of mind do with biotechnology?' All we can say is that people similar to us are likely to use biotechnology to re-eingineer their own minds, and our present-day minds cannot grasp what might happen next."

Yuval Harari believes that we're entering a new era. Human civilization began when we started believing in supernatural beings among the clouds. Now with the breathtaking pace of technological advances, algorithms of unimaginable potency will be stored in the Cloud.

"In the early twenty-first century, the train of progress is again pulling out of the station -- and this will probably be the last train ever to leave the station called Homo Sapiens. Those who miss this train will never get a second chance. In order to get a seat on it, you need to understand twenty-first century technology, and in particular the powers of biotechnology and computer algorithms. These powers are far more potent than steam and the telegraph, and they will not be used merely for the production of food, textiles, vehicles and weapons. The main products of the twenty-first century will be bodies, brains and minds. And the gap between those who know how to engineer bodies and brains and those who do not will be far bigger than the gap between Dickens's Britain and the Mahdi's Sudan. Indeed, it will be bigger than the gap between Sapiens and Neanderthals. In the twenty-first century, those who ride the train of progress will acquire divine abilities of creation and destruction, while those left behind will face extinction."

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Harari is published in Canada by McClelland & Stewart.

Related websites:

Web Extra | Yuval Harari's Ted Talk: What explains the rise of humans?


**This episode was produced by Greg Kelly