Amidst processing of data streams, ring buffers, application containers, thread contentions, UX designs, microservices and integration, I read (/reːd) history. Amidst Fowler, Trisha Gee, Cormen, Aho (Alfred), Tanenbaum and Silberschatz, I read ( /reːd) Noah Harari.
Books are incredible devices, whose brink of extinction has already been reached inside millennial internals, which are enormous sources of data. Well, maybe not so much data, but information. Distinguishing data from information is done via the meaning it carries. Data alone gives us no meaning. Think of a table you acquire counting the number of vehicles which pass by you daily. This dataset has no meaning until you interpret it in some manner. Whether a graph, or a probabilistic analysis, it should convey a message for data to become information. Processed data, is called information. Books carry a vital and sophistical value — that is, they can be sources for someones’ knowledge or more importantly, experiences.
In Sri Lanka, we have an annual book fair, where about 50–60 book vendors are selling books on discount. This is usually a paradise for book worms, and of course, for pretentious book-holders. Thousands of people gather there in BMICH, Colombo (Bandaranayake Memorial International Conference Hall) having myriad thoughts including finding a life-changing book, searching for a good fiction to leave the afflicted world aside for a moment, acquiring oneself a self-help book thus it could cure a troubled mind, amass philosophical Guevaras for reasoning ongoing riots, plunge into religion for the solace of ones’ mind, squander some money for food as their parents forced them and gave them money for knowledge, gaze at book-nerdy girls or to steal a book in an undetectable manner. Like in every country, all kinds of people exist here in Sri Lanka — hope I have given credit for the entire cavalry in the above list.
I myself, am not an avid reader. I read (/re:d) only when necessary. But back when I was 10–15, I read a lot, due to the influence of my cousins. But as that “radical” age came up, I stopped diving into books and got busy following Zuckerberg and his incessant wall. Jobs and Zuckerberg were my one time heroes. After entering to the university, sudden realizations kicked in that if I would still keep avoiding reading stuff, trouble would soon find my back — and so I began to read. Most of the literature I followed are tech-related. I myself am in Computer Engineering so I read a lot of Medium, watch a lot of YouTube. But still, the smell of a book and the notion of that vintage book-paper could not be reminisced, as I was plunging myself into the “e” form of the article. No sight of a book or a glance through a preface could seemingly break the rampart which teen-age had molded. Book fair was optional for so many years — but something — I have a strong feeling that it might have been my internship salary — convinced me to go to the fair this time.
The fair was crowded, as I went there on a public holiday. There were thousands of people from the aforementioned cavalry. There were books in all sorts of languages — English, Sinhala, Tamil, French, Spanish, etc. The first stall which I went was Expographic (Pvt. Ltd) and this one book, caught my eye at its first glance.
Homo Deus - A book by Professor Yuval Noah Harari — from University of Jerusalem. A Ph.D in History, from University of Oxford, Harari explains where humanity is headed, from the origin of the universe through his duology, Sapiens and Homo Deus. Quite frankly I didn’t even bother to find out whether Sapiens was there at the stall (I later got to know it was all sold out) or not, I quickly got Homo Deus to my hand, and one other book I later collected, called The God Delusion, went straight to the counter and purchased it with a 25% discount. That visit to the fair, ended at about 4:00PM (I went there at about 11:00AM), with quite a lot of books at my hand.
I had already been reading Tony Robbins’ Awaken The Giant Within from quite a some time before I went to the fair, but that was without that much excitement — but for the rudimentary purpose of reading something. I started to read Homo Deus concurrently as I ran through Robbins’ best seller as well.
Homo Deus — A brief history of Tomorrow.
Isn’t the title eye catching? Deus is latin for “deity” or “god”. The whole title envisions the meaning of “God-Like Man”. First, Harari gives a brief description for the book, starting from great scientific revolutions which took place and how humanity shifted its form from hunter-gatherers to algorithm-based peasants.
Harari, explains this with historical examples. First, Animism was in play, where sapiens were worshiping animals in their raw form. He explains this using the Great Egyptian God Sobek, who was portrayed in scriptures and pyramid wall-drawings as a creature with a head of a crocodile. This, Harari explains, is merely dressing a crocodile and having firm faith that authority is within the grasp of this particular crocodile. Upon the death of this crocodile, peasants would find another crocodile from some swamp, and personify this crocodile as their god. While the “legislation” personified crocodiles, human peasants kept dressing these crocodiles with royal and kingly clothing, bringing food and worshiping the authority — and peasants seemed okay with it — given that the scriptures and beliefs were in line that these creatures would bring them peace and harmony.
Some time after, agricultural revolution took place, Harari explains, whence the authority was shifted from the living creatures on the soil (Maybe beneath the seas) beyond the vast calamities of the clouds. People worshiped the written words above the cloud in forms of scriptures, and believed in it. Will Durant explains this belief through his famous quote.
“A nation is born stoic, and dies epicurean.”
Stoics are a group of people who believed in god — hence when some calamity occurred they believed that a higher spirituality would intervene and offer them redemption.
However, as Scientific Revolution came into the stage and effects of Agricultural Revolutions came to pass, people were skeptic of these words beyond the clouds. After all, there should be a root for all those scriptures, they argued. They tried to expand their curiosity towards once loved and believed words and argued its facts. The understandings of mathematics and scientific formulas gave Sapiens meanings to life. They found out after all, those scriptures were written by some priest or a like. Why should they trust these words, asked Sapiens. This fact came to realization given the vast advancements of technology and scientific theories paved the way to most of Sapiens’ inventions such as the steam engine, light bulb etc, but not these scriptures. Thus, the authority above the skies, was ceasing to exist as these doubts flooded through Sapiens minds. This, in fact, ceased the existence of Theism, giving birth to a new philosophy a religion, Humanism.
In humanism, Sapiens found out that the source of authority is humans themselves. The authority lies beneath the darkest ulterior of Sapiens, their inner selves. The voice that is giving you power, or that inner voice inside you which is advising you to not to do something, is the source of authority of all — not some magic words written in a book or on a stone. They formed Communism, and Liberalism, which listen to Sapiens’ inner selves. But note that, technology kept its pace — it did not stop, which is the sole reason for the ultimate death of humanism itself.
Biological advancements were critical. Once beloved inner voices scattered away with the question, “Is there actually an inner self?”. Biologists, with their fancy tools and theories, found out that no being is entitled to an inner self, but a mere set of electrical signals resulted by a sequence of chemical reactions.
In one experiment, Harari explains, a woman (As far as I remember she was some sort of a journalist) was hooked up to a military training device where she was given the real world experience of a battlefield through a next-gen simulator. She was terrified of the experience she beheld. Next time, she was given a sophisticated head gear — with some electromagnetic alternators hooked up into it. This contraption can dissolve any feeling of depression, and worrying (Note that feelings are an outcome of electrical signals — thus electromagnetic fields can divert them). She did the same simulation and the outcome was that she was quite addicted to the experiment. She wanted to do that again and again. She expressed an immense desire to that time period she wore the head gear — void of all worrying and pain.
Enough experiences had been carried out in this regime of biological non-self. Biologists were able to decipher the fact that “inner self” was nothing but a sequence of algorithms working for the inputs from our five senses. Thus, Harari observes, given the vast progression of algorithms, super-human nature is revealed and can be portrayed by advanced intelligent agents like IBM Watson. Watson, if accumulated a sufficiently large dataset, could predict a plague before a local doctor could. The key is data flow. Local doctors would not interact in the extent of which with patients like IBM Watson does, given the fact that the population is connected with the cloud with BANs (Biological Area Networks) which gives away your biometrics to the cloud. Intelligent Agents like IBM Watson could possess enormous set of data, and extrapolate what humans are up to. Authority, thus, is in the process of shifting from humans to algorithms. Think about a not-so-distant future, where human organs are overloaded with robots of nano-size (Order of 10 to the power -9), for of course, the intent of preventing Sapiens from cancerous diseases, fell into the control of some algorithm operated by a non-biological entity (Non-carbon based agent, or, a silicon based agent). What would happen then?
The new religion, predicts Harari, is Dataism — the flow of Data. There are arguments and riots for free information so that the general public can access to data sources and do analytical algebra themselves. The society demands free data flows to function. Dataist interpretation of a Bach harmony would be the count of chords and the frequency variation while the humanistic interpretation was the variation of Sapiens’ consciousness. In my interpretation, this is the inception of Cyborgs.
Famine, War and Plague are not critical scientific considerations with modern technology. They can be solved, and even extrapolated (predicted) in time to come. What scientists/biologists work on is upgrading the current Sapiens — not healing them. Given the fact that Sapiens are a mere combination of algorithmic-ally controlled sequences of signals, since algorithms can be rewritten, so is Sapiens, thus opening the doors to a upgraded Homo genus, called Homo Deus.
In writing this book, Harari does not forget Sapiens’ “furry cousins”. He explains how Sapiens gained authority over the rest of the planet (He explains more on this in his book Sapiens) through corporation flexibility. He illustrates, no beehive would kill the queen and obtain a communist bee-regime. In a much advanced case, no stadium can peacefully fit thousands of apes (Remember Planet of Apes? It’s just a magnificently written fiction. I don’t know why Harari missed to add this to his book) as thousands of humans can peacefully watch a cricket match and then leave home (Let us leave the missionary acts like leaving the garbage bags for now). Further he explains how emotions are neglected in creatures like Pigs who Sapiens gracefully embrace as cute little pink things in the zoo and delicious little dish on the dining table. There’s one experiment (You can watch it here, it’s really funny) which is mentioned by Harari which demonstrates the humanistic values such as greed is also present in furry little not-so-distant cousins of Sapiens.
This is not a prophecy — but a new slant of looking at the modern world, how it is unfolded in front of us.
Back to the smell of a book
On a practical note, I find it really difficult to summarize all the interesting facts written in the book in an article. There are so much more.
Here’s the golden fact — I became so attached to this book which made my once beloved habit of reading came back to me. The first thing I did after I finished Homo Deus was buying Sapiens, and now I’m in the process of reading that one (Quite a masterpiece, that one). Concurrently, depending on the mood, I read several different books now. To give you some names, Emotional Intelligence and Working with Emotional Intelligence (These are actually two books. Amazingly I managed to find one book which was those two books combined, for a price of a one book. There’s a little issue with paper quality, but who cares about paper quality anymore? Discounts are amazing at the fair.), Awaken the Giant Within and Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance.
Zuckerberg and Jobs are good — but when you read more, Musk sounds more creative, innovative and persistent.
There’re all sorts of books — fiction, self help, romance, biographies, autobiographies, educationally specifics, Literature etc. We all should find that “kick” we had towards reading like we did when we were little. We all do read reference books for our academics — now let’s try more. Harari’s Homo Deus puts the reader into a whole different world — lets the reader view the world in a whole different perspective. How strange that it can be done via a 400 page binding?