“However, once technology enables us to re-engineer human minds, Homo sapiens will disappear, human history will come to an end and a completely new kind of process will begin, which people like you and me cannot comprehend. Many scholars try to predict how the world will look in the year 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-engineer their own minds, and our present-day minds cannot grasp what might happen next.”
Humankind has never been more knowledgeable than it is today. At the same time, we have never been so unconscious of the world we live in and of what’s ahead of us.
Yuval Noah Harari, historian and tenured professor in the Department of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, starts analyzing our past in his Sapiens – brief history of humankind, to then give us – in his latest Homo Deus – brief history of tomorrow – a clear picture of something incredibly blurry: our future.
What have been the three giant enemies of the humankind for thousands of years – i.e. war, famine and illness – are now nothing more than a far and unpleasant memory.
Today, war is obsolete.
As reported by Harari, in the ancient agricultural society violence caused the 15% of total deaths. In the 2000s, the percentage has dropped to 1%.
In 2012, 56 million people have died in the whole world: only 620.000 of these have been victims of human violence (wars have killed 120.000 people, crime has killed another 500.000); 800.000 people committed suicide and 1,5 million people have died of diabetes.
Basically, according to the numbers, it’s more likely to die from diabetes or by committing suicide than because of a violent conflict.
Famine is disappearing.
In 2014, more than 2,1 billion people were overweight, while the ones suffering from malnutrition were 850 million. Half of the world population is expected to be overweight by 2030. In 2010, the joined effects of famine and malnutrition have struck about 1 million people, whereas obesity has claimed 3 million victims.
Diseases impacts and effects have been dramatically reduced.
Plagues and infectious diseases have decimated the world population for centuries; the Yersinia pestis bacterium – carrier of the so-called Black Death – smallpox, measles, tuberculosis, typhus, and many other diseases have now been either defeated or ensured to be non-fatal.
According to Harari, nowadays death is nothing but a technical problem.
You might think he’s a visioner endowed with great imagination, but you only need to read his book to realize he might as well be quite right. In fact, he’s not alone in believing so. Just ask Aubrey De Grey or Kay Kurzweil – both part of none other than the Silicon Valley community. Or read the Transhumanist Manifesto. More easily, look up “transhumanism” on Google. You’ll see.
Anyway, Harari doesn’t obviously expect to predict what our future will be. His precise and reasoned analysis only gives us an idea of what our future could be.
Once the three great human enemies have been defeated, what is left to achieve?
As history teaches us, humankind doesn’t know satisfaction. Once we achieve something, we need more. Success feeds ambition.
Progress doesn’t end: it doesn’t have a finish line and it just can’t slow down. There’s too much at stake.
So, what next?
As Harari writes in his Homo Deus, the XXI century will most likely be a tech-driven reality, where humans will work towards the achievement of three new goals: immortality, happiness and divinity. All three of them could be achieved thanks to the new technologies, and will put our species in front of a major question: Will we become gods, or will we create gods? Will we be the puppet master, or will we be the puppet?
If you want to know more about what Prof. Harari has to tell, watch his interview tonight on the first new episode of the Italian television program, Codice – La vita è digitale, hosted and conducted by Barbara Carfagna.
Taking the dare of making complex issues accessible and understandable to the vast Italian public, Codice addresses the challenges of the future and tells how the new technologies affect – positively or negatively – our everyday lives.
The new second edition starts from tonight at 11:30 pm on Rai1, and is available both on streaming on www.rai1.rai.it and on demand on RaiPlay.it!
Image source: Genethique