This could have and should have been the wrap-up of Sapiens rather than a book of its own. The first two thirds are a rehash of the last few chapters of Sapiens, dealing with three different flavors of humanism (liberal, social, evolutionary) in more depth. Only the last third deals with predictions, the main one being that, the postulates of liberalism being incompatible with our current understanding of biology, two other candidate “religions” may replace it: techno-humanism (out of which springs Homo Deus) and dataism (wherein humans need not apply).
So far so good; unfortunately, his claims about the current state of affairs are supported by the thinnest of cobwebs, at least where medicine is concerned:
“It is highly likely that during your lifetime many of the most momentous decisions about your body and health will be taken by computer algorithms such as IBM’s Watson.”
“Google, together with the drug giant Novartis, is developing a contact lens that checks glucose levels in the blood every few seconds by analysing the composition of tears.”
Not any more.
“Twentieth-century medicine aimed to heal the sick. Twenty-first-century medicine is increasingly aiming to upgrade the healthy.”
Is he referring to the “ADHD” epidemic? Anabolic steroid use? Medicine’s record of messing with the healthy has so far been abysmal, there are no indications that this will change, and there are plenty of sick that still need healing. It’s not medicine that wants the upgrading, it’s the Silicon Valley tech bros, for the most part.
Yes, it’s only medicine, but it’s the part I understand the most and his conjectures, deductions, and extrapolations fall flat on their face.
A darker prediction: the best minds of the West are too busy monetizing the unjustified optimism and hubris of the monied classes to work on the important problems. A breakthrough, when it comes, will be out of left field and from somewhere less regulated, less devoted to a good narrative, and more prone to experimentation for its own (rather than financial) sake. It is now indescribable but will in hindsight seem inevitable, which makes it a terrible subject for a book on future history but a terrific one for true science fiction.
Written by Yuval Noah Harari, 2018