Better human than homo deus

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Many among us, more so in the western world, smug with the scientific breakthroughs of recent years, predict the unbelievable for the human race.

Yuval Noah Hariri is a Professor of History at the Hebrew University in Israel. In his best-selling ‘Homo deus – A Brief History of Tomorrow’, Hariri goes to the extent of predicting that humans with ‘mastery over the environment’ and the ‘ability to create and destroy life, shall evolve into Homo deus – human god’; a proclamation by many, including the Pharaohs’, and as ancient as time.

Hariri also asserts that having ‘overcome’ pandemics, violence and famine hence eliminating threats to their survival, humans shall be free to focus on the quest of immortality. This hypothesis of overcoming threats to human life is negated by a WHO report stating that “out of 56.9 million deaths worldwide in 2016 alone, more than half were due to the top 10 causes with Ischemic heart disease and stroke accounting for a combined 15.2 million deaths”.

The report goes on to elaborate that “diabetes alone killed 1.6 million people in 2016, up from less than 1 million in 2000. Deaths due to dementia more than doubled between 2000 and 2016, making it the 5th leading cause of global deaths in 2016 compared to 14th in 2000”. The report states that these diseases have remained the leading cause of deaths globally since the last 15 years.

According to a Brown University Costs of War Project Report the (‘overcome’ violence) post 9/11 brutal wars resulted in the death of 801,000 people. The report says that “if indirect deaths of these wars included the total deaths during the post-2001 U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and Yemen (alone) is likely to reach 3.1 million or more”; the actual figure is far higher.

Hariri also prophesies that as human values and emotions continuously fall prey to scientific advancement; a datacentric world shall emerge with Dataism as the global religion. However disturbing these predictions might seem, Hariri boasts a fan-club including, among many others, Barack Obama, Bill and Melinda Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman.

Stephen Hawking believed that Artificial Intelligence would one day surpass the human one enabling machines to reign over humans. Nick Bostrom is Professor of Philosophy at Oxford University and founding Director of the Future of Humanity Institute. In his paper ‘The vulnerable world hypothesis’ he argues: “What we haven’t extracted, so far, is a black ball – a technology that invariably or by default destroys the civilization that invents it. The reason is not that we have been particularly careful or wise in our technology policy; we have just been lucky”.

Bostrom goes on to delve into the greatest threat that can wipe out mankind. After years of research he asserts in his best-selling ‘Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies’ that this threat is not a pandemic or nuclear-winter; it might well be the creation of a machine whose intelligence is far greater than our own. In an interview Bostrom elaborated: “hijacking political processes (by this super-intelligent contraption), subtly manipulating financial markets, biasing information flows or hacking human-made weapons systems might bring about the extinction”.

In recent history, from Marconi’s ground-breaking achievement of sending a Morse code signal over a mere mile in 1895, we have today attained the seemingly unreachable. We have made forays into space, discovered new galaxies, and connected the globe as never before, yet the singularly most important thing imperative to our survival, living together in peace amidst harmony with nature, has totally eluded us.

The Guardian notes: “Humankind is revealed as simultaneously insignificant and utterly dominant in the grand scheme of life on Earth by a groundbreaking new assessment of all life on the planet. The world’s 7.6 billion people represent just 0.01 percent of all living things. Yet, since the dawn of civilization, humanity has caused the loss of 83 percent of all wild mammals and half of plants”.

Indeed, we the minuscule 0.01 have played havoc with the lesser mortals and environment of this planet. The wanton destruction of wild habitat and global warming has initiated what many scientists believe is the sixth mass extinction of life to occur with nearly half the Earth’s animals perishing in the last 50 years.

Enter Covid 19; the microscopic virus has, despite our ‘exalted’ scientific achievements, only proven the fragility of our very existence. With the sufferings it has wrought globally, it has jolted us to pause and ponder as to what we are and about the heartless bustle of gadgetry and endless ambitions that has become the single dominating factor of our collective lives. Ironically, this destructive virus, while proving fatal for humans, has set about healing the environment, wild-life and their long eroding habitats.

This minuscule virus has been to us what we have been to our weaker fellow humans and the environment. The virus creeping into our being, destructively replicating and fatally infecting the body – we the humans, who act as gods in our respective domains; destructively invading and occupying lands (countries), the brutal genocide of millions of humans and destroying the very environment which is our life-line to existence.

Dubbed ‘the equalizer’ this elusive virus on a rampage sees no difference between the rich and the poor; the mighty and the weak as it invades with impunity those in the White House and 10 Downing Street, the super-rich of palatial abodes to the favelas and slums of the extremely poor.

The recent pandemic which has tragically swept the globe might be yet another reminder of the fact, more-so for the immortality seekers and believers, repeated again and again in the Holy Quran; the Latin version of what says Memento mori – ‘remember you must die’. It takes but a microscopic entity to rubbish our claim to being human gods.

Across the globe, as humanity unites, doctors, nurses, para-medical staff and individuals (in many instances the hated and berated immigrants) of different religions, caste and creed are caring for and even sacrificing their lives to treat the virus-affected as the privileged reach out to the needy in these testing times.

This virus, with the notion of homo deus vanquished, has forced us to understand the virtue of being human rather than pursuing the insatiable lust of becoming the unattainable human god.

Mir Adnan Aziz is a political commentator
([email protected])



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