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Harari Points the Way

So here I am. We went out to see a movie – got the time wrong and ended up back home with no agenda. Took the faithful dog Gio out for a walk in the – now mild – autumn night air. Came home. Watched a non sequitur NFL game and fell asleep doing so in my man cave. Woke and tried to sleep. Didn’t work. Ended up in my living room chair facing Homo Deus at 2:30 am.
Doesn’t seem like a setting for an epic confrontation for a book on the future. People work with me to see beyond. Outside and past their present conundrums to a better prospect – one with with more clarity. A more settled and confident version of the future.
Then I should be out ahead of them. They [you] are involved in wrestling with the day to day with an eye to the future. To help reach the best version of that, they employ me.
To do that, I make an effort to scan into the temporal distance. This deposits me at this frontier. My son, Evan, who is capable of walking far horizons, has put me here. He gave me a copy of Homo Deus.
We shared enthusiasm for Sapiens, Yuval Noel Harari’s previous book. It was a sweeping swath through the development of mankind to this point. The scope was breathtaking: the acuity of insight into how we got to this point in time was of a class with Jared Diamond’s Guns Germs and Steel. GGS laid out how Western Europeans came to dominate the world. Sapiens lays out how we as a species came to dominate the world – for better or for worse.
I knew about Homo Deus a year ago. I remember listening to a CBC Ideas podcast while driving north across the Arizona desert in the winter of 2016. Harari’s was like a confident but disembodied voice reaching across the miles from a future that I sensed, but didn’t want to embrace. It scared me.
Chief among his memorable projections is the advent of the “useless class” – a legion, probably in excess of 50% of the present work force, who will have no utility by 2050. He means, by that time, so much routine, predictable, programmable work will be done by AI [artificial intelligence] that many of our existing workers will be redundant. And we will have to find a way of – sustaining them. If our existing value of prizing human existence is still primary.
This farseeing Israeli has freedom from the assumptions that bind us to today. We can see this group – the useless class – emerging now. We have groups of people who are rootless, who have no sustainable level of economic contribution to make. They may style themselves as free-lancers, healers, artists or other free thinking folk. But the essence is that they are not tied into the vital engines of value creation that drive the economy forward. So they fit Harari’s characterization.
Tonight, I am sitting next to the source. And following along a stream leading to same river, the inexorable draw to the future.
And it doesn’t feel friendly – not as Telus would want me to think.
Not that it’s bad. Just that it’s foreign, and feels beyond my mastery. But i can’t deny its force. Sure there are lots of bright people who can argue with the details.
But in his breezy, conversational trail of breadcrumbs, Harari takes us from here to a very different future – one where man becomes godlike. And he takes pains to defang the definition of God – taking it down from what he calls the Great Omnipotent Sky Father to the much more neighborly pursuit of immortality, happiness and bliss.
And he shows that we are making real, present ground on achieving those goals. It is not far off. It is next door.
Then he extends the trends that are driving those pursuits – to extend life span, to experience more pleasure, less pain. By logical easy steps, we get to this:
Throughout history most gods were believe to enjoy not omnipotence but rather specific abilities, such as the ability

  • to design and create living beings
  • to transform their bodies
  • to control the environment and the weather
  • to read minds and communicate at a distance
  • to travel at very high speeds and of course
  • to escape death and live indefinitely.

Certain traditional abilities that were considered divine for so many millennia have today become so commonplace we hardly think about them.
Whooo….. that’s at page 54. By the time I’m at page 65, my ears are pinned back and the mind is spinning as we move from that version of the present into a very highly believable next few decades. I don’t know if I can face into this! Not that I doubt it. Harari’s consummate grasp and high projecting viewpoint given in a very readable way make all this a very real and present subject.
He even nails my doubts –
When [people like me] hear of upgraded superhumans, they say “I hope I will be dead before that happens.” [what we fear most is becoming irrelevant], turning into a nostalgic old [person] who cannot understand the world around him or contribute much to it. This is what we fear collectively, as a species, when we hear of superhumans.
He eases into it – talks of “upgrading” humans by just moving along the continuum beyond healing disease and affliction – adapting new biotechnology to, well, upgrading. It’s a sneaky seductive path. And entirely believable.

It’s 4 am. I don’t know if I can brook any more facing into the piercing cold North wind of this news. On the other hand, I’m not sure I should evade it….
After all, I’m supposed to look ahead and help point the way for those coming along. Sure, they’re going to be in denial, but… Better to have the opportunity of exposure than to put head in sand….
Maybe, as Telus says, “The Future [really] is Friendly.”


Doug Bouey
Catalyst Strategic Consultants Ltd.

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Bringing out the best in you, your company and your people.

Doug Bouey, President
Catalyst Strategic Consultants Ltd.

Calgary, AB // Phone: 403.777.1144


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