Wednesday, June 28, 2017
THE DATA RELIGION
Pointing the Way, Jamestown, NC
Yuval Noah Harari has written a very stimulating and thought-provoking book titled Homo Deus, A Brief History of Tomorrow. He covers a wide spectrum of human history up to the present and then dares to speculate on the future demise of current homo sapiens. Harari writes that “dataism declares that the universe consists of data flows, and the value of any phenomenon or entity is determined by its contribution to data processing…the life sciences have come to see organisms as biochemical algorithms…and computer scientists have learned to engineer increasingly sophisticated electronic algorithms…Dataism puts the two together, pointing out that exactly the same mathematical laws apply to both biochemical and electronic algorithms”. And he “expects electronic algorithms to eventually decipher and outperform biochemical algorithms.” We’re currently developing unprecedented computing power and giant databases beyond the human brain’s capacity to fathom the new master algorithms. But perhaps organisms really aren’t algorithms after all.
Harari notes that humans distill data into information, then into knowledge, and finally into wisdom. But he observes that the world is changing faster than ever before and we can no longer process the vast amounts of data out there these days. Although having power in ancient times meant having access to data and yesterday having the ability to interpret data meant having power, he advises that having power today means knowing what to ignore! Harari considers humankind a single data-processing system with the Internet-of-All-Things as its output. After all, who writes Wikipedia? All of us! Once this mission is accomplished, he boldly predicts that Homo sapiens (wise men) will vanish. They will be replaced by an elite and controlling upgraded minority of Homo Deus (God men).
Harari got my attention when he predicted that humans will want to add value because “when you are part of the data flow you are part of something much bigger than yourself.” After all, “what’s the point of doing or experiencing anything if nobody knows about it, and if it doesn’t contribute something to the global exchange of information?” I’ve personally always considered any learning experience only worthwhile if it is put into practice and shared. He instructs us in this digital media world to record experiences and share them by uploading them. Harari muses that one of the key ways we humans are superior to animals is in our ability to write poems and blogs about our experiences, thereby enriching the global data-processing system. Our value lies in turning our experiences into free-flowing data. And ideas change the world when they change our behavior.
Harari concludes with the questions “Are organisms really just algorithms, and is life really just data processing? What’s more valuable—intelligence or consciousness? What will happen to society, politics and daily life when non-conscious but highly intelligent algorithms know us better than we know ourselves?”
It's always good to forward think about the future and our Homo sapiens frontal lobe was the last to evolve for just such a purpose. That brain function is a major factor that separates us from animals that blithely go through life not knowing that there is an end to mortal life. But that ability not only gives us pause to speculate on the future, but to consider the potential for a spiritual life after this mortal one. I’m also convinced that we Homo sapiens can navigate the uncharted territory of Artificial Intelligence and super computers with God’s guiding hand.