"Homo Deus" by Yuval Noah Harari (2015)
"The Dataist revolution will probably take a few decades, if not a century or two. But then the humanist revolution too did not happen overnight. At first humans kept on believing in God, arguing that humans were sacred because they were created by God for some divine purpose. Only much later did some people dare say that humans are sacred in their own right, and that God doesn't exist at all. Similarly, today most Dataists claim that the Internet-of-All-Things is sacred because humans are creating it to serve human needs. But eventually the Internet-of-All-Things may become sacred in its own right."
Yuval Noah Harari is a Professor of History. He lectures at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has written one other book, Sapiens, about human history as viewed through the lens of evolutionary biology.
The subject of Homo Deus is a bit harder to pin down. It's essentially about the future of humanity, and thus forms a kind of sequel to Sapiens, but along the way it digresses into a number of other topics, with the forward-looking sections of this book being somewhat overwhelmed by Dr. Harari's attempts to settle the big questions as to what people really are, and what they've done up to this point in time.
I haven't read Sapiens (yet), but from the synopsis on Wikipedia I have the feeling that he's recapitulating most of that book in Homo Deus. I suppose that in this book he's putting a slightly different spin on some of his theories, but the mentions of genetic engineering, virtual immortality, and the Singularity in Homo Deus would be familiar from Dr. Harari's earlier work.
He begins Homo Deus with a glimpse at a future in which the ills of former generations are merely an unpleasant memory. He then goes back to the earliest moments in our history, advancing from our beginnings as hunter-gatherers to the development of farming, from there to the rise of religious traditions and the ascent of Humanism, and finally to the grim conclusion that we might not be the individuals we think we are - if we are truly individuals at all. He concludes the book with the idea that algorithms and forms of artificial intelligence might make many of us superfluous in the near future.
And what does the future hold after that? Is it a world in which the average person resembles a superhero? Is it a world in which we've merged with our machines? Is it a world in which we no longer exist, and in which we've been exterminated by AI? Dr. Harari might jump to a lot of conclusions, but he's more tentative when it comes to more distant events.
I can't say that I agreed with all of this book. Then again, I can't say that I disagreed with any of it either. It's just that his conception of individuality (or the lack thereof) bothers me somehow, and I think that news of its imminent demise might be a bit premature. Surely this concept of the self serves a larger evolutionary function (or, if you will, advantage), yet the author of Homo Deus seems to think that it will be discarded the moment someone releases the appropriate number of apps.
This said, Dr. Harari is an original thinker, and this book had me reflecting about how I interact with technology on a regular basis. He has a tendency to overgeneralize, but just the same Homo Deus is one of the most thought-provoking books I've read in a long time.
"Alan Turing: The Enigma" by Andrew Hodges (1983)
"Neuromancer" by William Gibson (1984)
"Permutation City" by Greg Egan (1994)
"The Crisis of Islamic Civilization" by Ali A. Allawi (2009)