vendredi 4 novembre 2016

Le nouveau livre choc de l’auteur de "Sapiens"


Après avoir étudié soixante-dix mille ans d’histoire de l’humanité dans « Sapiens », best-seller planétaire, Yuval Noah Harari se penche sur son futur.


Nouveau succès annoncé pour le phénomène de l'édition qu'est devenu le jeune (40 ans !) historien israélien Yuval Noah Harari. « Sapiens : une brève histoire de l'humanité » , publié en 2014, a connu un succès mondial d'une rare ampleur. L'auteur y retraçait les lignes forces des soixante-dix mille ans d'histoire de notre espèce, l'Homo sapiens. Au terme d'une enquête ayant consisté à demander à près de 200 personnalités économiques et politiques quel était, selon elles, le livre le plus à même d'éclairer notre décision dans un monde devenu instable, imprévisible et complexe, cet essai historique était arrivé en quatrième position des ouvrages les plus fréquemment cités.
Il ne faut pas avoir les talents de prospectiviste du professeur Harari pour conjecturer que son second opus, qui vient tout juste d'être publié en anglais (la traduction française ne paraîtra qu'en septembre 2017 chez Albin Michel), connaîtra le même destin.
DES TROIS ANCIENS FLÉAUX...
Après la grande question « d'où venons-nous ? », « Homo Deus : A Brief History of Tomorrow » aborde celle, non moins vaste mais sans doute plus risquée à traiter pour un historien, du« où allons-nous ? ». L'horizon temporel s'est ici singulièrement raccourci. Il ne s'agit plus de survoler soixante-dix millénaires mais de se borner à ce XXIe siècle commençant. Avec, posé d'entrée de jeu, un angle d'attaque fournissant son titre au premier des onze chapitres, « Le nouvel agenda humain » : quelles seront les principales préoccupations des élites dans cinquante ou cent ans ? Qu'est-ce qui alimentera le plus d'articles dans les journaux, de délibérations dans les Parlements, d'affaires devant les tribunaux, d'analyses stratégiques et de décisions d'investissement dans les conseils d'administration et les comités exécutifs ? Bref, qu'est-ce qui figurera à l'agenda des puissants de ce monde ?
Si Yuval Noah Harari pose le problème ainsi, c'est qu'il fait le constat que nous sommes à cet égard, nous les « Homo sapiens », à un tournant de notre histoire. Depuis l'apparition ¬conjointe de l'écriture et de la monnaie, il y a cinq mille ans à Sumer, l'histoire de l'humanité a été celle d'une lutte contre trois grands fléaux : la famine, la peste (prise ici comme symbole de toutes les maladies contagieuses ayant occasionné des épidémies dévastatrices) et la guerre - les familiers du Nouveau Testament auront reconnu là trois des quatre Cavaliers de l'Apocalypse.
Or, depuis très peu de temps, il n'en est plus ainsi. Certes, argumente l'auteur, la faim, les épidémies et les violences armées continuent et continueront encore un temps de faucher chaque jour des milliers de vies, mais ce ne sont plus des fatalités contre lesquelles l'homme ne peut rien. Grâce aux progrès de la médecine et à la croissance économique, les vraies menaces ont changé. Les statistiques mondiales le disent. Le sucre est plus dangereux que la poudre à canon, McDonald's tue plus que la sécheresse, Ebola ou Daech.
... AUX TROIS PROJETS FUTURS
Les trois vieux fléaux de l'humanité ne seront bientôt plus que de mauvais souvenirs. Mais, poursuit Yuval Noah Harari, l'histoire, comme la nature, a horreur du vide. A mesure qu'ils reculeront jusqu'à disparaître, d'autres projets s'inviteront à l'ordre du jour de l'humanité du XXIe siècle. En fait, ils le font déjà. Et l'auteur de « Homo Deus » les résume à trois. Le premier est la lutte contre la mort elle-même - le quatrième Cavalier de l'Apocalypse. Cette « guerre à la mort » a commencé voici peu dans la Silicon Valley ; elle ne va cesser de s'étendre, la start-up Calico (créée par Google) ayant juste été la première à monter vraiment à l'assaut. Le rêve de repousser indéfiniment la mort ne sera sans doute pas réalisé en 2100, mais ne serait-il pas bon de commencer à réfléchir à ce que voudrait dire pour nos structures familiales, pour nos Etats providence, pour nos contrats de travail, pour notre psyché même, une espérance de vie passée de soixante-quinze à cent cinquante ans ?
UNE NOUVELLE ESPÈCE
Le deuxième point à l'ordre du jour, ce sera le droit au bonheur. Le « droit à la poursuite du bonheur » n'était, dans l'esprit des Pères fondateurs américains, qu'une autre façon de dire : il faut limiter l'emprise de l'Etat, laisser chacun mener sa vie tel qu'il l'entend. La stagnation des niveaux subjectifs de bien-être et la hausse des suicides dans les pays ayant connu le « miracle économique » (Japon, Corée du Sud) montrent que la prospérité n'apporte pas le bonheur. Celui-ci est exclusivement l'affaire de notre équilibre biochimique. Après avoir utilisé les progrès du génie génétique et de la nanomédecine pour reculer l'échéance de la mort, l'humanité sera fatalement encline à manipuler cette biochimie de façon à maximiser notre niveau de bien-être, comme le rêvait, au tournant des XVIIIe et XIXe siècles, le philosophe Jeremy ¬Bentham.
Quant au troisième grand projet, il transcende les deux premiers dont il est l'aboutissement naturel : ce sera d'augmenter « Homo sapiens » en une nouvelle espèce, appelée « Homo Deus » parce que l'homme aura alors acquis une maîtrise de son propre substrat organique comparable aux « super-pouvoirs » des dieux païens. Ce changement ne se fera évidemment pas de façon subite, raisonnée ni même consciente. Mais il se fera. Et, au terme du processus, nous nous découvrirons aussi différents de nos ancêtres « Homo sapiens » qu'« Homo sapiens » aujourd'hui d'« Homo erectus ».
Tout cela peut paraître hautement spéculatif. Mais ce livre se veut justement une invitation à spéculer, si possible en se posant les « bonnes » questions. Les 200 personnalités interrogées cet été par « Les Echos Week-End » peuvent d'ores et déjà l'ajouter à ceux s'empilant sur leur table de chevet.  


COMMENTAIRE DE DIVERCITY
“A VERY INTELLIGENT BOOK”

“It is hard to imagine anyone could read this book without getting an occasional, vertiginous thrill.”
Edgar Morin nous conseille de revoir nos paradigmes de référence tous les cinq ans. Qui veut suivre ce conseil se doit absolument de lire HOMO DEUS qui malheureusement n’est encore accessible qu' en anglais, la traduction française est programmée pour septembre prochain. C’est à l’évidence un ouvrage majeur qui nous force tous à réfléchir au monde qui vient, lequel n’est pas forcément la catastrophe annoncée par beaucoup, quoique.
“The mark of a great book is that it not only alters the way you see the world, it also casts the past in a different light ... Harari shows us where mankind is headed in a clear-sighted and accessible manner.
Espérons que ces quelques extraits vous inciteront à vous précipiter chez Waterstone pour vous procurer ce brûlot qui vous mettra la tête à l’envers. A lire de toute urgence.
Nous y reviendrons sûrement et plus d’une fois. Bonne lecture.
MG


HOMO DEUS BY YUVAL NOAH HARARI REVIEW – HOW DATA WILL DESTROY HUMAN FREEDOM (The Guardian)
It’s a chilling (qui fait froid dans le dos)prospect, but the AI we’ve created could transform human nature, argues this spellbinding (fascinant, magique)  new book by the author of Sapiens
At the heart of this spellbinding book is a simple but chilling idea: human nature will be transformed in the 21st century because intelligence is uncoupling from consciousness. We are not going to build machines any time soon that have feelings like we have feelings: that’s consciousness. Robots won’t be falling in love with each other (which doesn’t mean we are incapable of falling in love with robots). But we have already built machines – vast data-processing networks – that can know our feelings better than we know them ourselves: that’s intelligence. Google – the search engine, not the company – doesn’t have beliefs and desires of its own. It doesn’t care what we search for and it won’t feel hurt by our behaviour. But it can process our behaviour to know what we want before we know it ourselves. That fact has the potential to change what it means to be human.
Yuval Noah Harari’s previous book, the global bestseller Sapiens, laid out the last 75,000 years of human history to remind us that there is nothing special or essential about who we are. We are an accident. Homo sapiens is just one possible way of being human, an evolutionary contingency like every other creature on the planet. That book ended with the thought that the story of homo sapiens could be coming to an end. We are at the height of our power but we may also have reached its limit. Homo Deus makes good on this thought to explain how our unparalleled ability to control the world around us is turning us into something new.
The evidence of our power is everywhere: we have not simply conquered nature but have also begun to defeat humanity’s own worst enemies. War is increasingly obsolete; famine is rare; disease is on the retreat around the world. We have achieved these triumphs by building ever more complex networks that treat human beings as units of information. Evolutionary science teaches us that, in one sense, we are nothing but data-processing machines: we too are algorithms. By manipulating the data we can exercise mastery over our fate (destin, fatum). The trouble is that other algorithms – the ones that we have built – can do it far more efficiently than we can. That’s what Harari means by the “uncoupling” of intelligence and consciousness. The project of modernity was built on the idea that individual human beings are the source of meaning as well as power. We are meant to be (nous sommes appelés à être)  the ones who decide what happens to us: as voters, as consumers, as lovers. But that’s not true any more. We are what gives networks their power: they use our ideas of meaning to determine what will happen to us.
Not all of this is new. The modern state, which has been around for about 400 years, is really just another data-processing machine. The philosopher Thomas Hobbes, writing in 1651, called it an “automaton” (or what we would call a robot). Its robotic quality is the source of its power and also its heartlessness: states don’t have a conscience, which is what allows them sometimes to do the most fearful things. What’s changed is that there are now processing machines that are far more efficient than states: as Harari points out, governments find it almost impossible to keep up with the pace (suivre le rythme) of technological advance. It has also become much harder to sustain the belief – shared by Hobbes – that behind every state there are real flesh-and-blood human beings. The modern insistence on the autonomy of the individual goes along with a view that it should be possible to find the heart of this heartless world. Keep scratching (gratter) at a faceless bureaucracy and you’ll eventually uncover a civil servant (fonctionnaire) with real feelings. But keep scratching at a search engine and all you’ll find are data points.
We are just at the start of this process of data-driven transformation and Harari says there is little we can do to stop it. Homo Deus is an “end of history” book, but not in the crude sense that he believes things have come to a stop. Rather the opposite: things are moving so fast that it’s impossible to imagine what the future might hold. In 1800 it was possible to think meaningfully about what the world of 1900 would be like and how we might fit in (nous en accomoder). That’s history: a sequence of events in which human beings play the leading part. But the world of 2100 is at present almost unimaginable. We have no idea where we’ll fit in, if at all. We may have built a world that has no place for us.
Given what an alarming thought this is, and since we aren’t there yet, why can’t we do more to stop it from happening? Harari thinks the modern belief that individuals are in charge of their fate was never much more than a leap of faith (un acte de foi). Real power always resided with networks. Individual human beings are relatively powerless creatures, no match for lions or bears. It’s what they can do as groups that has enabled them to take over the planet. These groupings – corporations, religions, states – are now part of a vast network of interconnected information flows. Some people have given up the fight (renoncer au combat). In place of the founding tenets  (dogmes, principes fondamentaux) of modernity – liberalism, democracy and personal autonomy – there is a new religion: Dataism. Its followers – many of whom reside in the Bay Area of California – put their faith in information by encouraging us to see it as the only true source of value. We are what we contribute to data processing. There is potentially a huge upside (côté lumière) to this: it means we will face fewer and fewer obstacles to getting what we want, because the information needed to supply us will be instantly accessible. Our likes  (nos plaisirs)and our experiences will merge ( se fondre). Our lifespans (longévité) could also be hugely extended: Dataists believe that immortality is the next frontier to be crossed. But the downside (côté ombre) is obvious, too. Who will “we” be any more? Nothing more than an accumulation of information points. Twentieth-century political dystopias (utopia/ dystopia; eustress /distress) sought to stamp on (imprimer sa marque) individuals with the power of the state. That won’t be necessary in the coming century. As Harari says: “The individual will not be crushed by Big Brother; it will disintegrate from within.”
Corporations and governments will continue to pay homage to our individuality and unique needs, but in order to service them they will need to “break us up into biochemical subsystems”, all of them permanently monitored by powerful algorithms. There is a dystopian political aspect to this, too: the early adopters – the individuals who sign up first to the Dataist project – will be the only ones with any real power left and it will be relatively unchallenged. Gaining entry into this new super-elite will be incredibly hard. You’ll need heroic levels of education plus zero squeamishness (pruderie) about marrying your personal identity with intelligent machines. Then you can become one of the new “gods”. It’s a grim (sinistre) prospect: a small priestly caste of seers (voyants, prophètes) with access to the ultimate source of knowledge, and the rest of humanity simply tools in their vast schemes. The future could be a digitally supercharged version of the distant past: ancient Egypt multiplied by the power of Facebook.
Harari is careful not to predict that these outlandish visions will come to pass. The future is unknowable, after all. He reserves his strongest opinions for what all this should mean for the current (actuel) state of relations between humans and animals. If intelligence and consciousness are coming apart then this puts most human beings in the same situation as other animals: capable of suffering at the hands of the possessors of superior intelligence. Harari does not seem too worried about the prospect of robots treating us like we treat flies, with violent indifference. Rather, he wants us to think about how we are treating animals in our vast industrialised farming systems. Pigs unquestionably suffer when living in cramped (encaqué, entravé) conditions or forcibly separated from their young. If we think this suffering doesn’t count because it is not allied to a higher intelligence, then we are building a rod for our own backs (tresser la corde pour nous pendre; tailler les verges pour nous frapper le dos). Soon the same will be true of us. And what price our suffering then?
This is a very intelligent book, full of sharp insights and mordant wit (ironie, esprit). But as Harari would probably be the first to admit, it’s only intelligent by human standards (en fonctions de critères humains), which are nothing special. By the standards of the smartest machines it’s woolly (farfelu) and speculative. The datasets are pretty limited. Its real power comes from the sense of a distinctive consciousness behind it. It is a quirky (original)and cool book, with a sliver of ice at its heart. Harari cares about the fate of animals in a human world but he writes about the prospects for homo sapiens in a data-driven world with a lofty (hautain) insouciance. I have to admit I found this deeply appealing (très séduisant), but that may be because of who I am (apart from anything else, a man). Not everyone will find it so. But it is hard to imagine anyone could read this book without getting an occasional, vertiginous thrill. (excitation)Nietzsche once wrote that humanity is about to set sail on an open sea, now that we have finally left Christian morality behind. Homo Deus makes it feel as if we are standing at the edge of a cliff after a long and arduous journey. The journey doesn’t seem so important any more. We are about to step into thin air.
• Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow is published by Harvill Secker. To order a copy for £20.50 (RRP £25) go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.
YUVAL NOAH HARARI began his academic career as a researcher of medieval warfare (les techniques  militaires). Then, the story goes,  he embarked on a crusade of his own. He was invited to teach a course that no one else in the faculty fancied (wanted to teach) – a broad-brush introduction to the whole of human activity on the planet. That course became a widely celebrated book, Sapiens, championed by Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Barack Obama, and translated into 40 languages. It satisfied perfectly an urgent desire for grand narrative in our fragmenting Buzz-fed world. The rest is macro-history.
Yuval Noah Harari: The age of the cyborg has begun – and the consequences cannot be known
Read more
On almost every page of Sapiens, a bible of mankind’s cultural and economic and philosophical evolution, our millennial battles with plague (la peste) and war and famine, Harari announced himself a Zen-like student of historical paradox: “We did not domesticate wheat (cereals),” he wrote, “wheat domesticated us”; or “How do you cause people to believe in an imagined order such as Christianity, democracy or capitalism? First, you never admit that the order is imagined.” The most intriguing section of a wildly intriguing book was the last. Harari’s history of our 75,000 years wound up, as all bibles are apt to do, with apocalyptic prophesy, a sense of an ending.
Humanity, Harari predicted, would engineer one more epochal event to rival the agricultural and scientific revolutions. Having evolved to exercise a measure of mastery over our environment, having begun to shape not only our planet, for better and worse, but also our biology, we stand, he argued, at the point of creating networked intelligences with a far greater capacity for reason than our own. The result was likely to be a lose-lose scenario for the species. Sapiens would disappear in the foreseeable future either because they had appropriated such mind-making powers as to become unrecognisable or because they had destroyed themselves through environmental catastrophe. Either way, judgment day was approaching.
Individuals will become a just a collection of 'biochemical subsystems' monitored by global networks
Like all great epics, Sapiens demanded a sequel. Homo Deus, in which that likely apocalyptic future is imagined in detail, is that book. It is a highly seductive scenario planner for the numerous ways in which we might overreach ourselves.
“Modernity is a deal,” Harari writes. “The entire contract can be summarised in a single phrase: humans agree to give up meaning in exchange for power.” That power, he suggests, may in the near term give us godlike attributes: the ability to extend lifespans and even cheat (tromper, litt. tricher avec) death, the agency to create new life forms, to become intelligent designers of our own Galapagos, the means (moyens) to end war and famine and plague. There will be a price to pay for this power, however.
For a start, Harari suggests, it is destined, if current trends continue, to be vastly unequally distributed. The new longevity and super-human qualities are likely to be the preserve of the techno super-rich, the masters of the data universe. Meanwhile, the redundancy (redondance, inutilité) of labour, supplanted by efficient machines, will create an enormous “useless class”, without economic or military purpose (but, finalité). In the absence of religion, fictions will be required to make sense of the world. Again, if nothing in our approach changes, Harari envisages that “Dataism”, a universal faith in the power of algorithms, will become sacrosanct. To utopians this will look a lot like the “singularity”: an all-knowing, omnipresent data-processing system, which is really indistinguishable from ideas of God, to which humans will be constantly connected. To dystopians it will look like that too.
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari – review
A swash-buckling account that begins with the origin of the species and ends with post-humans, writes Galen Strawson
Harari is mostly, thrillingly or chillingly, sanguine about this prospect. He has an ethicist’s sense of rough justice: what Homo sapiens (in its wisdom) has visited on the natural world through industrialised food production will perhaps one day be visited on Homo sapiens. Individuals will become a just a collection of “biochemical subsystems” monitored by global networks, which will inform us second by second how we feel…
Or perhaps, as Harari is stringent (rigoureux)about reminding the reader, they will not. Like all rune-reading, this one comes with plenty of small print. From where we stand, he says, in the accelerating present, no long-term future is imaginable, still less predictable – and there is plenty of time for questions. Harari’s sometimes breathless, always compulsive inquiry leaves us with this one: “What’s more valuable – intelligence or consciousness?” Google will be no help in providing the answer.
Homo Deus is published by Harvill Secker (£25). Click here to buy it for £17.50
What next for mankind? Yuval Noah Harari explores the future.
(…)
Harari’s last book, Sapiens, was a tale of “how some undistinguished middling-sized mammals came to be rulers of the world,” explained Jane O’Grady in the Sunday Telegraph. “In Homo Deus, Harari now predicts our future. Once again, he juggles disciplines and conveys  (transmettre)his finely structured ideas with ease and clarity. This time, the photographs are in colour. The message, however, is dark.” Pat Kane, in the New Scientist, called it a “big friendly giant of a book”, with “all the pedagogic and encyclopaedic brilliance of its predecessor”. The musician Jarvis Cocker, in the Mail on Sunday, chose it as his favourite: “The mark of a great book is that it not only alters the way you see the world, it also casts the past in a different light ... Harari shows us where mankind is headed in a clear-sighted and accessible manner.”
But the veteran novelist John Boyne was perhaps the most pleasantly surprised. “Look, I’ll be honest and say that I didn’t think it was going to be very good,” he admitted in the Irish Times. “I was completely and utterly wrong … Holding is a considerable achievement and if it was a debut novel by an unknown Irish writer it would likely garner significant praise.” He added plaudits such as “considerable empathy”, “sensitivity and understanding” and “real originality”, before concluding: “It’s possible that Norton has been wasted on TV all these years.”



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