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HUMAN AFTER ALL

On his visit to Istanbul, historian and author of the bestsellers ‘Sapiens’ and ‘Homo Deus’, Yuval Noah Harari, meets us to discuss the secrets of our species’ past success, our present entanglement with authoritarianism, and our future, synthetic, selves.

INTERVIEW BY ALPER BAHÇEKAPILI

PHOTOGRAPHY BY EMRE GÜVEN

 

Do you think that humans are somehow a special or chosen species?


I don’t think there is anybody doing the choosing, so there is no ‘chosen species’. There is a growing realisation in the scientific community that the power humankind is gaining at present will make it possible to start changing the human species. In the next century or so, homo sapiens is likely to be superseded and replaced.

 

What do you think will supersede or replace us?


There are three main possibilities – which might happen all at the same time. The first possibility is that we will use biotechnology and bioengineering to change our organic bodies. The most famous example is using genetic engineering to change our DNA, but you can also make other changes: you can rejuvenate organs or change the biochemical balance of the body. So this is a reengineering of the organic body that we are already able to do.
The second possibility is to combine organic with inorganic parts and to create cyborgs. You can replace human hands and eyes with bionic hands and eyes, you can augment the human immune system with a bionic immune system – it’s already been developed. Nanorobots the size of blood cells have been developed that constantly go through your bloodstream, detect dangers like cancer and attack those cells to protect your body. So there you have your same body, but with a bionic immune system inside it.
Then the third and most radical way is to completely abandon the organic body and create entities which are inorganic. For example, robots that have intelligence and perhaps even consciousness which is based on computer science, not biochemistry. Some experts envisage the possibility of uploading human consciousness into a computer, and thereby even gaining immortality, because in the computer, your mind can live forever – at least in theory.

Certainly it’s not possible today, but in fifteen years, who knows?

 

What about the effects of inequality on happiness? You have mentioned before that you regard the hunter-gatherer period as some kind of golden age where people lived particularly happily – do you think this was down to equality?


In the agricultural revolution human kind as a collective gained a lot more power but the lives of the average person actually became worse. The life of the average peasant was more difficult than the life of the average hunter-gatherer. This should teach us a lesson and we should be careful about what’s happening now in the world. It’s obvious that new inventions and new technologies, like artificial intelligence, are going to make us collectively far more powerful. But it doesn’t mean that it will make us individually happier. Instead of technology making the life of the average person better, it will empower a very small elite, and make the life of the masses of the population actually worse than before.