Yuval Noah Harari is an Israeli professor of history and the author of the international bestseller Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Last September, he gave a talk during the annual retreat of the Centre for Interdisciplinary research during which he explained how, according to him, techno-religions might replace the liberal worship of the individual.
Despite all the talk of radical Islam and Christian fundamentalism, the most interesting place in the world from a religious perspective is not Syria or the Bible Belt, but Silicon Valley. That’s where hi-tech gurus are brewing for us brave new religions that have little to do with God, and everything to do with technology. They promise all the old prizes – happiness, peace, justice, and eternal life in paradise – but here on earth with the help of technology, rather than after death with the help of supernatural beings.
Of these new techno-religions the most radical is data religion, or Dataism.
Dataism adopts the current biological dogma that says that life is data-processing and that organisms are algorithms. Yet Dataism extends this dogma to argue that the whole universe is a flow of data, and that all phenomena can and should be understood as different patterns of data-flow and data-processing. Dataism has a deep respect for humans. It points out that for the last 70,000 years or so, Homo sapiens has been the best data-processing system in the universe. However, humankind’s final goal is to engineer the next generation of data-processing systems, and then move aside.
Once better systems are up and running, Sapiens algorithms will become outdated models that must be either upgraded or discarded. Back in the eighteenth century, humanism sidelined God by shifting from a deo-centric to a homo-centric worldview. In the twenty-first century, Dataism may sideline humans by shifting from a homo-centric to a data-centric view.