FUTURE HUMANS: Four Possible Evolutionary Paths

In his article “Future Humans: Four ways we may or may not Evolve” dated November 24, 2009, James Owen honored the 150 year anniversary of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” by documenting what a few scientists speculate on some popular ways we humans may, or may not, evolve be as digitized electronic immortal beings or cyborgs bound in muscle.

four ways future humans may evolveHis first documented prediction considers the possibility that human evolution is in fact dead. In this prediction, he argues against Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’ concept by suggesting that even the weakest survive long enough to transfer their genes to the next generation, thanks to medical advances. At the time that Darwin came up with this concept- James Owen notes, only a half of Britain’s population grew to the age of 21. Currently, that figure sits pretty at 99%.

Also, increased human mobility means a lot of cross-breeding among humans, indicating that Darwin’s theory of natural selection becomes irrelevant: there is no isolation therefore little chance that the fixation of any significant biological novelties would appear from which to select. We’re all stuck trading about the traits that currently exist in the gene pool.

His second relayed prediction- that evolution in humans will continue- also considers natural selection but Owen takes another view. On the one hand, in an increasingly complex technological world, mates will be selected for their ability to thrive in this new environment and average intelligence will increase as a result. Of course the proponent of this notion fails to take into account the actual inverse relationship between income and quantity of offspring that occurs in the real world.  As another part to the second prediction, on scientist argues that advancement in human biotechnology will ultimately make it possible for humans to select the best genes for themselves and especially their offspring. The end result will be an entire generation of humans with attractive characteristics such as height, masculinity, intelligence, health, and social status. Also, our immune systems will become stronger as pathogens travel ever increasingly to different corners of the earth, helping humans to become universally immune.

Four ways future humans may evolve

Four ways future humans may evolveJames Owens’ documented third prediction is a bit more far reaching; that humans will evolve into electronic immortals. This prediction considers the concept of transhumanism, a form of unnatural selection that is much faster than natural selection. Here, humans will live forever, use uploaded (and faster) minds (using advanced operating systems), download themselves to become robots at will and even travel at the speed of light as a pattern of information. Imagine reducing your food budget right to zero! These ‘humans’ will have brains that are scanned- one atom at a time and uploaded on computers. Even better, ‘copying’ will mean that humans wouldn’t need to take the biological 20 plus years to mature- they could just be mature in seconds, experiencing the years of angst via simulated reality in torrents of electrons.

Four ways future humans may evolveFinally, the author looks at the possibility of colonizing off world as an evolutionary direction.  Here, James Owen wonders what would happen if some humans just went on one way voyages into space and to some new places on the solar system. He considers the possibility that some habitable planets might be discovered, then some humans (perhaps all) would migrate to those planets. They would eventually likely develop features that would make them ever more comfortable there.

See the original National Geographic article here.

 

10 of the Weirdest Futurist Scenarios for the Evolution of Humanity

In the July 2012 article, “10 of the Weirdest Futurist Scenarios for the Evolution of Humanity”, George Dvorsky has a little pseudo-scientific fun with projecting out scenarios of future human evolution.  In the article he takes a squint-eyed view of 10 possible futurist outcomes of human evolution.

Homo heidelbergensis

Homo heidelbergensis

First, he thinks that voluntary devolution would be a nice idea. That it would be our great service to the rest of the animal kingdom to use our technological advances to take us backwards instead of forwards. The intent would be to return to pre-civilization and ultimately back to the jungle. That way, he contends, we will not be harmful to ourselves, our planet or other animals and would also make good prey for lions and their like.

Dvorsky doesn’t stop there; he goes on to provide another alternative- voluntary extinction! This also borrows from the idea that humans are the worst thing to happen to mother earth, and would be a nice idea- as says the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (VHEM), if we just stop breeding and eventually die out. The result would be that every other creature would then be able to live and die on their own terms without being ‘encouraged’ by us!

eco-human-of-the-futureThen there’s the eco-human possibility. Here, most philosophers have their doubts about our ability to deal with climate change and more ecological disasters. What they are confident we can do however is to pharmacologically make ourselves dislike meat somehow (to increase the mortality rates of chicken, cows, pork and the rest), reduce our ecological footprints by reducing our physical selves, use cat-eyes technology to lessen our need for lighting and more. By this method, we would be preserving our resources like light and space.

He also thinks we could become transgenic humans, using transgenic technology to inter-mingle with the rest of the animals. Using this, we could borrow a dog’s high end sense of smell and hearing, cat eyes, eagles’ vision, and other useful traits to put all of them into ourselves. As transhumans, we could be quite something. Imagine having hawk vision, cat eyes, lizard scales and shark teeth while retaining your awesome thinking- quite the sight!

big-head-human-in-the-futureThe fifth scenario borrows from a fundamental belief about evolution- that unused parts of anything eventually wither away. Considering that humans lately use mostly their brains and hands to eat, Dvorsky sees a time when all humans will be just some huge brains walking around on hands and strictly following this principle, the guy has a point; we no longer walk- we just drive, so our legs will eventually disappear. There are suggestions we will soon stop eating, so our stomachs will wither away. We might also stop breathing if upcoming lung technologies work out, so basically we will just need our brains. It is hard to suppress a good laugh on this imagination.

Dvorsky also looks at the likely scenario where there will be a collective superorganism (like the bees and ants have), where the state controls the action- and more frighteningly- the thoughts of the populace. It will use cyber-brain hacking and nanobots to do this. Some find this ‘global brain’ idea fascinating but Dvorsky naturally asks how much of an individual would remain in such a sea of multiple conscious thoughts competing against one another! Might we be digging ourselves into some big hole? I don’t know.

post-gendered-humans-in-the-futureAdvanced cybernetic and reproductive technologies will make humans postgendered.  As males and females, we are basically biologically bound binary species but should we somehow manage to become cyborgs- as is expected, we would then have the privilege of having exosomatic wombs and choose sexual characteristics that please us instead or even discard the whole gender thing and just be asexual or just invent some fancy new genders that are easier to alter at a whim. At this point, we wouldn’t be your ordinary biological organisms.

Hot on the heels of this gender selection thing, we would then give rise to ‘designer babies’! You got that right. The trick here would be to select the finest traits we would like our kids to have and if they later don’t like those traits, even more advanced technology would allow them to remove or enhance those traits. The problem- or funny part (depending on which side of the fence you are on)- of this is- as Dvorsky observes- that people will reach weird levels in trying to outdo each other. Athletes for example have naturally developing characteristics. The future lads however will be made of sterner stuff. A basket baller for example thrives a lot on height, so he will likely enhance his height. His opponent will also then want to make himself much taller. The guy who started this will then seek to be still taller and so on. At the end of the day, how much height would they handle?

Consider swimmers- they thrive largely on limbs- won’t they then ultimately end up with limbs longer than swimming pools? Future Olympics will be quite interesting.

humans-all-limbs-in-the-futureHis ninth scenario takes us to space. Obviously, in our current form, we will suffocate out there so the good hearted scientists are tripping over themselves to get this fixed. Dvorsky cites Robert Freitas’ plan to eliminate the need for breathing and breathable air by somehow rendering human lungs unnecessary while Ray Kurzweil has advised that in future, nanobots will power our cells even better than food would. Craig Venter on his part has highlighted the need for an inner ear that will keep us safe from motion sickness. He has also called for development of DNA repair where radiation is likely and genes for bone regeneration. Other scientists have opted to suggest that we would be better off as some huge octopus wannabes able to slither effortlessly in this environment of zero gravity. Hairlessness, slower turn-over of skin, smaller stature and higher energy utilization will also be necessary. As soon as we can develop all these, then we can pack our bags and head out into space.

George Dvorsky’s tenth weird scenario for evolution isn’t necessarily the lousiest. Actually, it is one of the very highlights of future humans. The idea of uploading human consciousness right into a supercomputer.

This might seem fancy, but scientists are actually giving timelines about when it will be achieved- supposedly sooner than we might think. That’s not the weird part. The weird part is that using this uploading technology, uploaded minds will likely want to outdo one another in a competitive economy by making unlimited copies of themselves.

Another weird part would be that the upload could adjust its clock speed to even such low levels that the upload can literally watch mountains rise and fall.

The uploads could also switch their robot bodies effortlessly and alter the existing parameters of their environments generated by computers. The result; the very nature of subjective and physiological awareness could change.

Visit George’s original article here.

The Future of Homo Sapiens

By professor Jacob Palme, First version 29-May-2006, last revision 23-Mar-2012

Will the human species, Homo Sapiens, continue to evolve in the next millions of years? If so, how? What can we learn from what we know about Homo Sapiens development until now?

The Creation of Homo Sapiens

The human species (Homo Sapiens sapiens) started its existence between 110 000 and 50 000 years ago. Its development diverged from the apes about 5 million years ago.

The earth has been capable of supporting life for about 3 billion years, and is expected to continue being able to support life for between 200 million and 5 billion years in the future.

Using the higher estimate, if we view the period of being able to support life as 24 hours, then we are now about 9 o’clock in the morning, humans diverged from the apes about a minute ago and the human species started to exist 1-2 seconds ago.

Using the lower estimate, if we view the period of being able to support life as 24 hours, then we are now about one hour before midnight, humans diverged from the apes about 2 minutes ago and the human species started to exist about 5 seconds ago.

The average life span of a species on earth is a few million years. Every year, thousands of species cease to exist and thousands of new species are created. Will thus the human species cease to exist in a few million years, like most other animals? If so, why, and what will replace it? Or are humans so unique and different from other species, that experience from other species cannot be applied, and humans may continue to exist for a much longer time?

Note: This paper discusses many ethically and politically sensitive issues, and some readers will probably be offended by this. But the goal is not to give any views on what is right and wrong, what should be permitted or forbidden. The goal is only to discuss what will probably happen in the future of human evolution.

Differences between Humans and other Species

Humans differ so much from other species, that human future development may not be governed by the same principles as other animals. [Miller 2004] says that humans and human society should be seen as a fourth system of structured energy, Tetrology, different from the previous atomic, chemical and biological systems.

Miller says that humans differ in the use of advanced technology, use of controlled energy, use of clothes, use of sense-enhancements like glasses, telescopes or microscopes, advanced social organization, advanced language.

Also many religious organizations and other belief systems regard humans, or sometimes a subset of humans, as the chosen people, made by God to mimic himself.

On the other hand, it is apparent that many typical animal behaviors also occur in humans, as has been pointed out by [Morris 1967-1997] and [Diamond 1993]. Humans have a mating behavior and an aggressive behavior which is obviously inherited from our animal ancestors.

This is important when discussing the future of the human species, because humans may be so different that experience from animals cannot tell us anything about the future of Homo Sapiens.

How a Species Ceases to Exist

To discuss this issue, one must first discuss which processes causes a species to cease to exist. Some such processes are:

  1. The species is specialized to a natural habitat, which ceases to exist. The risk for this is rather low for the human species, because of its high adaptability to changing environments. A cosmic catastrophe like a giant meteorite will certainly kill most people on earth, but some will probably survive, and will rapidly proliferate again.
  2. In the case of humans, because humans have so thoroughly modified their environment (cutting down forests, carbon dioxide pollution, etc.) there is a risk that humans will themselves modify their environment in such a way that they cannot survive in it any more.
  3. The species is out-competed by another species, like the Neanderthals were out-competed by Homo Sapiens. There is today no existing species which might threaten the human species. There is a possibility that a new species, based on humans, may replace the human species, but then humans do not stop to exist, just continue in another form.
  4. The species gradually evolves, through natural selection, into a new species. Such evolution is however slow for such a large and wide-spread species as the human. It usually occurs in small, geographically isolated environments.
  5. The species is exterminated by a ruthless predator. This is the way the ruthless predator Homo Sapiens has exterminated almost all big animals on the earth. Also within the human species, races have been exterminated or nearly exterminated by other races, for example the Australian aborigines. Such extermination is nowadays labelled “genocide” and is very much disapproved of. No non-human predator threatening humans is likely to evolve, expect possibly a new species based on the human species.
  6. The human species might also be threatened by a new virus or bacteria, but experience indicates that it is unlikely that such a threat will appear, such that we will not be able to combat it or that the whole species will be exterminated by such a threat.
  7. When bacteria grow in a mold, they reach a stage where there are too many bacteria, and they all die because of overpopulation.

How a New Species Can Replace Homo Sapiens

A new species, to replace Homo Sapiens, might be created in different ways:

  1. By natural selection in a limited population (New species occur mostly in limited populations, [Mayr 2001 p. 136]. Widespread species undergo little evoutionary change [Mayr 2001 p 254].) This is not very probable, since the tendency to intermingle among all humans is very large. Much more probable is that the human species itself evolves without splitting into a new species [Mayr 2001 p. 191], but also such evolution is not very probable, at least in a short time range [Mayr 2001, p. 261].
  2. By explicit creation through breeding or genetic manipulation of Homo Sapiens. This is the most likely alternative. When parents are given the option of creating better-than-average children, it can be expected that many parents will choose this option. Even if politicians talk a lot about the ethics of genetic manipulation, they will in practice probably not be able to stop some people using this option.
  3. By explicit creation through breeding or genetic manipulation of another species. But no such species very suitable for replacing humans exist.
  4. By an artificially created species. This might even be based on computers and not on biology. However, we are very far from this option today [Pearson 2004]. “Artificial intelligence” is a branch of computer science, but its results until now are very far from creating a species which can outcompete humans. No computer has the general adaptable intelligence of humans, nor can they even reproduce themselves.

Has Homo Sapiens Evolved Before?

Modern Homo Sapiens originated between 110 000 and 50 000 years ago. But until 50 000 years ago, it existed only in Africa. Then, in just a few thousand years, the art suddenly expanded into the whole of Europe and Asia, and eradicated all the rests of previous humanoids like Homo Neanderthalus and Homo Erectus [Klein 2004]. Many anthropologist believe that this must have been caused by a genetic mutation, for example a mutation which increased the language capabilities. Other’s claim that the human brain has not changed for 150 000 years [Mayr 2001, p. 252]. But they base this claim on fossils, and fossils may not show changes in the organisation within the brain.

After that, Homo Sapiens continued to live as a hunter-gatherer until about 10 000 years ago, when agriculture suddenly began and rapidly changed the prosperity of Homo Sapiens. Why did this suddenly happen 10 000 years ago? Many anthropologists believe that again, the cause was a mutation, probably in the area of linguistic skills.

Genetic research shows that certain genes related to the brain size did change between 5 800 and 37 000. Exactly this gene cannot explain changes in humans, since not all intelligent humans have this particular gene. But the fact that genes related to brain size have changed in this time span indicates that humans are still evolving [Warner 2005].

One of the researchers behild this result is qouted as saying “Our studies indicate that the trend that is the defining characteristic of human evolution — the growth of brain size and complexity — is likely still going on If our species survives for another million years or so, I would imagine that the brain by then would show significant structural differences from the human brain of today.”

Thus, it seems as if Homo Sapiens has evolved, and as if the major evolutionary events occurred quite suddenly. If this continues, we can expect that a sudden good mutation perhaps 10 000 years into the future can again change Homo Sapiens by natural selection. Of course we do not know exactly when this mutation will evolve.

How Homo Sapiens can Evolve

Homo Sapiens can evolve through natural selection or through breeding or genetic manipulation. Breeding and genetic manipulation is most probable for a few people in technically evolved countries.

Natural selection is most effective when many animals die before reproduction. Thus, natural selection is more effective in developing countries. In industrial countries, medical development allows most of those who would die to live and reproduce.

The size of the brain of humanoids has increased three times in the last two million years [Hofman 2002]. This icnrease has meant more connections, less nerve cells. This means that with the current design, the brain cannot become more than three times larger than it is today. Other studies [Pearson 1997] indicate similar results.

Note that a species need not evolve. Some species remain identical for hundreds of thousands or millions of years [Meyr 2001, p. 193, 195]. And the evolution of humans has had long periods of little change, such as the Homo Erectus which did not change very much for 1.5 million years.

Will Homo Sapiens Deteriorate

Some people say that the lack of effective natural selection for humans in industrial countries will cause the human species to deteriorate, since natural selection is necessary to keep a species healthy. As a simple example, the existence of spectacles would cause more people to be born near sighted.

However, this is counteracted by immigration of people from less developed countries. This immigration is today so large, that it can probably counter the risk of deterioration of the species as a whole.

Also, future use of genetic manipulation and intentional breeding can be expected to counteract degradation.

Genetic Manipulation and Artificial Breeding

Genetic manipulation and artificial breeding is today disliked, because it was used in earlier years by governments in questionable ways. Most known is the Nazi ideas of killing or sterilizing “inferior people” like Jews and people with mental illnesses. Also in non-Nazi countries, enforced sterilization was common earlier, but is not done so much today.

The reason for this is that such government control is today not regarded as ethical, and also that the efficiency of such schemes is debatable. All schemes which reduce the genetic variation within the human species can cause more harm than value.

In spite of this, it is my belief that genetic manipulation and artificial breeding will be important in the future, but not done by the governments but by parents. Already, today, more and more pregnant women voluntarily screen for disabilities and genetic diseases of the faetus and choose abortion rather than giving birth to a child with a genetic illness [Tännsjö 1999].

This will probably become much more common in the future, with better medical and technical options of influencing the genes of future children [Pearson 1997]. There will certainly be a lot of discussions about the ethics of this, but my belief is that positive genetic manipulations will eventually become accepted ethically. And this might create a race of superhumans, which might even become a new species threatening its creator.

Evolution of Human Cultures

One can note that a Darwinian type of evolution today does not exist only for Homo Sapiens itself, but for various cultural organisations of humans. In particular, the economic competition on the world market has many Darwinian features, with survival of the fittest as one central function.

Do You Agree?

If you do not agree, or have more ideas on the future of Homo Sapiens, you are welcome to comment on this paper. Your comments may influence future versions of it. A forum for discussion is available.

References

The original of this paper can be found at http://web4health.info/en/aux/homo-sapiens-future.html.

There is not very much written about the future of Homo Sapiens. There are a large number of books about evolution and human evolution and about how humans were formed by evolution, and this is important for understanding what will happen in the future. Here are presentations of some such books:

 

  • [Leakey and Lewin 1977]
  • Origins: The Emergence and Evolution of Our Species and Its Possible Future
  • By Richard E. Leakey and Roger Lewin.
  • ISBN 0-525-48013-7.
  • E. P. Dutton publishers 1977.
  • A detailed and interesting overview of all the stages of evolution of Homo Sapiens since the separation from the monkeys 5-7 million years ago.
  • [Mayr 2001]
  • What Evolution Is
  • By Ernst Mayr, Basic Books, 2001.
  • Lots of information about how Darwinian evolution works.
  • [Miller 2003]
  • From DNA to ABC
  • By Joel Miller.
  • ISBN 91-972454-3-7.
  • BenTarZ Productions, 2003.
  • A collection of essays, many of them give interesting ideas on human development and human languages development. Are humans distinguished from the monkeys by the use of tools? But monkeys also sometimes use tools. Are human distinguished by building houses? But beavers and birds also build nests.
  • Miller claims that modern human society is a distinct new stage which he calls “civil society”. I wonder if historians five hundred years from now will agree with this?
  • On the future, the author says that implanting of electronics inside the human body will be an important feature of how people live in the future. I agree with him, this is quite probable an area where major changes in our lifestyle will come in the future.
  • [Bryant 1999]
  • Evolution of animals and the age of reptiles
  • by Peter J. Bryant
  • An overview of how life started and developed on earth. Life started 3 billion years ago, multi-cellular organisms 2 billion years ago, complex organisms 600 million years ago, mammals outcompeted the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
  • [Miller 2004]
  • Tetrology and the Tetrastic System
  • By Joel Miller
  • A presentation of the view that the human system of organizing knowledge is so different from the previous atomic, chemical and biological systems, that is should be seen as a forth, Tetrastic system.
  • [Pearson 1997]
  • The Future of Human Evolution
  • By Ian Pearson
  • Darwinian Evolution will have limited impact on the future of Homo Sapiens, since other kinds of evolution, such as breeding, genetic engineering and electronics will take over as dominant factors.
  • [Warner 2005]
  • Human Brain Still a Work in Progress
  • By Jennifer Warner, The Human Genome Project, citing: Evans, P. Mekel-Bobrov, N. Science, Sept. 9, 2005; vol 309: pp 1717-1720; 1720-1722. News release, Howard Hughes Medical Institute. News release, University of Chicago Medical Center, Science Daily.

 

  • [Morris 1967-1997]
  • The Naked Ape, The Human Zoo and Intimate behavior, The Human Sexes, The Naked Eye
  • By Desmond Morris
  • ISBN: 0-385-33430-3, 1-56836-163-7, 0-09-1878675, 0-563-38358-5.
  • These three books which give many interesting insights into how human behavior is governed by our animal past.

Related information

Credit

Original Article reprinted with permission from here.

Peter Ward’s “Future Evolution”

In our Future Vision page we paint one likely scenario for Future Human Evolution, that of diversity through genetic alteration and cybernetic utility, and a propagation of the species throughout the galaxy and beyond. As the web’s oldest site dedicated solely to the future of human evolution, we based this scenario on the convergence of genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, and space colonization. We were pleased to see this convergence and the extrapolation of these themes catching on in popularity after having been somewhat of a lone voice working to popularize thinking and speculation about the diversified future of humans.

MSNBC ran a series on the Future of Human Evolution several years after our site’s 2003 debut and despite the fact that Alan Boyle did not include us in his article ;-) we like the fact that his promotion of the ideas taken from Peter Ward is in line with our primary purpose: Stimulate our collective thinking. We therefore gladly present a summary of the ideas he wrote about, most of which can be explored further on this site.

In his book “Future Evolution”, University of Washington paleontologist Peter Ward (he also wrote “Rare Earth”) argues that we are making ourselves virtually extinction-proof by bending Earth’s flora and fauna to our will. It might be assumed that the human species will be hanging around for at least another 500 million years.

Here are five highly speculative, but theoretically possible paths, ranging from homogenized humans to alien-looking hybrids bred for interstellar travel that could be the Future of Humankind.

1. Unihumans: Will we all be assimilated into one?

future-human-evolution-ward-unihuman

future-human-evolution-ward-unihuman

Different populations of a species must be reproductively isolated from each other in order for those populations to diverge into separate species. That’s the process that gave rise to 13 different species of “Darwin’s Finches” in the Galapagos Islands. The human species may no longer be open for divergence. Our gene pool has been converging for tens of thousands of years, and Stuart Pimm, an expert on biodiversity at Duke University, says that trend may well be accelerating.

The raw matter for evolution is variation and humans seem to be losing that variability very quickly. As a suggestive example, we humans speak something on the order of 6,500 languages. Yet, the number of languages we will likely pass on to our children is about 600. Cultural diversity, as measured by linguistic diversity, is fading, as human society becomes more interconnected globally, Pimm has argued. As a monoculture, our future species could be more susceptible to quick-spreading diseases, as last year’s bird flu epidemic illustrated. A Unihuman culture would have to cope with evolutionary pressures such that toxins that which like estrogens and are found in pesticides and industrial PCBs, have been linked to early puberty for women, increased incidence of breast cancer, and lower sperm counts for men.

2. Survivalistians: Coping with doomsday and Mass Extinctions

future-human-evolution-ward-Survivalistian

future-human-evolution-ward-Survivalistian

Surviving doomsday is a story as old as Noah’s Ark, and as new as the post-bioapocalypse movie 28 Days After. Mass extinctions have greatly influenced the evolution of species on Earth (example: the extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago).

Catastrophes ranging from super-floods to plagues to nuclear war to asteroid strikes could erase civilization as we know it, leaving remnants of humanity to go their own evolutionary ways. A civilization-shattering catastrophe (say a meteor strike) serves to divide humanity into separate populations, vulnerable once again to selection pressures. For example, people who had more genetic resistance to viral disease would be more likely to pass on that advantage to their descendants after a mass extinction-like event.

If different populations develop in isolation over many thousands of generations, its conceivable that new separate species would emerge. For example, that virus-resistant strain of post-humans might eventually thrive in the wake of a global bioterror crisis, while less hardy humans would find themselves quarantined in the worlds safe havens. Maybe its already happened. Patterns in the spread of the virus that causes AIDS may hint at earlier, less catastrophic episodes of natural selection. Stuart Pimm has said that there are pockets of people who don’t seem to become HIV-positive, even though they have a lot of exposure to the virus – and that may be because their ancestors survived the plague 500 years ago.

Even in the event of a post-human split-off, evolutionary theory dictates that one species would eventually subjugate, assimilate or eliminate their competitors for the top job in the global ecosystem. Just ask the Neanderthals.

3. Numans: Rise of the Superhumans

The future of enhanced humans

future-human-evolution-ward-Numan

future-human-evolution-ward-Numan

The age of new genetic and pharmacological ways to improve human performance is upon us. Could they represent a new form of evolution a radical kind of evolution that moves much more quickly than biological evolution which can take millions of years, or even cultural evolution, which works on a scale of hundreds or thousands of years.

Three kinds of Numan human…

Such enhancements first appear on the athletic field and the battlefield, indicates social commentator, Joel Garreau, (author of the book Radical Evolution), but eventually they appear everywhere. You’re talking about three different kinds of humans: 1) the enhanced, 2) the naturals, and 3) the rest Garreau said. The enhanced are defined as those who have the money and enthusiasm to make themselves live longer, be smarter, look sexier.

The naturals will be those who seek enhancements for higher reasons, just as vegetarians forgo meat and fundamentalists forgo what they see as illicit pleasures. Then there’s all the rest of us, who don’t get enhanced only because they cant. However, advances in medical science have actually been great levelers of social equality. For example, age-old scourges such as smallpox and polio have been eradicated, thanks to public health efforts in poorer, as well as richer countries. That trend is likely to continue as scientists learn more about the genetic roots of disease.

To date, genetic medicine has focused on therapies that work on only one person at a time. The effects of those therapies aren’t carried on to future generations. For example, if you take muscle-enhancing drugs, or even undergo gene therapy for bigger muscles, your progeny will not have similarly big muscles. In order to make an enhancement inheritable, you’d have to have new gene code spliced into your germline stem cells – creating an ethical controversy of transcendent proportions. Tinkering with the germline could conceivably produce a superhuman species in a single generation – but could also conceivably create a race of monsters.

4. Cyborgs: Merging with the machines

Will intelligent machines enable, enhance, or replace us?

future-human-evolution-ward-Cyborg

future-human-evolution-ward-Cyborg

Until a few years ago, that question was addressed only in science-fiction plot lines. Today however, the rapid pace of cybernetic change has led some experts to suggest that artificial intelligence may outpace Homo sapiens natural smarts. The pace of change is often stated in terms of Moore’s Law, which states that the number of transistors packed into a square inch of computer chip should double every 18 months. Moore’s Law is now on its 30th doubling. We have never seen that sort of exponential increase before in human history, said Joel Garreau.

In some fields, artificial intelligence has already bested humans – with Deep Blues (IBMs Mainframe) 1997 victory over world chess champion Garry Kasparov providing a vivid example. It has been speculated that a truly intelligent robot may arise by the year 2030 (Bicentennial Man). Once an intelligent robot exists, is it only a small step to a robot species – to an intelligent robot that can make evolved copies of itself ?

Assimilating the robots…

To many scientists and science fiction writers, it seems more likely that we could become part-robot ourselves: Were already making machines that can be assimilated including prosthetic limbs, mechanical hearts, cochlear implants, and artificial retinas. Why couldn’t brain augmentation be added to the list?

5. Astrans: Turning into an alien race

If humans survive long enough, there’s one sure way to grow new branches on our evolutionary family tree: by spreading out to other planets.

future-human-evolution-ward-Astran

future-human-evolution-ward-Astran

Habitable worlds beyond Earth could be a 23rd century analog to the Galapagos Islands, Charles Darwin’s evolutionary laboratory, just barely close enough for travelers to get to, but far enough away that there’d be little gene mixing with the parent human species.

If we get off to the stars, then yes, we will have speciation, said University of Washington paleontologist, Peter Ward. But can we ever get off the Earth?

Currently, the closest star system thought to have a planet is Epsilon Eridani, 10.5 light-years away. Even if spaceships could travel at 1 percent the speed of light – an incredible 6.7 million mph – it would take more than a millennium to get there. However, Mars might be far enough: If humans established a permanent settlement there, the radically different living conditions could change the evolutionary equation. For example, those who are born and raised in one-third of Earths gravity could never feel at home on the old home planet. It wouldn’t take long for the new Martians to become a breed apart.

As for distant stars, we at the future human evolution website have been thinking through the possibilities and compiled our favorite methods on our Space Colonization – Journey page in 2003. Here are our “most likely candidates”.

Suspended Animation – Non or slow aging sleep until we get there.
FTL – Faster Than Light Travel (i.e. Warp Drive) – Eliminates the barriers of time and space.
Generational Star Ships – live, love, and propagate in space engineered bodies.
AI/Machine Enablement – Machines make the trip for us and we visit virtually.
Incubatorial Craft (Seed Ships) – Machines drive and then create human factories.

Enter the Astrans: Humans that are genetically engineered to tolerate ultra long-term hibernation aboard robotic ships. Once the ship reaches its destination, these Astrans are awakened to start the work of settling a new world.

Shostak of the SETI Institute suggested another possible approach: we could be to send the instructions for making humans (much like the movie Species I, II, and III) and just going to beam ourselves to the stars. The only trouble is, if there’s nobody on the other end to put us back together” said Shostak. So are we back to square one? Not necessarily, suggests Shostak. Setting up the receivers on other stars is no job for a human, but the machines could make it work. In fact, if any other society is significantly further along than ours, such a network might be up and running by now. The machines really could develop large tracts of galactic real estate, whereas its really hard for biology to travel, Shostak said.

Conclusion:

It all seems inconceivable, but if humans really are to be extinction-proof – if they manage to survive global catastrophes, genetic upheavals, and cybernetic challenges- whos to say what will be millions of years from now? Please see our diversified view of future human evolution, and our visions of the far future for more on these speculative fields of inquiry.

The choices we make during this generation will have a profound and lasting effect on our future. The more scenarios we examine, the more our choices are carried to their possible conclusions, the more our bearings on today’s position and the actions affecting our trajectory are revealed.

The Distant Future of Human Evolution

We have shared one vision of diversity for the future of human evolution for many millennia to come, for the period during which the universe remains the hospitable, vital environment that it is today, and within the context of the four known, presently observable dimensions, with no hostile life forms to end our expansion. But as we look at each of these assumptions in turn, more speculation is called for to even begin scratching the surface of possibility.

The Fate of the Universe

future-human-evolution-and-the-fate-of-the-universeThe fate of humanity is inexorably tied to the fate of the universe. There are three possible fates for our universe as we now perceive it to exist.

1. Continued expansion and ultimate cooling,
2. An equilibrium such that the present expansion ceases and the universe goes on forever, or
3. The eventual contraction of all matter as gravity finally wins out over the current outward acceleration caused by the big bang.

Which of these three theories is correct depends on a number of variables including the amount of dark matter assumed to exist in the universe. There are a number of websites that deal specifically with these theories and we are building a links page to make them easier to find. The short of it is that the scientific community widely agrees that the universe has a finite age and that scenario number 1, continued expansion and cooling will ultimately result.

What does this mean to the future of the human race? It is necessary to make certain assumptions that we can in no way validate. Among these are that we will always have, in one form or another, the ‘instinct’ for survival. Based upon our experience with biological forms of life, this is a fairly safe assumption, but it is not necessarily a prerequisite for sentient life forms. Given the ability to ‘program’ both artificial life forms and our own genetic make-up we can easily envision whole classes of beings created for hazardous duties intended to serve the greater community. This notwithstanding, we believe that the majority of beings will strive to survive in the face of a dying universe.

In keeping with our theme of diversity, we recognize that branches of humanity may eventually become purely silicon-based, some of us may find ways of imprinting our essence onto the fabric of space-time itself, while still others will remain largely carbon-based biological beings. As the universe begins it’s decline, these disparate species could conceivably come together, each contributing to the ability to manipulate matter and energy in a different and unique way. Some could operate on the subatomic level while others deal with the universe on a cosmic, macro scale. The objective would be to stabilize and prevent the continued expansion and cooling of the universe. Self preservation or the search for God?

Aliens and the Distant Future of Human Evolution

With mounting certainty at least in the possibility of extraterrestrial life, aided in no small part by the recently decommissioned Kepler Telescope which identified thousands of potential earth-like planets in a tiny portion of our galaxy, scientists grow more hopeful that some form of life may be possible on other worlds. Fermi’s paradox notwithstanding (if aliens exist why haven’t we seen them?), in the distant future about which we speculate here, intergalactic distances may be assumed to pose no more of an obstacle than the interplanetary distances of our near-term future (thereby adding 100 billion galaxies into Drake’s equation). Conceivably this could bring us in contact with sentients who in the short term may vie for the same limited resources, but who in the face of a commonly cooling universe may band together to solve the ultimate threat to survival.

The Multi-Dimensional/Multi-Universe Model

Of course we may soon find that what we see is not what we get. The ending of the universe as we perceive it today may be no more significant in the scheme of things than the loss of an atom’s electron. There may well be an infinite number of dimensions or even ‘universes’ beyond the reality that we experience. Our job then would become mastering the transdimensional/transuniversal mobility, and perhaps even striving for the unification of these multiverses. There are a few websites that deal with these philosophies and over the next few months we will be identifying and presenting more on this speculative field of study.