Before peering into the future of Mankind let me begin this article with one of my favourite songs of all time. I feel the film clip sets the perfect tone for what I’m about to write and obviously I blatantly plagiarized the song name for the title of this article! Feel free to click play and then continue reading… or skip entirely if Daft Punk is not your thing.
I like to think that I am somewhat of a futurist, so let me be upfront in saying that I think the things discussed in this article are good for humanity despite their potential for gross misuses. I think that human evolution is an amazing thing. This wondrous process, spanning billions of years, has produced a living creature capable of looking up at the stars and pondering the ultimate questions.
The truly amazing thing about this process is that humanity has come so far along it, that it has become possible for us to take control of it and decide where we go next and what we will ultimately become.
What are the implications of such heresy and how do we decide what to do, now that we have developed the tools to control our own fate? I can’t answer those big questions, all I can do is provide you with some of the information to start the debate yourselves. It’s a debate worth having, perhaps on par with discussions on ‘from whence we came‘. Without a plan for the future, we might not have a very long one. Let’s explore!
Biological Evolution – The Greatest Show On Earth
Without going into the entirety of natural history, evolution by natural selection is how we came to be the dominant species on planet Earth. It encompasses a number of processes which come together to ensure that beneficial genes are passed onto the next generation and weaker, unfit genes are discarded. Differing genes arise because copying DNA from one generation to the next is not always an exact process and mutations can happen. It’s these mutations that drive evolution, some being helpful to a species others being harmful and some being completely benign.
Scientists have tracked the mutation of the HERC2 gene for example, a mutation which is present in almost anyone that has blue eyes. All your defining features, from the colour of your hair to the specific development of your muscle tissue can be traced back to genetic mutations at some point in your ancestry.
Evolution has also given us language, both verbal and written. Language has allowed for the storage and passing on of knowledge from one generation to the next, much like a DNA sequence but on a much broader scale. And much like DNA, mutations can occur in language and stored knowledge. A process of ‘natural selection’ is evident in ideas. They change, mutate and evolve over time, leading us first from the religions of primitive tribes to the scientific wonders we see today. This ability for language and the storage of knowledge is the first step on the path to controlling our own evolution.
A Roadmap To A Better You
In 1976 a Belgian molecular biologist by the name of Walter Fiers was the first person to successfully establish a complete nucleotide sequence of a viral-RNA genome. 31 years later in 2007, the first complete human genome was sequenced, that of James D. Watson. You should recognize the name as one of the men who discovered the double-helix structure of DNA in 1953 along with Francis Crick. For the first time in human history, the complete map of a genome was available for scientists to study and in the years since; we have learned how to manipulate the gene sequence. Genetic Engineering has grown into a wide field of study and has huge implications for humanity. We now have the tools to be able to control evolution on a genetic level as opposed to using ‘artificial selection’ a process used for centuries to breed desirable traits in a species. Possibly the most notable example of artificial selection is canis lupus familiaris more commonly known as the domesticated dog.
Genetic Manipulation – Mankind’s Foray Into The Role of God
Imagine for a moment that you and you or your partner is pregnant. Your genetic sequence has been copied and passed on to the next generation, the next iteration of your genetic line. For the majority of human history, our interaction with the creation of our offspring began and ended at the fertilization of an egg. Any flaws in your genetic code are transferred to your offspring, including the potential for genetic diseases such as Huntington’s disease and Cystic Fibrosis, every parent’s worst nightmare. Now imagine that someone gave you the option of checking to see whether your child would suffer any of these disorders and the option to potentially fix them in the womb. Well, there’s no need to imagine because genetic testing is a thing and has been for a while now and treatments are available for many genetic disorders. This is known as ‘gene therapy’ and the field is growing daily.
Gattaca – A Theoretical Glimpse Of Our Future
If you haven’t seen Gattaca, you should. It’s basically a future that envisions exactly what I’ve described above. In that version of our future ‘natural born babies’ are at a severe disadvantage. They are flawed, like all of us – or on a scale, far more flawed than those babies that have been genetically modified in the womb. This has a direct societal impact in that the dreams and aspirations of those ‘natural born babies’ are often squashed because DNA sampling becomes the key to a resume, not what you’ve accomplished in school or in any other area of life. While this scenario may, or may not come to pass, if it does, it will most likely be a transient phase until all humans have become genetically modified.
Further Insight Into The Application of Stored Knowledge
This application of stored knowledge is a prime example of the power of evolution and how we are able to control it. No longer are we bound by ‘God‘ ( or in fact, natural selection ) to be created ( or rather to have evolved ) as we are, without recourse for bettering ourselves. Of course the advent of genetic manipulation raises huge numbers of ethical questions. How far should we go in manipulating ourselves? What are the implications? These are tough questions questions no doubt, tackled daily in the highest halls of science. The humble aim of this article is to present the details on how we can become harder, better, faster, stronger and leave tackling the ethical conundrum of whether we should to you.
Biotechnology – The Merging of Man and Machine
The use of prosthetics to help the disabled goes back a long way. Wooden toes found in ancient Egypt appear to be the earliest known prosthetics. From the basic wooden peg leg made famous by pirates, to the carbon fibre blades Oscar Pistorious used to compete in the 2012 Olympics, the technology behind prosthetics continues to be refined and enhanced.
Generally speaking, prosthetics are used to help people with a disability to gain functionality in their lives comparable to the physically sound, but with the rise of advanced technology the question that needs to be asked is; can we use prosthetics to not only help the disabled but to also enhance the physically sound? The answer to that question is long and complicated, but the shortened version is yes. Let’s have a look at some examples:
The XOS Powered Exoskeleton is a robotic suit designed by Raytheon for military applications. It increases human strength, endurance and agility to levels unable to be reached by human physiology, enabling it’s wearer to literally become harder, better, faster and stronger.
This is only one example among literally hundreds of others but it’s one which relates well to the subject of human evolution. It shows how humans can augment themselves with technology, purely for enhancement of their already very capable functions and not just out of medical necessity.
The other example that I’d like to put forward here is Google Glass. In typical Google style, the advertisement for their latest breakthrough in technology is pretty cheesy but I think you probably understand the principle that I am driving at by now:
Aside from sounding like an idiot shouting, “Okay Glass, perform function X!” in public, the possibilities of Google Glass technology are very cool. As we as a species grow, so will our reliance and integration of this kind of technology into ourselves. It will become as much a part of our continued evolution as the genes in our DNA.
Chemical Evolution – Is Our Potential Limitless?
You might remember a 2011 movie starring Bradley Cooper called Limitless. The plot sees Eddie Morra (Cooper), a dropkick writer and intellectual dunce introduced to a drug called NZT which enables the user to access the 90% of the brain we don’t use. Eddie becomes a genius, able to function on a higher level than the rest of society. Putting aside the fact that we do use 100% of our brain, is this plausible? Are we able to use a pharmaceutical to enhance our brain functions? Well, perhaps not to the same level as Limitless would have us believe, but there certainly are chemicals available that enhance cognitive function, motivation, focus and memory and chances are you’ve tried one.
Nootropics – A Window Into The Future Potential Of the Human Mind
The correct term for a cognitive enhancer is a Nootropic. Ever enjoyed the buzz after a nice strong cup of coffee? That’s Caffeine, the worlds most widely used Nootropic. Perhaps you’ve experienced the concentration effects of Nicotine if you’re a smoker? Nicotine is another mild Nootropic, albeit the benefits do not outweigh the dangers in this case. Nootropics cover a wide range of things and can be as simple as vitamins and natural herbs right through to synthetic chemical compounds such as the commonly prescribed ADHD medication Ritalin. Modafinil has noticeable effects, similar to meth-amphetamines and was prescribed to soldiers to help increase focus and mental endurance on long missions where sleep was not always an option. If you haven’t seen Limitless, it’s well worth a watch.
My own personal experience with Nootropics has been great. Aside from the ubiquitous caffeine and nicotine, I have tried two different chemical compounds known as Pramiracetam and Noopept respectively. Noopept in particular is an amazing substance. Taken in small doses it increases alertness, motivation, focus and short term memory. The experience can be described as subtle but profound. It’s not something that you’ll notice the moment you take the drug, but over the course of a few days the difference is amazing. However it needs to be noted that at present there are almost no clinical studies on the efficacy of most Nootropics in healthy people so evidence is at best, anecdotal and should be taken with a grain of salt in all situations. If you decide to try a Nootropic for yourself, make sure you consult your GP before you start. You can find some reading material here, here and here.
Our Evolution Is Ours To Control
In this article I tried to describe three points; genetic manipulation and its uses, integrating technology into evolution and recreational cognitive enhancement. I could have spoken at greater length about all of these subjects and many more including nanomedicine, cybernetics and artificial intelligence all of which will play a role in human evolution over the coming century. When combined the three topics I touched on paint a picture of a future where humanity can evolve away from the imperfect flesh of our bodies and become ‘Transhuman’. Whether or not that’s something that we should do, I’ll leave up to you to decide.