10 Ways Technology Could Affect Evolution

10 Ways Technology Could Affect Evolution 10 New Senses Right now, human senses are limited by our biology and to some extent, our psychology

So if you want to add to them, you need to do it externally But now biotech is reaching the point where adaptors for our senses really do exist Tech company Cyborg Nest has already developed a gadget called North Sense, which attaches itself under the chest and allows the wearer to perceive the earth’s magnetic field and feel where North is Cyborg Nest co-founder Neil Harbisson even has a chip in his head that ‘cures’ his colour blindness, by allowing him to hear colours through bone conduction Artificial sensory technology is a perfect example of transhumanism

That’s the idea of using technology to augment humans beyond natural evolution As the field develops, we could see our senses enhanced beyond what evolution could achieve in the same time frame, and even completely new senses invented 9 Memetic Evolution You might be familiar with this guy here, Richard Dawkins When he’s not busy with Twitter arguments, he’s a thought leader in evolutionary biology, and one of his most famous contributions comes in the form of memes

No, not those memes Memeology is the idea that ideas spread like viruses, often evolving as they do Dawkins uses religion as the ultimate example, but earlier evidence to suggest that human ancestors evolved through sharing cultural and technological ideas with other settlements So it’s possible that with modern technology meeting our biological needs, future evolution could become purely based on the exchange of information In practice that means biological human evolution could be a thing of the past, replaced by pure knowledge exchange

That could be in the form of technological augmentation or using science to force biological changes 8 Space Travel I’m sure you’ve seen the part in Wall-E where humanity becomes grossly overweight as a result of their sedentary lifestyle in outer space That might seem far fetched, but some scientists think that it’s not that far off Professor Cameron Smith at Portland State University believes that if and when humanity launches a multi-generational space mission, the physical conditions of space could naturally select for different embryos than earth

Right now, the unnatural habitat of space means that astronauts often suffer conditions like muscle damage and vision problems, sometimes even blindness But that’s because we’ve evolved to live with earth’s gravity We don’t know exactly what that would mean, but it could cause kids to develop different spines and bone densities as a result of the changing conditions 7 Hive Minds Right now, humanity is more connected than it has ever been

From the disparate tribes of early man to the world wide web, we have never been so close But who says we’ll stop there? Why settle for sharing through screens when we can literally just share our brains Hive minds have long been the villains of science fiction [show the borg on screen] but even now, the tech is surprisingly close We already have the ability to send signals in and out of the brain, with thought controlled prosthetics for example, but bandwidth is a major problem It would take vastly greater processing power to do that with all 100 billion neurons, but it’s not impossible

According to Anders Sandberg at Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute, connecting our brains in such a way could lead to the Noosphere, an evolutionary state based on consciousness and mental activity 6 Eliminating Diseases A big part of evolution comes down to viruses inserting new genetic variations into cells Along with natural mutations, it’s how humans became what they are today But what was once a natural process is now possible through genetic engineering

Technology like CRISPR now lets scientists artificially edit human genomes using neutered viruses, essentially hijacking nature Right now, that technology is used to treat diseases like HIV, Huntington's and even Cancer, but that’s just the beginning of gene hacking potential If this kind of technology is used with sperm, egg or embryonic cells, it can lead to that genetic change passing from generation to generation This process could completely eradicate diseases in-vitro before they manifest, not just for the child but for their entire genetic line That’s an incredible step in evolutionary science, and could wipe out many diseases altogether

But this kind of technology isn’t without its dangers, some of which could cause huge problems for society, as you’re about to see 5 Social Structure The uses for CRISPR and genetic engineering technology aren’t just medical It’s also possible to modify genes for cosmetic purposes, particularly when it comes to embryos So-called “designer babies” aren’t a new concept

Through a process called preimplantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD, it has been possible since the nineties to screen for cosmetic features like hair, eye and skin colour, and use that to choose genetic traits The potential for that tech is improving all the time, even if it’s not allowed for such frivolous uses But if that was to change in the future, it could lead to parents deciding what their kids look like That could mean traits society deems “ugly” could be weaned out, which is pretty troubling and potentially very discriminatory We could even see society evolving into stratas of modified and unmodified people

It’s evolution in that the human race is changing, but it’s being forced to according to what features are deemed desirable by society But this is all getting a bit dystopian, so let’s move onto something a bit cheerier like… hmm, the end of the human race 4 Obsolescence Sometimes in the course of evolution, a species gets replaced by a harder, better, faster, stronger contender Just look at our ancestor c, who lost out to… well, us

But with computing technology advancing so quickly, Homo Sapiens could buck the trend of natural obsolescence and bring about their own replacement Historian Yuval Harari [yoo-val ha-rar-ee] predicts exactly that, based on a philosophy of ‘Data-ism’ He sees all of history through the lens of sharing information, to the point where all actions, meaning and even evolution is the just the process of amassing it So it makes sense that once humanity creates a digital ecosystem that processes data better than itself, that ecosystem will eventually replace it completely That’s not in a Terminator-style war for supremacy, though The idea is that people will be complicit in their own obsolescence, simply because the algorithms human brains are outclassed by whatever algorithm comes next

You might call it grim, data-ists call it life 3 Thought Patterns In general, our brains aren’t that far removed from our ancestral counterparts 40,000 years ago But the specific ways our brains behave are wildly different, and that’s because of how and when we take in information And it’s not just on a multi-millenia wide scale

The brains of young people now have a different arrangement of synapses to that of their parents because of the comparatively massive amount of time spent looking at phone and computer screens Some like to point out how children have a reduced memory capacity compared to previous generations as a result But some futurists see it as a move towards ‘external brains’ It’s a bit like storing photos on the cloud, or how I can’t remember what I’m meant to be saying because it’s on the iPad in front of me instead But in any case, it suggests that brain behaviour is going to evolve to change to catch up with technology, and both will change concurrently

2 Human-animal hybrids Now I know this sounds absurd, but the early stages of this technology already exist Let’s look at what the Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies created in 2017 They made the first ever human-animal hybrid by creating an embryo made of cells from both pigs and people That’s what’s called a Chimera, after the Greek mythical beast

The controversial study is mainly to test the possibilities for animal organ donations to humans, so the embryos were terminated after 28 days However, the mere idea has inevitably led to fears over what this could mean for future hybrid technology For example, if a further reaching study got out of hand and saw an embryo growing to develop human thought, we might have an ethical quandary on our hands as to what to do with such a being That’s a way too sci-fi for now, but it’s certainly possible 1

Eternal Life The end goal of the Transhumanist movement is to artificially evolve beyond the limited lifespan of human bodies, which means scanning and uploading all of the brain’s information into a machine In theory that could mean becoming a non-human sentient being, perhaps eventually bypassing biological evolution all together, but there’s a massive number of hurdles to overcome to get this from science fiction to science fact For one, we don’t even know what would happen to a fully mapped brain It could be that your own experience of life continued, or it could be a distinct being on its own It might not even have consciousness

It’s hard to predict when we don’t know what makes real brains conscious But the most immediate problem is storage It would take 10 million gigabytes just to save the synapse data, which is just a fraction of the entire brain’s information, and we don’t even have the tech to isolate more than a tiny isolated chunk right now So this might be a way off, but it could be possible for us humans to evolve beyond a brain and a body That was 10 Ways Technology Could Affect Evolution

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