In recent decades we’ve witnessed an explosion of technology that continues to transform our lives in (we hope) positive ways. Advances in genetic engineering and artificial intelligence (AI) are altering both human health and behavior. In his new book, What Comes After Homo Sapiens? When and How Our Species Will Evolve into Another Species (DWS Publishing, Sept. 5, 2017), author Don Simborg examines the implications of these powerful tools. He describes the possible paths where our current technological explorations may lead and projects what they could eventually mean for our species.
Simborg takes readers on this futuristic exploration by first investigating how our species evolved into its current form about 200,000 years ago. He then presents evidence that the same evolutionary forces that got Homo sapien to this point are no longer at work. Based on the current direction that AI and human genome research are taking, he concludes that “we are undergoing a revolution in evolution,” and that it’s highly likely that the next version of our species will be engineered by humans themselves instead of through natural selection.
Simborg takes readers on a fascinating, and often disturbing, investigation of possible scenarios that could bring about the emergence of this next species, which he dubs Homo nouveau. Some scenarios take the form of occurrences that seem possible in today’s world — such as changes brought about by global warming or a catastrophic planetary event, such as a nuclear holocaust, that segregate humans into populations with separate traits. In other, more mind-expanding scenarios, Simborg speculates how continued development of AI (or its amplified form, ASI — Artificial Superintelligence) could lead to an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful entity that, while essentially a machine, could dominate Homo sapiens. Another, less apocalyptic notion of Homo nouveau’s rise involves a genetic mutation that leads to a new form of species that can only breed among itself, but can live peacefully alongside Homo sapiens.
Simborg isn’t describing a world far off in the distant future, but one that he believes could evolve within the next few centuries. As evidence, he points to several current developments that are now underway. For example, he discusses how “singularity,” or the rise of a computer-enhanced human brain, is imminent and notes that prominent scientists are at work investigating different types of enhancements. Elon Musk, for instance, has founded a company to develop a product called “neural lace,” which would allow direct communication between computers and humans.
After analyzing prospective circumstances by which Homo nouveau will appear, Simborg lands on what he believes to be an inevitable conclusion: As medical research continues to apply genetic engineering to allow more promising health outcomes, society will soon accept forms of genetic alterations that optimize a variety of human traits. Once such germline gene therapy becomes routine and ubiquitous, and “designer babies” become the norm, it won’t require much of an evolutionary leap to intentionally or unintentionally invent Homo nouveau.
Simborg’s long view of the direction in which humankind is heading is fascinating, but comes with a note of warning. Do Homo sapiens understand how — and with what — we are replacing ourselves?
Learn more at www.whatcomesafterhomosapiens.com.