Evolutionary theorist: humanity may “split in two”

From BBC, Oct. 17 (our commentary to follow):

Humanity may split into two sub-species in 100,000 years’ time as predicted by HG Wells, an expert has said.

Evolutionary theorist Oliver Curry of the London School of Economics expects a genetic upper class and a dim-witted underclass to emerge.

The human race would peak in the year 3000, he said – before a decline due to dependence on technology.

People would become choosier about their sexual partners, causing humanity to divide into sub-species, he added.

The descendants of the genetic upper class would be tall, slim, healthy, attractive, intelligent, and creative and a far cry from the “underclass” humans who would have evolved into dim-witted, ugly, squat goblin-like creatures.

Race ‘ironed out’

But in the nearer future, humans will evolve in 1,000 years into giants between 6ft and 7ft tall, he predicts, while life-spans will have extended to 120 years, Dr Curry claims.

Physical appearance, driven by indicators of health, youth and fertility, will improve, he says, while men will exhibit symmetrical facial features, look athletic, and have squarer jaws, deeper voices and bigger penises.

Women, on the other hand, will develop lighter, smooth, hairless skin, large clear eyes, pert breasts, glossy hair, and even features, he adds. Racial differences will be ironed out by interbreeding, producing a uniform race of coffee-coloured people.

However, Dr Curry warns, in 10,000 years time humans may have paid a genetic price for relying on technology.

Spoiled by gadgets designed to meet their every need, they could come to resemble domesticated animals.

Receding chins

Social skills, such as communicating and interacting with others, could be lost, along with emotions such as love, sympathy, trust and respect. People would become less able to care for others, or perform in teams.

Physically, they would start to appear more juvenile. Chins would recede, as a result of having to chew less on processed food.

There could also be health problems caused by reliance on medicine, resulting in weak immune systems. Preventing deaths would also help to preserve the genetic defects that cause cancer.

Further into the future, sexual selection – being choosy about one’s partner – was likely to create more and more genetic inequality, said Dr Curry.

The logical outcome would be two sub-species, “gracile” and “robust” humans similar to the Eloi and Morlocks foretold by HG Wells in his 1895 novel The Time Machine.

“While science and technology have the potential to create an ideal habitat for humanity over the next millennium, there is a possibility of a monumental genetic hangover over the subsequent millennia due to an over-reliance on technology reducing our natural capacity to resist disease, or our evolved ability to get along with each other, said Dr Curry.

He carried out the report for men’s satellite TV channel Bravo.

Dr. Curry is right on the Morlocks/Eloi angle (more than a century after HG Wells), but wrong about the race of supermen in 1,000 years. There are several factors he fails to take into account. One is risk of nuclear war/ecological collapse. Another is the ongoing phenomena of racism and genocide, which provide a strong countervailing tendency to the “ironing out” of racial differences. He also fails to factor in the hypertrophy of cyberspace and ascendance of the robots, soon to be followed by the blurring of the line between biota and technology, the development of wetware, digital/neural interface, etc. Either the system will crash, and there will be neither Eloi nor supermen, but degraded subhumans, probably surviving in small pockets (if at all)—or, if the system survives long enough, the bourgeoisie will become malevolent human-machine hybrids (akin to the “greys” of UFO folklore). The proles will indeed become Morlocks, or worse—perhaps a feral sub-species to be hunted down and abducted so their DNA can be harvested for the dominant greys, whose own genetic material will start to degrade as sexual reproduction is phased out. (This would be a reversal of the order envisioned by Wells, in which the Morlocks feed on the Eloi). Or perhaps it will be more akin to The Matrix, in which the descendants of the proles will be grown in pods, mere quasi-human crops on giant DNA farms.

As we have noted before, the only alternative to these ultra-dystopic futures lies in the conquest of science and technology, as well as the means of production, by popular power, as the anarchist Peter Kropotkin expounded. What he could not have anticipated in the 19th century is that the industrial leviathan must be not only conquered but radically scaled back. The only hope for the survival of the human species as we know it with a modicum of dignity lies in popular movements for the recovery of land, autonomy and indigenous culture against the system of technocratic rule, whether in Mexico or Palestine.

At least, there may be pockets of the human “elder race” still resisting the greys in remote temporary autonmous zones 100,000 years hence…

  1. Aren’t we there yet?
    “However, Dr Curry warns, in 10,000 years time humans may have paid a genetic price for relying on technology.

    Spoiled by gadgets designed to meet their every need, they could come to resemble domesticated animals.”

    I think Dr Curry is wrong about the timetable of our species demise. I believe we are already there.

    There are no near-sighted lions. They would not be able to feed. They would not be able to survive. But there are millions of near-sighted humans. They wear glasses. Or Contact lenses. Or have Lasix surgeries to correct their vision. They feed. They survive. They reproduce. They pass on their genetic weakness to their offspring. And this is just one of the easiest to observe differences between human and every other living species on Earth: humans developed technology to shield themselves from the consequences of the brutality of Darwin’s natural selection laws. We made it possible for unfit to survive and reproduce: that’s part of being human.

    And every new generation contains more of us who are less fit to survive under natural laws and more dependent on the technology to keep us fed, alive and reproducing. We, at least in the societies where the influence of technological advances is the greatest, already “evolved” into frail, often obese, weaklings resembling our domesticated animals.

    I am more sceptical about blurring the racial lines, though. This can happen only if all races of humanity evenly mix throughout the planet. So far we can observe such mixing to some extent only in select countries (like US, Canada) and some large urban areas elsewhere. In the next century we will have to see huge migrations in/out of Africa, and China to make this theory feasible. There is nothing today that makes those migrations imaginable. China remains a closed country in regard of human travel. Africa is too harsh, underdeveloped and war ravaged to be attractive for tourism and immigration, and the immigration policies of developed countries are not likely to change and allow en-masse African immigration just because white people are not breeding any more. Particularly because 1/4 of Africans are infected with HIV. Therefore I think it is more likely that races of humanity will take different evolutionary steps, than that racial differences will be blurred first and then the humans will split into two species.

    Of course that the technologically more advanced but genetically weaker future descendants of humans will harvest DNA from the new robust post-humans adapted to poverty and lack of technology.

    One thing that we all may not see is that the so-called robust species, in absence of being pampered, may accidentally evolve to become more intelligent, too, or develop new senses, like ability to communicate via radio waves, or develop ability to sinthesize energy like plants due to presence of specialized photosinthetic molecules in their skin cells, and at certain point lose interest to help their technology-dependent weak ex-brethren with fre DNA samples.

  2. Eerily reminiscent
    Our friend Brian Tokar writes:

    This is all eerily reminiscent of the ravings of Princeton biologist and libertarian ideologue Lee Silver: his 1997 book Remaking Eden advocates species bifurcation among humans based on ‘free market’ genetic manipulations, and does it all in a creepily seductive sci-fi writing style. Here’s what Marcy Darnovsky of the Center for Genetics & Society (Oakland, CA) wrote about Silver in her chapter in my book Redesigning Life? (Zed, 2001):

    Listen to the words of Lee Silver, one of the key players in the pro-germline engineering camp. Silver is a molecular geneticist and developmental biologist at Princeton University, and an unabashed promoter of consumer-driven “reprogenetic” technologies. After a few centuries of these practices, he believes, humanity will bifurcate into genetic ubermenschen and untermenschen–and not long thereafter into different species. Here is Silver’s prediction for the year 2350:

    “The GenRich–who account for 10 percent of the American population–all carry synthetic genes. Genes that were created in the laboratory…. The GenRich are a modern-day hereditary class of genetic aristocrats…. All aspects of the economy, the media, the entertainment industry, and the knowledge industry are controlled by members of the GenRich class.”

    How do the other 90 percent live? Silver is quite blunt on this point as well: “Naturals work as low-paid service providers or as laborers.”

    That rich and poor already live in biologically disparate worlds can be argued on the basis of any number of statistical measures: life expectancy, infant mortality, access to health care. Of course, medical resources and social priorities could be assigned to narrowing those gaps. But if the promoters of designer babies and human clones have their way, precious medical talent and funds will be devoted instead to a technically dubious project whose success will be measured by the extent to which it can inscribe inequality onto the human genome. The human genetic technologies will then serve to legitimize and expand injustice, to create a kind of inequity new in human history, and to make obsolete even rhetorical gestures toward equality. Silver writes:

    “There is still some intermarriage as well as sexual intermingling between a few GenRich individuals and Naturals. But… as time passes, the mixing of the classes will become less and less frequent for reasons of both environment and genetics… If the accumulation of genetic knowledge and advances in genetic enhancement technology continue…the GenRich class and the Natural class will become the GenRich humans and the Natural humans–entirely separate species with no ability to cross-breed, and with as much romantic interest in each other as a current human would have for a chimpanzee.”

    Silver understands that such scenarios are disconcerting. He counsels realism: that is, he celebrates the free reign of the market and perpetuates the myth that private choices have no public consequences:

    “Anyone who accepts the right of affluent parents to provide their children with an expensive private school education cannot use ‘unfairness’ as a reason for rejecting the use of reprogenetic technologies… There is no doubt about it…whether we like it or not, the global marketplace will reign supreme.”

    When I first read Silver’s book, I imagined that these sorts of bizarre prognostications must be the musings of an academic researcher indulging in mad-scientist mode. I soon learned differently. They are not ravings from the margins of modern science, but emanations from its prestigious and respected core. Silver vividly and accurately represents the techno-eugenic vision, a horrifyingly grandiose ideology shared by a disturbing number of Nobel laureate scientists and other influential professionals. . .

  3. It’s coming…
    From Information Week, Nov. 21:

    Ray Kurzweil: Computers Will Extend Human Lifespan

    In just 15 years, we’ll begin to see the merger of human and computer intelligence that ultimately will enable people to live forever. At least that’s the prediction of author and futurist Ray Kurzweil.

    Kurzweil told a keynote audience at last week’s SCO6 supercomputing conference that nanobots will roam our blood streams fixing diseased or aging organs, while computers will back up our human memories and rejuvenate our bodies by keeping us young in appearance and health.

    The author of the book The Singularity Is Near, Kurzweil says within a quarter of a century, non-biological intelligence will match the range and subtlety of human intelligence. He predicts that it will then soar past human ability because of the continuing acceleration of information-based technologies, as well as the ability of machines to instantly share their knowledge.

    In an interview with InformationWeek, Kurzweil said people and computers will intermix with nanobots, blood cell-sized robots, that will be integrated into everything from our clothing to our bodies and brains. People simply need to live long enough—another 15 to 30 years—to live forever. Think of it as replacing everyone’s “human body version 1.0” with nanotechnology that will repair or replace ailing or aging tissue, he says. Parts will become easily replaceable.

  4. Stop the genocide of the Neanderthals (oops, too late)
    This is exactly what I always suspected–the human race as we know it today was founded through an act of massive genocide, when the brainier cro-mags exterminated the earthier Neaderathals. But there are still a few of us “maladjusted” types who still have the atavistic Neanderthal gene… From The Guardian, July 28:

    Neanderthals’ demise caused by modern human invasion
    Neanderthals died out in Western Europe after a surge of modern humans arrived from Africa and made them a minority in their own land, researchers claim.

    The swarm of Homo sapiens onto the continent more than 40,000 years ago left the Neanderthals, who had thrived in the frigid conditions for 300 millennia, outnumbered by a massive 10 to one.

    The invasion of so many modern humans overturned the Neanderthals’ domination of the land and forced them into fierce competition for food, fuel and other crucial resources.

    The scenario, described by Paul Mellars, emeritus professor of prehistory and human evolution at Cambridge University, and his colleague, Jennifer French, is the latest attempt by scientists to explain the mystery of the Neanderthals’ demise.

    Modern humans, along with environmental factors, have long been suspects in the sudden extinction of our thick-browed relatives, but the nature of their decline is still under debate.

    Mellars and French analysed archaeological evidence in Périgord, a former province of southwestern France, which is renowned for its Neanderthal and early human sites. They found that the population of H. sapiens that arrived in the region was at least ten times larger than that of the Neanderthals already settled there.

    In particular, the area saw a sharp rise in the number and size of early human sites and the detritus of life they left behind, such as stone tools and the remains of animal carcasses, according to a report in Science.

    The researchers believe the sheer pressure of being outnumbered was exacerbated by the social and technological advantages that modern humans displayed, from long-range hunting spears to stronger cooperation and communication…