Humans of The Futureby Lorena Nessi, PhD, MA | December 20, 2014
A look into the future evolution of human beings is rather speculative, even when it’s dedicated scientists doing the looking. The psychological, social and physical changes humans will experience in the coming thousands of years are simply unknown to us.
However, we know that human beings are still evolving, that change is imminent, and that the circumstances we are adapting to live in are changing faster than ever. Those dedicated to thinking profoundly on this topic come from a variety of different scientific, artistic and social science backgrounds, with similarly varied ideas on what might become of human reality in the future.
While some focus on anatomy – envisaging future human beings as becoming similar to alien creatures with larger heads and eyes – others have focused on our relation to technology and how we will increasingly blend with it, perhaps becoming cybernetic and trans-human.
Stephen Stearns, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale and advocate of natural selection, considers that in the near future women will become shorter, heavier, and more fertile. He thinks that they will also have lower cholesterol and blood pressure, since women with these characteristics tend to have more children.
He also suggests that globalisation and migration will standardise the appearance of human beings. He considers that the phenotypical features which are commonly used to mark racial differences will tend towards disappearing. Blue eyes, red and blond hair will become less common while darker skin and brown eyes will become more common. According to Stearns we will all look like Brazilians in just a few centuries.
On a similar note, Oliver Curry from the London School of Economics believes that humans will evolve a great deal over the next 1,000 years. He states that we will look more similar and considers that, as a result of natural selection, men might have improved symmetrical facial features such as squarer jaws, deeper voices and bigger penises. He believes that women will have glossier hair, smoother and more hairless skin, larger eyes and perter breasts.
While Curry thinks that we will soon live for as long as 120 years thanks to technological and medical progress, he acknowledges that our bodies might become weaker in fighting disease, relying on more external support. He also considers that we might lose our capacities of interaction, communication and cooperation, noting that the overuse of technology is already shaping our social relations in that direction.
His hypotheses are similar to those of HG Wells, shared in his 1895 novel The Time Machine. Wells thought there might be genetic inequality in the future, with an elite class of human beings, and an underclass with lesser cognitive abilities and less refined physical attributes.
Recently, the work of the artist Nickolay Lamm envisioned some of the adaptations that humans could face in the future. As the basis for his visions, Lamm used the hypotheses of Alan Kwan, a doctor in computational genomics from Washington University. Some of the speculations presented in this artwork include enormous eyes, with vision enhanced by contact computerised lenses similar to Google Glass technology, big heads adapted to hold bigger brains, and pigmented skin adapted to living on different planets.
Advocates of trans-humanism consider that in the future men and machines will interact in increasingly complex ways, implementing technology as an everyday extension of our physical selves. In the same way we are used to wearing glasses, future humans might be used to “wearing” other technological devices even within the body which will be developed to meet (or even to help create) other physical, psychological and social needs.
While many ideas related to trans-humanism are based on science fiction and subject to fairly wild speculation, still others are already becoming part of our daily reality. We may, in the near future, have chips or lenses permanently inserted into our bodies, and might have adapted other machines to enhance our bodies’ capacities to an extent which remains, for now, simply unimaginable.
Byars, S., Ewbank, D., Govindaraju, D., & Stearns, S. (2009). Natural selection in a contemporary human population Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107 (suppl_1), 1787-1792 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0906199106
More, M. (ed.) (2013) The Transhumanist Reader: Classical and Contemporary Essays on the Science, Technology, and Philosophy of the Human Future. England, John Wiley & Sons.
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