While humanity may rightly feel proud of its achievements, it has also been suggested that some humility is necessary when comparing these achievements against the natural beauty and complexity of the biological world. Possibly even more remarkable, the biological model has proved to be both sustainable and resilient in the face of extreme global change over a period of some 3.8 billion years in which life has evolved on planet Earth. In percentage terms, the 10,000 years of human civilisation hardly registers above zero on a percentage comparative scale.
However, this position may grossly under-estimate the potential for man-made developments, which may ultimately be evolutionary in scope, although there are considerable dangers in terms of the sustainability of this ‘vision of the future’. Equally, while the relationship between human genetic evolution and man-made developments are now entwined, it is a process that may be subject to considerable change in the future. For human development, as oppose to direct evolution, appears predicated on the developments within the structures of a fractious global society and while the idea of social groupings is not unique to humanity, other animal groups only have a limited ability to respond to life threatening changes in their habitat. In this respect, humanity is the first species in the evolution of life on Earth to adapt the natural environment to its needs, although it is far from clear that such ‘adaptations’ will prove to be sustainable.
Note: It will be argued that the future of human evolution will have to take into account technology advances in AI, robotics, genetics and nanotechnology. For these technology advancements could come to dictate future social norms and the possible acceptance of ideas, which in today’s context might appear extreme, e.g. hybrid AI, neural implants and prosthetic anatomies. If so, the future of human evolution may well be dominated by man-made changes that simply overwhelms evolution by ‘natural’ selection in its rate of change.
While we may readily understand that evolution, man-made or natural, is an on-going process, it is still often assumed that humanity must already be near the top of the evolutionary tree. However, this assumption would only be true if the ‘evolutionary tree’ stops growing, such that it needs to be highlighted that ‘homo-sapiens’ may be no more than a stepping stone, like Neanderthals, towards some other form of sentient intelligent lifeform. Of course, previous statements should only be seen as but one of many future possibilities in which humanity attempts to adapt to future changes in its environment, both natural and man-made. For it is also possible that humanity may simply ‘degenerate’ as a consequence of growing genetic weaknesses in the human DNA resulting from the dependency most of us have on the structure of society to protect us from the natural world. In this respect, the wholesale survival of humanity may now depend on social change driven by technology advancement, such that any failure to provide solutions to future environmental problems and human conflict over resources may see a collapse of the protective veneer of civilisation. So while humanity may appear to have won the initial battle with nature, it is entirely possible that man-made effects on nature may return to threaten the lives of a large percentage of the current global population. For without the protective veneer of the social and technology infrastructure that surrounds many of us, few would be capable of surviving a return to a more primitive existence.
Note: As outlined, much of humanity now lives in man-made environments in which a technology-led ‘evolution’ is accelerating, but not necessarily being planned. For history suggests that humanity has rarely been in complete control of its technology developments and, in many cases, did not foresee many of its consequences.
From a historical perspective, human survival was linked to natural selection, which might be summarised in terms of luck and adaptations within our DNA to meet changes in our environment as humanity emigrated out of Africa to populate the world at large. While this is probably a reasonable historic assessment prior to the development of human civilisation, it is unclear that it accurately accounts for the protection that man-made society now offers against the natural environment. If so, this section of the discussion must return to the unsettling debate about the potential growth of genetic weaknesses in the human DNA as the effects of natural selection are mitigated versus the ability of society and technology to negate such weaknesses. In this respect, it shall be argued that the man-made model of human evolution will depend on developments in human society, which in-turn are a consequence of advances in technology that change social norms and expectations.