What if evolution doesn’t end with humans?

Human Evolution and Technology

The link text for this article on Slate — essentially about the possibility of technology replacing a lot of human jobs, which has been a concern for a decade or more at this point — is: “Technology is getting smarter. Humans aren’t.”

Think about that for a second: evolution is a fairly tangible fact, and yet, people have been wondering for a while whether the current phase of humans is the end of the line as far as evolving goes. This has been debated in Cosmos Magazine, on NPR, on Popular Science, and in a handful of other places — see here, here and here.

Now, I don’t want to go all bad-Johnny-Depp-movie here, but think about this for a second.

What if the natural next step in human evolution is, in fact, an evolution to ‘cogent technology?’

You could instantly argue that ‘cogent technology’ isn’t human — it’s technology — so by definition it wouldn’t be ‘human evolution’ anymore.

But stop and think: if technology is evolving faster than humans, could it someday essentially replace humanity as what’s living on the Earth?

A sci-fi premise, yes, but couldn’t that be where this is all headed?

Now stop and pause: cultural evolution (which technology is somewhat a part of) typically goes much faster than biological evolution (which involves changes in our DNA and the like). Here’s a good read about that: 

Tinkering. Take that souped-up brain and put it in the texting, Twittering, 24-7 world we’ve recently created for ourselves, and it’s easy to imagine that we will become superspeedy multitaskers—or more complacent cubicle dwellers. However, this progress comes too slowly for some. “The world is changing so rapidly that biological evolution is not where the action is,” says Nick Bostrom, a professor at the University of Oxford and cofounder of the World Transhumanist Association, which seeks to use science to improve humankind. He, for one, doesn’t care to wait through a few hundred generations for improvements. Genetic engineering will help short term, he says, and then nanotechnology will step in, altering the biochemistry of the human body at the flip of a switch. “If we’re thinking several hundred years out, then much more radical intervention may be feasible.”

Now, I’m not sure I’m ready to admit that somehow and someday all humans will evolve into (or be replaced by) cogent machines, but … in a way that might happen in terms of the job world. Cue Slate:

“Automation is Voldemort: the terrifying force nobody is willing to name,” declared one respondent quoted in the Pew report. “Good-paying jobs will be increasingly scarce,” said another, NASA program manager Mark Nall. “I’m not sure that jobs will disappear altogether,” allowed Justin Reich of Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, “but the jobs that are left will be lower paying and less secure than those that exist now.”

Here’s a paper from Pew Research Center that a lot of the Slate article is based on. They made a helpful list of “key themes” in an inline graphic, and here’s one of the things listed under “Reasons To Be Concerned:”

Our educational system is not adequately preparing us for work of the future, and our political and economic institutions are poorly equipped to handle these hard choices.

This is kind of the same problem you’re seeing with “Big Data” right now — it’s a buzzword and something a lot of organizations want to get more deeply involved with, but we’re not actually spending time at the undergrad/grad level teaching it enough.

I’m not sure whether this was a straight-up rant or not, but it is interesting to think about: basically, what’s the future of humanity? Is evolution going to end with the current humans you see walking around? Will it get to the level you sometimes see in pictures — of humans with much bigger eyes? Or will cogent technology ostensibly replace us and hijack evolution?



Ted Bauer


  1. In the main we’re safe for a time to come.

    Today’s battle between humans and technology has been happening for a long while as business uses technology to do things quicker and cheaper than humans … automation in manufacturing, computers in offices and ever more sophisticated machines which reduce manpower requirements.

    As a software savvy sales professional I have often presented in a meeting and chosen my words with care as I realise the solution I am positioning will probably lead to a number of my audience needing to find employment elsewhere.

    It is this sobering thought that lingers as I follow your guide and take that moment to ‘think’.

    • This is a great comment. Thank you so much for sharing. I really appreciate you taking the time to write so much on my lil’ ol’ site.

Reply If You'd Like