Err, no, really, just no

By 2050, a completely new type of human will evolve as a result of radical new technology, behaviour, and natural selection.

This is according to Cadell Last, a researcher at the Global Brain Institute, who claims mankind is undergoing a major ‘evolutionary transition’.

In less than four decades, Mr Last claims we will live longer, have children in old age and rely on artificial intelligence to do mundane tasks.


2050 is
past my likely check out time. But somewhere between a bit less than a third to perhaps half of those who will be alive in 2050 are already alive now*.

So there’s unlikely to be much evolution really…..

*Bit difficult to say really: if average lifespan is 70 (around and about right for the planet) then in a static population size 50% of those alive in 35 years’ time will be already alive. But there’s population growth still coming…..but to complicate that at least some part of that growth is the demographic transition and longer life spans, not necessarily more children being born.

30 comments on “Err, no, really, just no

  1. Beg to disagree, but humanity could see a form of evolution by mid century. It just won’t be working in the traditional manner.
    It’s already becoming possible to change aspects of the body, post conception. And those changes will be responding to evolutionary pressure. It’s also likely gene therapy will progress to the point where inheritable advantages could be induced in the next generation.
    There’s no difference between this & natural evolution. Variations that may confer competitive advantage & if successful, out-compete & replace the norm. Just not random & undirected & it could work over a much shorter time span.

  2. Hmm. This has the usual ignorance of evolution stamped all over it, but Cadell Last does appear to be a proper scientist, albeit one who hasn’t got his PhD yet.

    The Global Brain is a leading hypothesis explaining the current evolution of the human system. Recent multidisciplinary research at the Global Brain Institute has laid a potential framework for thinking about the future of human society within the context of the emergence of a global brain this century.

    An institute named after its own hypothesis that has done work to back the hypothesis up? Hmm.

    To be fair, Last is talking about the evolution of the human system, and The Mail are reporting on that as the evolution of human biology, which are not remotely the same thing. The Mail are consistently shit at science reporting.

  3. bnis,

    Fair enough, but I thought the standard definition of evolution was random mutation plus natural selection plus sexual selection. By that definition, what you’re talking about isn’t really evolution. It’s design.

  4. Technology yes, natural selection, no.

    I believe that the discovery of the human genome and the march of nano-technology will make us unrecognisable in a few centuries.

    But thirty-six years?

    And don’t get me started on natural selection, where 36 million years might be about right.

  5. “but I thought the standard definition of evolution was random mutation plus natural selection plus sexual selection. By that definition, what you’re talking about isn’t really evolution.”

    Where does it say that in the handbook?

    Successful evolution produces a better adapted species. For those species without intelligence, the only place the information produces the adaption can be stored is in the DNA. One intelligence arises the whole ball game changes. Humans learned to use fire. It confers a competitive advantage. So much so, there’s not a culture on the planet doesn’t have it. That the information to make fire is stored in the memory & transmitted by speech rather than in the DNA & transmitted by sex doesn’t make the slightest difference. Humans are a fire using species.
    The process started a long time ago when the ability to communicate complex information evolved. DNA was no longer the only information repository.

  6. We already have IVF and “saviour siblings”. In a few years we’ll be able to select gametes to have babies with enhanced cognitive function, blue eyes, sporting ability or whatever. Actual GM babies are a bit further off.

    Public acceptance of this is growing. IVF was approved by only 18% of Americans in 1970. As soon as the first test tube baby was born (1978) 53% approved it. I’d guess that much the same opinion shift will go on with embryo selection.

    So yes, by 2050 there will be adult “superhumans”. (Maybe not in Germany.)

  7. “..don’t get me started on natural selection, where 36 million years might be about right.”
    A large portion of humanity have the neotenous ability to digest milk. Ditto the ability to process alcohol. Both adaptations arose in the last few thousand years.

  8. All mammals have the ability to digest milk at birth. It’s part of the definition.

    A gene which keeps the ability to extract sugar from lactose being switched on 3,000 years ago is a long way from human beings being changed out of recognition.

  9. > Where does it say that in the handbook?

    Almost Like A Whale seems like a pretty good handbook to me. Anyway, if you don’t like that, find me an evolutionary biologist who believes that evolution doesn’t involve heritability.

    Philosophically, Darwin’s great insight was that he figured out how design could happen without a designer, which blew a hole in the Teleological Argument. (As Dawkins says, pre-Darwin, atheism was the irrational option.) That’s very much the point of Darwinism: design without a designer. What you’re talking about involves designers.

    > Successful evolution produces a better adapted species. For those species without intelligence, the only place the information produces the adaption can be stored is in the DNA. One intelligence arises the whole ball game changes. Humans learned to use fire. It confers a competitive advantage. So much so, there’s not a culture on the planet doesn’t have it. That the information to make fire is stored in the memory & transmitted by speech rather than in the DNA & transmitted by sex doesn’t make the slightest difference. Humans are a fire using species.

    You could use exactly the same logic to say that humans are a wheel-using species — and indeed could have made that claim prior to 1492. And then it turned out that they didn’t have wheels in the Americas.

    You’re conflating two things here: culture and what culture can achieve. Humans are a culture-using species. The use of fire and wheels is culturally widespread.

    > The process started a long time ago when the ability to communicate complex information evolved. DNA was no longer the only information repository.

    No argument from me or anyone with a brain, but DNA is still the only information repository for biological design.

  10. > Mr Last claims we will live longer, have children in old age and rely on artificial intelligence to do mundane tasks.

    All of that has already happened. We already live a lot longer than we used to, have children in what used to be old age, and use, well not quite AI, but somethiong close to it to do mundane tasks. What we’ll get in the future of just more of all that.

  11. john miller,

    > A gene which keeps the ability to extract sugar from lactose being switched on 3,000 years ago is a long way from human beings being changed out of recognition.

    Since part of the definition of a species is not just what it looks like but how it behaves, this was a far bigger change than you’re acknowledging.

  12. “You could use exactly the same logic to say that humans are a wheel-using species ”

    I am using that logic, thanks.

    Once a species evolves intelligence, complex communication & embarks on external data storage it starts the process of cutting itself loose from the restrictions of DNA. Cultural evolution is as valid as biological. Social insects show that. Even biological evolution becomes secondary because the species begins consciously selecting for biological traits.
    Natural selection’s ended for humanity. Get over it!

  13. I’ve had a look at this Institute’s webpages. It looks, not dodgy exactly, but not very impressive. It’s basically a bunch of pretentious postgrads with tickets on themselves.

    Bloke (not) in Spain said:
    >Where does it say that in the handbook?

    Any number of handbooks will tell you that. Squander Two is right. What you went on to say was right, but that’s not what ‘evolution’ is taken to mean. Using your intelligence to master fire is not evolution. (That doesn’t diminish its importance, though.)

  14. “Any number of handbooks will tell you that.”
    Any number of handbooks can be wrong.
    “Using your intelligence to master fire is not evolution.”
    Biology’s answer would have been asbestos hands. But humans aren’t limited by biology. Which is the key evolutionary adaptation

  15. > Cultural evolution is as valid as biological.

    I didn’t say it wasn’t; I said they’re not the same thing. And I note that you yourself are using different words for them and comparing them to each other, which rather implies you agree, however much you claim not to.

    I would actually go further and say that humans long ago reached the stage where cultural evolution became more important than biological evolution. Which is great.

    However…

    > Social insects show that.

    No, they don’t, as their behaviour is instinctive and therefore genetic.

  16. > Any number of handbooks can be wrong.

    Ah, I see: you’re saying that all evolutionary biologists are wrong about what evolution is and you’re right. OK, that makes more sense now.

  17. >>“Any number of handbooks will tell you that.”
    >Any number of handbooks can be wrong.

    It sounds like you’re interpreting ‘evolution’ fairly broadly. That’s fine. Biologists can be said to be talking about evolution as they have defined it, which is a biological definition. If you mean by ‘evolution’ something more like ‘significant changes in human beings, etc.’ then you just need to say that you’re not looking at the narrow biological definition of evolution. Such evolution can have non-biological causes. (And with that definition humans have already been evolving for decades.)

  18. What I’m saying is evolution, adapting to survive, isn’t purely a biological process. You can write computer programs use the same principal. So in a species evolves intelligence, evolution isn’t restrained to the biological.

    eg The pill controls reproduction in women with hormones. It doesn’t matter the slightest whether those hormones come in packets from Glaxo or are produced in the body. The female reproductive system doesn’t care. So humans have evolved an ability to control female reproduction, just as if there’d been a change in body function.
    Natural selection is as redundant in humans as it is in dogs or horses. Because we’re intelligent we choose & because we’re capable we act on the choice.

  19. ‘SQ2
    As “Intelligent Design” is now the current paradigm, yes. Has been for a few thousand years. Humans consciously select.

  20. You believe Intelligent Design is evolution. Again, you’re saying that all evolutionary biologists are wrong about what evolution is and you’re right. Are they in a conspiracy to suppress the truth or just all much stupider than you?

  21. The ability to extract sugar from lactose is dependant on our gut flora.

    Gut bacteria have a short lifespan and a different way of spreading useful abilities than animals and thus can evolve much faster.

  22. ‘SQ2
    I believe we’ve been doing “intelligent design” for the past few thousand years. Since we bred for the better dog & taller wheat. it’s the natural selection paradigm’s dead & buried.

  23. “you’re saying that all evolutionary biologists are wrong about what evolution is and you’re right”
    I’d say they were right historically, but wrong for now. Natural selection works over long time scales. Unnatural selection, human intervention works over short time scales. So natural selection’s irrelevant. Has been for a long time.

  24. Evolution is randomised gene mutation which produces organisms which have characteristics which result in them being better adapted to changing conditions, than those organisms without the mutations: some mutations make some organism less adapted so those die out.

    Outside stimuli do not cause evolution. We live longer because of better food and health care and less arduous work, that is not evolution.

  25. Err, no, outside stimuli do cause evolution. In terms of random mutation this is pretty slow. But redheads appeared right on he edge of human recorded history, maybe 8,000 years ago. So it’s not that slow. The Black Death was a pretty large filter. Those with the genes for resistance to it have been a majority of Europeans since then and weren’t before. Those outside stimuli are pretty good at killing off those who don’t have the right genes for that specific environment actually.

    The same goes for the lactose tolerance mentioned above. The genes were always there in the population but those without that adult tolerance have near disappeared in Europe as they were outbred by those with it.

  26. Some people seem wedded to a very narrow view of evolution. Almost as religious as the Intelligent Design nutters. Nature really doesn’t care whether it’s random mutations producing changes in organisms, may or may not make them fitter for evolutionary niches or a gene splicing lab doing the same thing. Because there’s no such thing as nature to do the caring. By extension there’s no difference between evolving better feet than the process evolves better shoes. The result’s the same.

  27. There’s quite a good argument that social behaviour is partly driven by evolution, and that this is continuing apace. So the move from hunter-gatherer groups to farming about 12,000 years ago would have favoured people who were inclined by nature not kill everybody outside their immediate kin. They would have had more kids & any random mutations that supported that would have moved into the general population. And so on as we moved to tribes, city states, and empires. See e.g. A Troublesome Inheritance by Nicholas Wade.

  28. “Evolution is randomised gene mutation which produces organisms which have characteristics which result in them being better adapted to changing conditions, than those organisms without the mutations: some mutations make some organism less adapted so those die out.”

    That’s a definition of ‘natural selection’, which is the primary driver of evolution. But it’s not a definition of ‘evolution’ (except in some biologist’s minds, who have come to think they mean the same).

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