Human evolution and technology

I’ve been wondering a lot lately about the speed of human evolution. Do humans evolve at a constant speed, or does our pace of evolution change dependent on our environment? What has the impact of technology been on human evolution? Especially given that this technology is created by us, for us. With the rate of technological change and power increasing exponentially, will it eventually leave humans behind or be the bastion of human dominance and longevity? There are of course juxtaposing views. I just thought I’d explore some of my own anthropological thoughts on this subject here and postulate a viewpoint.

Technology is becoming more human. Everything technology I see is replicating ultimately human functions, possibilities, senses and activations. My favourite and a recent example of this is the smart phone. If we think about the functions and features of the smart phone it’s easy to see the humanizing analogy. Firstly our phones can now see. The current model of the iPhone has an 8 megapixel camera, which is already about half as good as the human eyes acuity. By the way an 8 megapixel camera cost around $10,000 just 20 years ago, and now it is free in our phone so long as we sign up to a plan. Mind you, the iPhone also has eyes in the back of it’s head with the dual front and back camera. Something we wished we had since cave times and has entered common parlance. The phone can hear with it’s microphone, nothing new, until Siri came along and started translating voice and providing answers for us. Our phone knows where it is, via GPS and can recognise it’s surroundings using aggregate rich data from it’s eyes, ears, GPS and compass. And lastly, but probably most importantly, it has the smartest brain in the world. With web access, it knows everything we know as a species. It can access the collective intelligence of the entire world with a few finger swipes. With access to the web, it knows things like the current temperature in our location. It knows what the weather is like and can access live satellite data and tell us with closely accuracy when rain is on the way. A very very human thing for people to want to know and share. And if we don’t look this up on it’s ‘web brain’ our twitter stream from locals we follow will surely tweet visuals of the impending storms just like we saw in Sydney and Melbourne last week. It is also starting to mimic how we move and interact. Gesturing is quickly augmenting and replacing keystrokes. Codes is also starting to write itself.

We are the technology. I think that the rate of human evolution is actually increasing in speed. The speed of evolution has become so important to ultimate human survival (given impending environmental issues, unstable geopolitical environs) that we have had to innovate, and evolve in a new a different way. We are temporarily outsourcing our evolution – we are now evolving outside our bodies because the breeding and natural selection process is too elongated. Our latest method for evolving has been to change ourselves using our brain. Our only way of doing this quickly enough is creating new body parts outside of our body. A form of intellectual addendum or appendages. Which once these body parts have evolved enough – they will re-enter our bodies. I think that we have already seen some evidence of this. At a primary level with medical science creating human ‘replacement parts’ which we then install into our bodies when the original part fails. Which is a much quicker method than breading out people whose hips, knees and hearts (?) fail early in life. The other element of this that I am witnessing is the size of the machines – their constant reduction in size, and their closeness to us as humans. The computer has an interesting history if we think of it in evolutionary terms. It began very large, as big as a room. It was exclusive and only available to large military, industrial and educational institutions. But it (the computer) then multiplied and divided, becoming smaller and smarter. Eventually arriving on desktops, and on peoples laps.  Now it resides in our pockets. It’s constantly getting smaller and smarter. Closer to our bodies. Sometimes we even have an ear piece which injects it’s data directly into our human CPU’s. We too, send data into it. It also spends more time on our person. It no longer gets switched off, its heart beats 24 hours a day for us. The next steps I expect to continue this trend, for it to become smaller, closer to our body and eventually enter our bodies. Something people like Ray Kurzweil have been postulating for some time.

This had to happen. The complexity of data is too rich to digest and make sense of. Both our bodies and brains cannot cope. I think this is partly why we are seeing such a dramatic increase in mental illness. it’s just an internal code overload permeating in different types of human style 404 & syntax errors. It was the only way humans could evolve quickly enough in order to survive. Due to exponential change We had to evolve externally, initially. These tools, both mechanical and code related have become part of our evolutionary path. And just like all evolution it has happened without prior consent, knowledge or intention.

I feel as thought merger between human and machine is very close. I have never really believed that machines will turn against humans. Even if they became self aware. Self awareness for me has never been enough. They need to feel, believe and desire. Computational power beyond the human is only part the equation. They would need an emotional desire before any rivalry could occur in mind view. I feel that the machines entering our body is more likely. The final merger to end all mergers. The most important merger that humans have ever seen. it’s probably similar to when we left the water, or climbed down from the tree. Only different. But it wont be a day in time. An event, or even have a date. It’s already happened in some ways, and once it has become omnipresent we will only ever notice it in hindsight.

It makes me think that technology – and the next steps of web, smart phones and startups are beyond our own comprehension. It’s really important and probably much more radical than any of us could ever imagine. I just hope I’m around to be part of it, and that it moves us one step further to equal love, health and opportunity around the world.

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2 Comments Human evolution and technology

  1. Stephen Ellis

    Great post Steve.

    I like the idea that evolution is speeding up, facilitated by and through technology. Like a snowball, or expanding universe, the speeding up of evolution seems natural (or at very least, logical).

    What I find scary is if we accept this premise then the speed of evolution would have to reach maximum velocity (so to speak) at some point in the future. Like the snowball, or universe, it would end with a big bang. Thus our need to evolve quicker is both necessitated by evolution and as an imperative to our continued existence.

    Regarding to the idea of merging with technology, we couldn’t be too far off. Not sure whether self awareness will be achieved, or technology will become more internalised (or both), but it is an exciting Shambla’ish like time we live in. I just hope we evolve with happiness as the goal.

    Again, great post. Look forward to more thought provoking material in the future.

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