Humans are masters of innovation and advancement. When Homo sapiens came on the scene about 200,000 years ago, we couldn’t talk, didn’t wear clothes and we used primitive tools. After undergoing colossal cultural transformations taking us from our humble hunter and gatherer beginnings to this accelerating age of advancing technology, we have now been able to map our full DNA sequence in just over a decade. Remarkable, to be sure. but who’s taking time to consider where all this is leading — and what it means for our species?
In his carefully researched book, What Comes After Homo Sapiens? When and How Our Species Will Evolve into Another Species (DWS Printing, 2017), Don Simborg embarks on such an investigation. He takes a comprehensive look at our human progression, examining how humans evolved up to this point and the evolutionary course we’re likely to take in the future. He reveals that “We are undergoing a revolution in evolution.” Simborg walks readers toward a conclusion that describes the events likely to lead to what he terms Homo nouveau — an emerging species that may live peacefully alongside Homo sapiens, or may gain superiority over us or destroy us.
Even more mind-bending is Simborg’s account of how Homo nouveau will likely result from human tinkering with genetic engineering, unconstrained advancement of Artificial Intelligence, or some combination of both. He points out that we already use genetic engineering to engage in selective breeding and, as time goes by, will likely become more immune to its ethical — and existential — threats. He predicts that genetic engineering will lead to a separate, genetically altered population that we Homo sapiens inadvertently invent.
Simborg also delves into the possible ramifications from our dogged pursuit of artificial intelligence (AI). He chronicles how advancements are leading toward the emergence of transhumanism. He foresees that not long into the future we’ll have the ability to upload information-based skills directly to our brains without going through a learning process. In this Cyborg-like scenario, we’d attain mental and physical augmentations that could far exceed those achievable through natural and biological processes. Again, we humans may unwittingly establish a superior life form that renders us obsolete.
Throughout his book, Simborg cites several warnings issued from the scientific community about what can come from taking genetic engineering and AI too far. For example, he quotes a 2014 BBC interview with Stephen Hawking, who says, “I think the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. Once humans develop artificial intelligence, it will take off on its own and re-design itself at an ever-increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution couldn’t compete and would be superseded.”
What Comes After Homo Sapiens doesn’t advance a policy or regulatory agenda to reign in new innovation. Instead, it’s provides an instructive lens by which to view where our technological innovations are possibly leading.