In the future humans aren’t special

And that may not be a bad thing, well, except for humans

If I’m being honest, I never thought humans were too special to begin with. Yes, we are unusually successful as far as existence goes — we’re at the top of the food chain, and far and away the smartest species on the planet (save some very close relatives) — but given enough time we were inevitable. The reason for this, of course, is evolution by random mutation (plus natural selection), which is happening at nearly every level of biology, constantly and without design or purpose. It’s the single most amazing and consequential process in the history of carbon-based life.

If humans are no longer special, then what are we? Well, if you go far enough out then what we’re becoming becomes extinct. If you go out just before then we aren’t human. Not too far out from now we’re hybrids competing with ‘better’ hybrids, and eventually the machines themselves. “You’re just a muggle? *pfft*”

So what’s the end game here? Well, as with 99% of the species that have ever lived, extinction is virtually guaranteed. Extinction certainly is an inflection point, but that’s not much to look forward to, is it? Ironically, one way to think about our inevitable self-destruction is as a victory, pyrrhic though it may be. Either our domination will have exhausted all of the resources of this planet before we were able to colonize others, or the machines will have taken over. In both scenarios, we will have done everything we could do, and will have brought about the next rung on the evolutionary ladder — meta-humans, and then machines.

All life is similar at base. All species seek without pause to make more of themselves — that is their goal. By multiplying till we reach our maximum possible numbers, even as we take out much of the planet, we are fulfilling our destiny. — Lynn Margulis

This decline — or rise? — will be gradual…until it isn’t. Think about us, homo sapiens; we’ve been anatomically modern since we emerged about 200,000 years ago, but probably haven’t been behaviorally modern for more than a quarter of that time. It’s like we just dicked around for the first 150,000 years and then the power of our behavioral plasticity started to drift between and among us, and we started to learn how much we could accomplish with our massive brains, especially in cooperation with others.

There are predicted to be 10 billion humans by 2050. That’s 3 billion more than there are now. How will we feed them? Artificial meat? Soylent? Maybe. Probably. But, no matter what we must learn to constrain our own growth, something no species in the history of this planet has done before. It may be possible that we’re not only the first species to be able to imagine our own demise, but also the first to be unable to prevent it in view of that knowledge.

I think it’s just a matter of time before we aren’t special…again.