One early morning, over cups of coffee, my wife and I had a talk about our young grand kids. She was worried about what would happen to them in the future after we’re long gone. I tried to assuage her anxieties, telling her they will manage on their own. After all, I said, look at us now; we found a way to cope somehow.
Actually, it set off my mind wandering into the distant future. 200 years from now, what would our great-great-great grandchildren be like? Would they spawn a new species of humans? How I wish I could travel to the future just to satisfy my curiosity.
There are scientists who claim that a few hundred years from now, Homo sapiens would no longer be the Homo sapiens that we know today. He would have evolved. It may still be under genus Homo but it will be a hybrid species that is highly intelligent and with extraordinary abilities.
Perhaps, these are mere speculations but they are a good reminder that evolution, as theorized by Charles Darwin, has never ceased. It is happening all the time among living creatures. From that standpoint, human beings are continuously transforming and mutating and will do so as long as we continue to successfully reproduce.
I remember a friend telling me that the first super humans are here already. Oh yeah? Who and where are they? I asked, with a raised eyebrow. The savants, he says. Seeing the blank look on my face, he elaborates: “Remember Dustin Hoffman in ‘Rain Man’? They are the new generation of super humans, pards!” I saw that he really meant it, saying it in a glowing wondrous tone.
Indeed there is a savant syndrome, characterized by persons who have exceptional abilities, especially in the areas of music, art, math, and memory. They are said to have a unique brain wiring. The ignorant or misinformed would pigeonhole them as autistic, implying that they’re “abnormal” in the negative sense. Could they be the first wave of super humans?
On the other hand, a more believable scenario is that advanced technologies will give birth to a new hybrid of human species. Their genetic makeup will be different from Homo sapiens’ genes in ways never before imagined possible through natural evolution alone.
Homo technosapiens is the taxonomic label given to this species.
As I said, he won’t be the product of natural evolution as we know but the result of a technology-assisted process.
One approach involves the fusion of Homo sapiens and technology. With rapid advancements in two branches of science called Bionics and Cybernetics, we now have real people with cybernetic implants of bionic parts such as bionic eyes, bionic arms, hands and legs. Scientists are now working on cybernetic brain implants, which essentially adds an extra computer to the brain’s natural ability.
This is now even made truly possible with nanotechnology, which is focused on producing devices and structures done on a nano scale, meaning invisible to the naked eye. This branch of science can complement and augment cybernetics by implanting nano bionic parts into the human body. For instance, scientists can put tiny implants to strengthen the heart and nervous system or target micro cancer cells or repair vascular leaks, among other possibilities.
If we can produce bionic human parts and implant them in the human body, it won’t be long before we would have a full-fledged cybernetic human, or “cyborg,” a hybrid: half man and half machine.
Cyborg descendants are a terrifying thought, but more worrisome is a new branch of science called “Genetic Engineering.” This science enables the transfer of genes from one plant or animal into another. So far it is supposed to be done only with plants and animals. But scientists are already thinking of employing it in humans to prevent diseases such as cancer or dementia by tweaking individual genes or selecting specific embryos to avoid health problems.
When genetic engineering starts manipulating human genes, the genetic changes made will be present in future children. It could lead to the emergence of a “Genetically Modified Homo Sapiens.”
In his book “Hacking Darwin: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Humanity” Jamie Metzl, a leading technology and healthcare futurist, says that while new genetic technologies are indeed exhilarating, they can also be terrifying. Ironically, science teaches us that for every action there is a reaction. They can lead to a kind of evolution that will be undesirable and negatively affect the purpose of the engineering. We have a saying, “be careful what you wish for,” because like Icarus of Greek mythology, we could fly too close to the sun and get burned if we hubristically go too far.
If technosapiens is indeed our inescapable future, then we must all come together to figure out the best ways forward. We need a very strong ethical and cultural framework to make sure that we’ll use these technologies wisely and prudently. What would we be willing to pay to make it possible? What values would we be willing to give up or compromise? What risks would we individually and collectively be willing to take on?
What will happen to the human spirit? Can technosapiens still feel and show empathy and compassion? Will humanity give way to a triumph of technology? How will it impact our human self-understanding? Will it still make sense to speak of human beings as created in the image of God? Or will there be a new theology to accommodate the technological element of the new human species?
I leave these questions to the future, together with this important reminder from the Jesuit priest and archeologist Teilhard de Chardin: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
As I open the door to my grandchildren coming home from school, I relish the joy of their presence in the moment. Yet when I realize that they are natural born “tekkies,” so attached and so bonded to technological gadgets almost the whole day, I cannot help but see in them the seeds of future bionic or cyborg descendants. I’m afraid their children will inevitably become the great great ancestors of Homo technosapiens.
In the same way that I tried to allay the fears of my wife during our early morning talk regarding the future, I can only cling hopefully to what a wise old man once said: “We take care of the future best by taking care of the present. Let the future take care of the future, like it always has.”