One in eight billion; the odds of winning the lottery; the allowable limit for arsenic in our drinking water? Could be, but what I’m talking about is you. Yes, you. You are one part of the eight billion assemblage known as the human race, Homo Sapiens.
It’s said we are all unique, like the crystalline structures of snowflakes we gaze upon as they quickly melt in our hand, but what if we weren’t? What if the variations were narrowed to a few million; a few thousand; a few hundred, or maybe just a few?
A cataclysmic change is dawning on us. Only a few know it is coming, and virtually no one is even casually discussing it. We have entered the last century in which Homo Sapiens (you) will dominate our planet; for Homo Artificiosus will soon supersede us.
“Homo Artificiosus – Person, skillfully made (artificial)”
Sequencing the human genome has been accomplished, and the code is rapidly being deciphered. Soon we will understand what most, if not all, of these millions of genes control, and we already have the capability to manipulate these genes to create designer people (blue eyes, blond hair, low body fat, high IQ, and many other choices). Before 2040 we will begin experimenting with creating our replacement, Homo Artificiosus. By 2050 Homo Artificiosus will be living among us. By 2075 this new species will constitute a large portion of the world’s population. By 2100 Homo Sapiens will be nearing the end of its evolutionary run – soon to be extinct.
Homo Artificiosus will be a continual work in progress, with ‘version releases’ initially occurring as each new member of the species is created. Although there won’t be a single male or female model copied by everyone, we will begin to look more alike; continually moving toward some societal ‘ideal’. Our current “eight billion variations on a theme” will rapidly diminish to millions, then thousands and perhaps further.
It’s also probable we will be able to significantly modify our physical makeup as we progress through our lives. After all, today hundreds of millions of people alter their appearance through contact lenses, plastic surgery and various injections – not to mention tattoos and piercings. Stem cell research holds the promise of growing new organs to replace defective ones. It’s a small step from that to replacing healthy organs with ones with enhanced capabilities – perhaps an athlete would opt for greater lung capacity or muscle mass.
However, these manifestations are only a minor part of the differences occurring with the rise of Homo Artificiosus. This new species will have capabilities that, until now, have only been present in science fiction. What if we could breathe underwater, have night vision like an owl, have the strength to weight ratio of an ant, or reengineer our physiology to better handle low gravity environments?
Here’s an excerpt from an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2000, “… NASA has by no means ruled out the possibility of genetically modifying astronauts..., to cope better with the stresses of long-duration space flight. It would involve inserting genes that protect against major health problems associated with low-gravity conditions in space.”
One thing we will definitely have is the ability to immediately tap into the accumulated knowledge of the human race, probably via a direct connection to our brains. As was said about the Internet, “This changes everything.” We are already moving out of evolutionary change to revolutionary change.
Will instantaneous access to all past and developing knowledge take Homo Artificiosus to a state of relative anarchy; changes occurring so rapidly in every aspect of life that our successor species will be conditioned to continual reaction? Look at how the pace of life has quickened in just a generation – hyper-shortened attention spans, 24/7 availability, and people upset with having to wait more than one second for a web feed via their Smartphone!
The appearance of Homo Artificiosus will force radical change on the form and operation of our governments. We currently witness the inability of governments to respond to the compressed time frames of today’s developments, which was highlighted by the Arab Spring revolution. Governments are constructed as deliberative bodies – theoretically, taking time to study all aspects of an issue and consider divergent points of view before reaching a conclusion. However, this simply does not work in our era of rapid and continual technological change. By the time a governmental decision is made, the technology has advanced to a new level, and that well-considered ruling is now moot. This conundrum will only be aggravated by the demands of Homo Artificiosus.
Initially, Homo Artificiosus will take the form of minor revisions to Homo Sapiens. However, by the next century Homo Artificiosus will be an entirely new form of life; one that we create – not by evolutionary trial and error, but through an ongoing, ever-changing experiment. We have already reengineered the DNA of many life forms to create such things as disease and pest resistant agricultural products. With the rapid advancements in biotechnology, Homo Artificiosus is almost a foregone conclusion.
This development impacts the very roots of the beliefs held by many of our species. Will these beliefs be retained after years of bioengineering new life forms? Will Homo Artificiosus have interest in any of the world’s religions, since they will know their lives were created by other Earth-based life forms? These questions will become more and more pertinent as this century progresses.
The reality causing the greatest pause, when contemplating Homo Artificiosus, is that this species will suddenly take over the world. In less than 100 years from gestation, it will dominate. This is less than an eye blink in evolutionary terms. Until now, minor change within a species took hundreds of thousands of years, while emergence of a new species occurred over millions of years. We have no context to guide us on how Homo Artificiosus will impact our existence and that of every other life form.
Within this century “life as we know it” will begin to phase out of existence, as it is rapidly replaced with entirely new concepts. As we create Homo Artificiosus, we will also create an untold number of other new plant and animal life forms – perhaps a new category of life that combines elements of both.
Does our stewardship of the Earth include the ‘right’ to create life forms to meet our needs? For thousands of years we have been breeding desired qualities into plants and animals with no associated moral quandary. However, as we see the dawning of the ability to actually create life, the basic tenants of many of our religions are being put to the test. It is a widely held belief that only God can initiate and terminate life, although humans have been doing an excellent job of the latter since the beginning of time.
My purpose is not to start a movement to ban bioengineering (it would be a futile and ill-considered effort), but to awaken you to the momentous changes looming over us. As our evolutionary marathon suddenly switches to a 100-yard dash, we must consider what directions are best for Homo Artificiosus and all the other life forms we are creating – for we will all be profoundly impacted by the results. Since this impacts the entire world, all of us have a direct stake in and should have a voice in the outcome.
The ethical issues are the most significant we have ever faced. However, the implications of these revolutionary events are barely discussed in any venue. Everything our species has done to this point pales in comparison to what we are now doing – at an ever accelerating rate. Shouldn’t we demand this be thoroughly analyzed and discussed across the spectrum of our societal organizations – before we blaze new trails through unknown territories? Once the horse has left the stable, it doesn’t do any good to lock the barn door.
We have been debating ‘the meaning of life’ and all its profound implications for countless millennia. Out of this has evolved the ethical tenants we all live by. Except for the deranged, all of us understand that ‘doing to others as you want them to do to you’ is a good way to live. Our species shares agreement on the incorrectness of willfully hurting other people. However, we only arrived at this universal acceptance after thousands of years of actions, reactions, philosophical proposals, and endless discussion. Yet we are currently on a fast track to not only radically alter life, but to create new types of life, with almost a total absence of reflection on the consequences.
Personally, I believe we are continuing our move to a higher plane of being, which, at least at a conceptual level, is something most people would consider to be a desirable outcome. I would just like some degree of assurance it will produce a better life for our descendants; one we can be proud we brought into existence. Where do you stand on this critical issue? Your one part in eight billion needs to be heard.