When considering the future of the evolutionary process, it is important to
understand the fundamental aspects of future organisms.
One of the prominent features of them will be that they will be engineered.
This means that they will be products of intelligent design.
Changes to evolution
Up to this point, evolution has proceeded mainly through the processes of
mutation, recombination and selection.
Now that human beings have arrived on the scene, new possibilities have opened
up for making new organisms.
In particular, design and engineering can now be employed.
The result of the introduction of these new tools will be a fundamental
revolution in the evolutionary process.
No longer will mutations be largely an undirected process. Instead changes in
organisms will be made deliberately, in the hope of better fitting them to
their expected environment.
Similarly recombination will no longer be a process of finding a mate and
mixing their genes with your own. Instead, the entire biosphere will be a
potential reserve of useful genes which might potentially be employed. Nor
need one creature be picked as a mate - instead genes from any number of
creatures could be used.
Ultimately, selection will still remain - but the ways in which it acts may
As an example of such a change, one way selection will be applied in the
future involves the possibility of fitness evaluation under simulation.
Instead of trying a modification in the real world, it can be tested in a
simulated one. The advantages of this can be expected to include reduced cost,
reduced time for evaluation - and the possibility of partial fitness
Why will engineered creatures come to dominate?
We can expect to see engineered creatures in the future because they will
rapidly become superior to organisms attempting to evolve by more conventional
Conventional evolution uses random mutation sexual reproduction
and selection to improve its organisms.
Engineering approaches use random mutation and selection - but it can
also use intelligent design, directed mutation, cross- species
recombination, Lamarckian inheritance and selection under simulation to
produce its future designs.
This is a superset of the tools which have been available to natural selection
up to this point.
Since things like intelligent design and cross-species
recombination are so plainly extremely useful design tools that
the end results are practically bound to be superior.
Engineering design is a new player on the scene, and so far it isn't
responsible for much of the planetary biomass. However, the progress
that has been made so far is astonishing - it's as though the evolutionary
process has suddenly invented rocket power - which is in fact literally true.
Given that we haven't yet mastered the key technologies of synthetic
intelligence, and molecular nanotechnology the products of engineering
design have made impressive roads into the existing biosphere.
Skyscrapers tower over the tallest trees. The hoover dam trumps beaver dams.
Spaceships fly higher than any bird. The land speed record has been taken from
the cheetah. Jets dive faster than a peregrine falcon. The internet puts the
global network of whale-song to shame.
Even though the results are still incredibly technologically
primitive, they are already displacing existing species from their
niches - and are largely responsible for the current mass extinction.
Is an engineered future inevitable?
Not quite. There is some chance that our planet's life forms
will be bombed back into the stone age, by phenomena such
as repeated asteroid impacts.
If heavy asteroid impact prevents complex life reestablishing itself on this
planet - and in the unlikely event that no other living organisms establish
themselves elsewhere - then possibly the enginnered future could be avoided.
Judging by the frequency of asteroid impacts over the course of our history,
this outcome seems rather unlikely.
It might appear that widespead use of nuclear weapons would also result in a
I don't think this is true. Widespread use of nuclear weapons would merely
result in a relatively minor delay.
Such setbacks would have to be repeated and continual in order to divert
living organisms from their natural path.
More serious than asteroid impact would be an invasion by more advanced alien
That might well have fatal consequences. However if such aliens are out there,
the chances are overwhelming that they themselves will be engineered. The
future will still consist of engineered organisms - they just might not be our
Routes to an engineered future
Here is a summary of the main routes to an engineered future:
Takeover by machines: human numbers may dwindle as powerful intelligent
machines take centre stage;
Cyborgs: man could become engineered by developing a symbiotic
relationship with his machines. The human element would then be down-regulated
while the machine element comes to dominate.
Human germ-line genetic engineering: here, humans use engineering to
modify themselves, and their symbionts. This is an unpopular approach with a
substantial "yuck" factor.
The first seems most probable. There will be elements of the second, but
human's probably won't "merge with machines" very much.
Those opposed to genetic engineering should realise that they are implicitly
promoting the other alternatives in the list above - since they are about the
only other realistic options.
The role of takeovers
Whenever I mention the engineered future, people tend to assume I
am talking about genetic engineering of existing organisms. However,
this under-estimates the
role of takeovers in evolution.