It won’t be war, politics or poverty that eventually wipes out humanity. According to Seth Shostak, our end will come about as a result of designer babies and AI. The outspoken director of the Search for extraterrestrial intelligence (Seti) Institute believes developments in these areas will lead to new ‘alien’ species
‘We can eventually produce offspring that are as different from us as dogs are from grey wolves,’ he said in an opinion piece for Seti.
‘I’m not talking about the various self-destructive threats of the moment – the ones that fill the papers and spark pontification on the nightly news,’ he says.
‘No, the three big things that I believe will take place in the 21st century are more profound, and not necessarily bad.’
The first change, Shostak believes, is that we will finally understand biology at a molecular level.
As a result, humanity will be able to cure all diseases, and usher in an era of ‘designer babies’.
He also believe that humanity will expand into nearby space in a drive to gain more resources, such as copper, zinc and platinum.
This, he says, will also help alleviate overpopulation.
‘We can eventually produce offspring that are as different from us as dogs are from grey wolves,’ said Seth Shostak in an opinion piece for Seti
‘Everyone expects our progeny to establish colonies on the moon or Mars, but the better deal is to build huge, orbiting habitats in which you can live without a spacesuit.
‘Think of scaling up the International Space Station a few thousand times. We can put unlimited numbers of people in such engineered environments.’
But it’s not just designer babies and space colonies that will change humanity as we know it.
Before 2100, Shostak predicts that we will develop generalised artificial intelligence (GAI).
This will allow machines to take over jobs normally done by humans.
‘Such machines won’t necessarily be large,’ he said.
‘A synapse in your brain is a few thousand nanometers in size.
‘A transistor on a chip is hundreds of times smaller. The hardware necessary for human-level smarts – even today – could fit in an iPad.’
The scientist claims that these developments, over the long term, will dwarf concerns in politics, war, or economics.
But, he adds, they will also change us.
‘Putting large numbers of people in off-Earth colonies will inevitably lead to a kind of speciation.
The first change, Seth Shostak believes, is that we will finally understand biology at a molecular level. As a result, humanity will be able to cure all diseases, and usher in an era of ‘designer babies’
‘After all, their physical environment is somewhat different than Earth, and history suggests that their social environment will also be special.
‘A thousand years from now, the inhabitants of a Martian colony may not be so similar to those still living on Earth.’
‘Re-engineering our children will transform our species even faster.
This might sound like a dramatic shift, but Shostak predicts it will be super-intelligent robots, that will have the most significant impact on humanity.
‘It is less a matter of improving our descendants than replacing them with our engineered successors.
‘Perhaps we can promulgate our culture and ourselves by putting chips in our brains or simply uploading our brains to the machines.
‘But you can be sure that the result will not be Homo sapiens as we’ve known him for 50,000 years.’
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