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Sjef van Gaalen (M)
Amsterdam, NL
Immortal since Dec 11, 2007
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    The great enhancement debate
    What will happen when for the first time in ages different human species will inhabit the earth at the same time? The day may be upon us when people...
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    A new human taxonomy.
    Bear with me as I ramble through some general thoughts on the upcoming development of us humans...

    The topic of this project is an interesting one, as it's something we'll probably actually have to deal with within our lifetimes. Something bothers me about the project description from the first line though.

    What will happen when for the first time in ages different human species will inhabit the earth at the same time?

    While it's likely that eventually the split of new species will occur, I don't think it's probable that this will occur to the level of a Sterlingesque Shaper/Mechanist society in the short- to mid term, as a separation of multiple generations in which there is little to no cultural exchange would be necessary to create such a rift. Basically we would probably have to be off-planet. Our coming progression through varying levels of technological sophistication, various combinations of technologies and cultural inertia are rather more likely to produce a myriad of hybrid specimens and possibly several new breeds before distinct species can be distinguished.

    The first development, which is currently underway, is the rise of ubiquitous computing. The way we interact with our devices is already changing the way we think, externalizing memory and altering the processing of multiple flows of information. A lot of people, (of which I see myself being one), will choose to remain fully human but not shy away from technology, simply interfacing with external peripheral devices may be all the augmentation they ever use. I can imagine a creative cocktail of sub-vocal voice recognition, eye tracking, exoskeletal prosthesis, retinal projection & haptic sensors could deliver a fairly sophisticated level of augmentation without the use of any invasive modifications, which I myself at this point would only consider for medical reasons.

    But who is to say what will be considered invasive in 20 years?
    I'll probably have kids coming home with unlicensed wetware before I ever get any, but hopefully I'll have raised them well enough to make intelligent decisions about their tech, and if they know what they're doing it's probably preferable to them camping out in front of the Apple Clinic to get hooked into the iMind or whatever. I do believe it should be the right of the individual to decide on their own modifications.

    The imminent rise of biotechnology will be where things really start to get interesting, when genes can be worked on with the same level of resources currently necessary to develop hardware gadgets there is no end to the number of permutations upon mutations that may be produced. As mentioned in the murmurs it will be interesting to see how this takes off commercially, and what will happen to early adopters, as there's certain potential for nasty situations if you're stuck with some buggy biotech.
    (You may notice I'm also in the camp that believes that this development will be commercially driven, as opposed to out of some benevolent re-distribution of resources due to the collective enlightenment of mankind. Not holding my breath for that one.)


    This brings me to the point of this whole thing.
    In the upcoming early stages of human augmentation there will not be an immediate split into multiple species, but a progression upwards through the taxonomic ranks. Hardware modifications aren't hereditary, so the children of heavily augmented individuals would remain human. Should a faction break off that consistently applies the same level of technological modification to all its offspring, this could still only qualify as a hybrid.

    The extent to which bio-technological modifications turn out to be hereditary will have a major effect, as this will lead to the rise of numerous new hybrids which through selection of the most efficient/convenient/fashionable mods could lead to the rise of new breeds, however there may be no reason that these breeds cannot still bear mixed offspring, therefore still not making them classifiable as different species.

    And what would withhold the biologically augmented from accepting additional hardware modification as well, exponentially multiplying the number of variations available?
    Hence my view that in the short to midterm a definite split of species is not likely to occur, more likely we will get used to a world in which human capabilities and specialties differ in a far greater range than we are currently used to, with uncountable hybrid forms of human present.

    In the longer term who is to say what could happen. A singularity or the rise of a new mind may cause us to redefine our entire existence. The distances and timeframes of interstellar travel and off-world habitats would surely give rise to yet even more variations on our form, and provide the seclusion necessary for various other rounds of specialist evolution, truly creating new races. I think that until the time we really manage to get off this planet though, we'll likely have to see each other as a single race, and it would be useful for a system to be devised with which our newfound genetic and technological diversity could be classified.

    Thu, Dec 20, 2007  Permanent link

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    FrankLloydWrong     Fri, Dec 21, 2007  Permanent link
    I agree with just about everything you've said, but to me it seems like talking about these advances within the framework of "taxonomy" is limiting. The ability to modify ourselves will so revolutionize our identities and the ways in which we interact that to speculate on what will constitute a new species ceases to interest me. What we call it from this point in time will not matter, considering the evolutionary nature of how we communicate. This post is veering off in an unintentionally snarky direction. I mean no disrespect, and I enjoyed your post, but I've been reading "The Black Swan" by Nassim Taleb (highly recommended), and it's giving me a cynical attitude towards anyone who assumes they can predict too much about anything.
    I agree that the wording of "different human species" is problematic.
    joushlol     Fri, Dec 21, 2007  Permanent link
    The notion that augmentations would probably be commercially driven is probable, but assuming that local and federal government doesn't get in the way. In light of FrankLloydWrong's comment, I'll be carefull in saying that it might all depend on whether Big Brother has the intention to protect us or to stifle us, both of which might end up being synonymous terms.
    meika     Sat, Dec 22, 2007  Permanent link
    The Other Black Swan...

    I had often, cowled in the slumbrous heavy air,
    Closed my inanimate lids to find it real,
    As I knew it would be, the colourful spires
    And painted roofs, the high snows glimpsed at the back,
    All reversed in the quiet reflecting waters—
    Not knowing then that Durer perceived it too.
    Now I find that once more I have shrunk
    To an interloper, robber of dead men’s dream,
    I had read in books that art is not easy
    But no one warned that the mind repeats
    In its ignorance the vision of others. I am still
    The black swan of trespass on alien waters.

    Despite humans more recent diversification, some due to spread and some due to Baldwinian Evolution, we'll remain one species even if from a strictly darwinian or linnaen point of view we are no longer. In fact, as we modify ourselves we will become one with all species, if we incorporate their genetic history that is, into our bodies, at which time, the history of evolution becomes a textual exegesis (pdf). This means the classification system is no longer a new taxonomy (minus a sense of historical developement) but a literary canon for the trads and a whole cesspool of genre fiction lables for the individends.

    No, I have no idea what individend means either, I must be channeling it from the future as a black swan of trespass.

    This weekend the tercentenary celebrations of Carl Linnaeus’ birth will come to an end in Sweden, and today his young descendent, Martin Nervall, will publicly defend his dissertation at Uppsala University. It deals with malaria, just as Linnaeus’ 1735 doctoral thesis did.

    And check out the jpgs at the bottom of the page
    sjef     Tue, Dec 25, 2007  Permanent link
    Thanks for the comments guys, I agree that 'taxonomy' may not necessarily be completely fitting, but it was the best term I could think of to illustrate the concept, and it provided definitions with which the various levels of differentiation before a split of species occurs could be described.

    meika, your point regarding the incorporation of other species genetic histories is interesting, while I've considered chimeras & various modifications that could be derived from the animal world, I hadn't thought about them within the context of this post, and how those features would tie back into (or completely defeat) the taxonomic tree.

    FrankLloydWrong, that Nassim Taleb seems to be a pretty interesting dude, I only wiki'd him, but that turned up some good quotes. As far as predicting the future goes, I think it's a healthy exercise, you just can't assume you're going to be right. I could go on about the value of failed future predictions for a while, but that probably warrants its own post...
    rene     Sat, Jan 5, 2008  Permanent link
    I'm still waiting for your post on failed future predictions, Sjef. A research project exploring to what extent we are able to extrapolate the future from the present and the past could be very ineresting.