One of my occasional bits of non-InfoSec musing. This time prompted by a discussion about evolution. The thought that refuses to get booted out of my head: Why does the next iteration of the species have to come about via biological reproduction?
I’m not talking about ex-utero conception, cloning, or even the kind of offspring popping action provoked by pouring water on your Mogwai. I’m talking about bits, bytes, and machines. If you take the study of biological evolution back to its creationist-infuriating basics, it’s defined as researching the processes that produced diverse life on Earth. To date resulting evolutionary steps have been made exclusively via chaos, error, or environmentally provoked upgrades embedded through genetic inheritance.
Genetic engineering challenges that with potential to tweak inheritable genes. Taking bolt-cutters, or a welding iron to the multi-millenia long chain linking individuals to their earliest ancestors. Of course natural reproduction also phases out, skips, and messes with amino-acidy ingredients, but very, very rarely within a single generation.
Along the continuum there are fundamental forks in the road: We now know some dinosaurs, previously believed to be thoroughly extinct, evolved into birds. In the same way, earlier hominid ancestors produced different genetic branches, eventually either dying out or continuing to produce the human diversity we see today; Homo sapiens idaltu, Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, Homo sapiens rhodesiensis, and Homo sapiens sapiens (to name a few). The latter deemed to precisely represent modern humans, the earliest of whom (based on current research) emerged about 200,000 years ago.
So why (based on the basic tenants of evolution), shouldn’t enhanced humans, created by all the skill gifted to us by our genetic recipe, be considered a new ‘us’? This isn’t about an AI escaping the bounds of it’s creator’s control and wiping us out, it’s about a synergy between humankind and technology. Steps – over decades rather than millennia – creating a multiplicity of genetically engineered, 3D printed, nano-repair-bot hosting, neurally enhanced, and otherwise souped up folk. Beta tested for efficiency and environmental fitness for purpose, then distilled by human selection to represent a few recognisably distinct and optimised possibilities for ‘us’ 2.0. Eventually maybe producing a ‘subspecies’ that could nudge Homo sapiens sapiens to side of our forking family tree. A subspecies better equipped to handle the environmental, economic, and healthcare challenges we will indisputably face. Homo sapiens effectus…perhaps.
Not a good thing, or a bad thing, just a potentially inevitable thing. The natural next step for a species risen to dominance through curiosity, adaptability, and relentless pursuit of progress through innovation.
Not an entirely, or even mainly, original thought (GATACA etc, etc, etc), but perhaps fodder for an after dinner debate when next someone predicts a technology driven Terminator-esque end of days scenario.
Also, in InfoSec day job terms, kinda knocks the current furore about the IoT off the top of the ‘how the @!$# do we control and secure this!’ list.