Tuesday, February 24, 2009

HOMO EVOLUTIS


HOMO EVOLUTIS - Suomi24 Keskustelu

Via Boing Boing: Juan Enriquez was one of the featured speakers at TED 2009 ("The Great Unveiling") at the beginning of the month. Enriquez's article on "Homo Evolutis" suggests human speciation is just around the corner:
As we regrow or engineer more body parts we will likely significantly increase average life span and run into a third track of speciation. Those with access to Google already have an extraordinary evolutionary advantage over the digitally illiterate. Next decade we will be able to store everything we see, read, and hear in our lifetime. The question is can we re-upload and upgrade this data as the basic storage organ deteriorates? And can we enhance this organ's cognitive capacity internally and externally? MIT has already brought together many of those interested in cognition—neuroscientists, surgeons, radiologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, computer scientists—to begin to understand this black box. But rebooting other body parts will likely be easier than rebooting the brain, so this will likely be the slowest track but, over the long term, the one with the greatest speciation impact.

From the OED: Speciation "is the formation of new and distinct species in the course of evolution," and "involves the splitting of a single evolutionary lineage into two or more genetically independent ones" (Nature 21 Sept. 255/1). The question I always have about these predictions of the technologically-induced evolution of humankind, which have been ongoing since the sixties, is how the modification of individuals—whether the recipients of tendons grown in the lab through new processes of tissue engineering, to note one of Enriquez's examples, or even genetic manipulation, can possibly be seen as species evolution? These are not inherited traits of an entire population; they're body modifications of insignificant individuals (by which I mean they will have no significant influence on genetics of the population).

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