It’s inevitable, anywhere you go people will be talking about the future. Short term or long term we as a people are obsessed with what’s going to happen, and rightfully so. What will this election do to the country? Will we fix the effects we’re having on the climate? When will Emma Watson profess her hidden and undying love for me? In the scientific community there is a lot of talk about what “humans” will be in the future.
To begin with, lets look back…how did humanity come to be what it is now? Evolution of course. No we did not evolve from apes…though we did evolve from a common ancestor. Slowly, over millions of years small mutations helped one creature survive and reproduce better than another. All those tiny changes built up and culminated in what we are today. Intelligent, bipedal, opposable thumbs…but it seems that humans have now stopped evolving. Because of our social structures we no longer reproduce based on who is best suited to survive, but instead reproduce…well usually just because we can. Some people reproduce with those who have an attractive personality, other based on looks and some based on alcohol consumption. We live in a world where pretty much anyone can have babies regardless of flaws or advantages. Not only that, modern medicine allows us to save the lives of millions of babies who would have naturally died. There is no longer a competition for survival.
But that’s only natural evolution. We have continued to evolve in other ways. Science, especially in the last few decades, has turned us into something entirely new. Information at our finger tips, rapid transportation, dominion over other animals, immunity to deadly diseases. We are even starting to see bionic people. Evolution set our brains apart from any others in the natural world. Those brains have now allowed us to take evolution out of the hands of nature and put it into our own. So where will this lead us?
As you read this, new technologies are being developed. Technologies which at one point seemed like impossible fantasies. Prosthetic limbs have been created which respond to the electrical impulses which would have made the real limb move. Though they’re still crude compared to actual body parts, this technology allows the wearer to bend a knee or individually close the fingers of a hand. Elsewhere exoskeleton suits are being created. Some are designed to help those who have lost the use of their legs walk again, while others are meant to prevent fatigue and injuries to those who regularly have to lift heavy objects. In either case the suit is designed to take the weight and pressure off the wearer’s body. In a way they give the wearer super strength. So while Iron Man may at first seem very fictional, we are not that far from similar suits which can grant enhanced strength and respond to our thoughts.
The other way humans are working to enhance our physical bodies and prolong their usefulness is through medicine. Even 200 years ago the average life expectancy was only around 40 years old (keep in mind that was for everyone. Some died at birth, others lived into their 80’s). The current world life expectancy is now over 68 years. That drastic change has come about not because of a change in our DNA, but a change in our medical knowledge. Innumerable lives have been saved by one simple change brought about in 1847 by a doctor named Ignaz Semmelweis. By washing his hands before surgery he helped stop the spread of microbes which could cause infection, often a death sentence at the time. This is a prime example of how our brains, not our bodies have changed humans. Every day medical discoveries are being made. Most of them small like reducing wrinkles, or taking better care of your eyes. Some are monumental such as the development of vaccines or antibiotics. But each one, just like DNA mutations, have a lasting effect on us as a race.
It’s obvious that technology is the next step in our evolution. We aren’t that far from the cyborg fantasy. People are already starting to augment their bodies with nano technologies. Micro ID chips implanted in your palm are already a reality. Probes which can recognize thought patterns and microscopic cameras which can track eye movement help people who have lost proper body functions. However, as far as we’ve come there is one part of evolution humanity has not managed to escape and that is the need for survival. We fear death and constantly strive to beat it. And therein lies what I think will be the biggest step in our evolution. I don’t think that our future is a world without death. I think our future is the acceptance of our mortality. Instead of trying to make our lives longer I hope we will strive to make the time we have better and happier for every living being.