Cyberpunk Review » Are We Post-Human Yet? Human Evolution Reportedly Accelerating.

January 6, 2008

Are We Post-Human Yet? Human Evolution Reportedly Accelerating.

I wanted to blog this last month, but as we know the Bad Behavior software decided to fubar. Better late than never, as they say…


Mutation: it is the key to our evolution. It has enabled us to evolve from a single-celled organism into the dominant species on the planet. This process is slow, and normally taking thousands and thousands of years. But every few hundred millennia, evolution leaps forward. (X-Men opening narration)

It seems like yesterday when humans were living in caves, wearing animal skins, hunting with tree branches and rocks shaped like wedges, rubbing sticks together to make fire, and burning our fingers and food on said fires. To an anthropologist, “yesterday” means some tens-to-hundreds-of-thousands of years. But according to an article published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), human evolution has accelerated in the past 40,000 years. Here’s the link to download the PDF of the report.

Excerpt from the PNAS site on the report:

Genomic surveys in humans identify a large amount of recent positive selection. Using the 3.9-million HapMap SNP dataset, we found that selection has accelerated greatly during the last 40,000 years. We tested the null hypothesis that the observed age distribution of recent positively selected linkage blocks is consistent with a constant rate of adaptive substitution during human evolution. We show that a constant rate high enough to explain the number of recently selected variants would predict (i) site heterozygosity at least 10-fold lower than is observed in humans, (ii) a strong relationship of heterozygosity and local recombination rate, which is not observed in humans, (iii) an implausibly high number of adaptive substitutions between humans and chimpanzees, and (iv) nearly 100 times the observed number of high-frequency linkage disequilibrium blocks. Larger populations generate more new selected mutations, and we show the consistency of the observed data with the historical pattern of human population growth. We consider human demographic growth to be linked with past changes in human cultures and ecologies. Both processes have contributed to the extraordinarily rapid recent genetic evolution of our species.


Evolution… or Revolution? While many see Darwin’s theories on evolution as being written in stone… and many religious zealots wanting to erase those theories permanently… there have been calls to update those theories, and not just from the “intelligent design” herds. An essay from the New York Times shows that some are making such calls for changes in the theory of evolution, saying that mutation is the main driving force instead of selection.

I remember seeing a story online about this mutation-selection: Every so often, several mutations develop in a population. Those mutations that survive best are allowed to continue. If you’ve read Rudy Rucker’s Software, you might remember in chapter twelve where Cobb and Sta-Hi went past a pair of museum displays, one showing natural selection, the other mutation, and Cobb explains how he came up with the idea of evolution for robots:

Selection and mutation. That was my big idea, Sta-Hi. To make the robots evolve. They were designed to build copies of themselves, but they had to fight over parts. Natural selection. And I found a way of jiggering their programs with cosmic rays. Mutation.


Where will post-humanity go from here? SFAM posted this short piece about a podcast debate on post-humanity. It’s mostly about bio-engineering, but should give you a good place to start.

According to this MSNBC article from 2005, human evolution is at a crossroad. Either bio-engineering will cause new forms of humans to emerge, or cybernetics will fuse us with machines. It’s also possible for both scenarios to occur simultaneously. But there is a group who may have the final word on how post-humans develop, if they allow them to develop: The health insurance companies.

ZDNet’s Mitch Ratcliffe posted a recent blog about his degenerating spinal discs and his need to replace them. He wants replacement discs, but his health insurance provider won’t pay for them, preferring Mitch to get the disc fusion done instead even though fusion causes more problems than the replacement and ultimately requires more surgeries. Unfortunately, logic never has a place where profits rule, and anything that threatens the bottom line (like lawsuits or healthy customers) are to be vilified:

The fact that disc replacement promises improved mobility in the joint isn’t a “benefit” insurers recognize. The operation was only FDA approved for a single disc until a few weeks ago, and I am in the midst of gaining approval for a “multi-level disc replacement” from my insurance provider. Unfortunately, my doctor tells me another of his patients, who works for and is insured by the same insurer I have, was just turned down for the single-disc surgery.

The other barrier to access is the Food and Drug Administration, which is consistently under-funded for product reviews. In medical technology, “beta” isn’t good enough, so we need a well-funded review process that doesn’t rely entirely on company research or company-defined FDA protocols. We also need to recognize that these are risky procedures that can lead to death, paralysis and lifelong pain if things go wrong — we can’t go lightly into cyborg markets like we play with gadgets.

Right now, we may become semi-cyborgs until genetic therapies become mainstream, or the insurance companies are willing to pay for them. It’s sad to think that the health insurance corporations would ultimately decide post-humanity’s fate, but evolution will still continue (deal with it Pat Robertson!), and we still have time to make a choice…

Mutant or machine?

This post has been filed under News as Cyberpunk by Mr. Roboto.


[…] Original post by Cyberpunk Review […]

usecide said:

I recommend to watch this 1h lecture about where are we right now in bio technology. Amazingly, nowadays, we can even buy a DNA synthesizer for less than 1000$ (for example: ).

Lionel B. said:

I think a revolution that almost nobody speaks about is the fact that our physical world is getting digitalized.

What do I mean here ?
Well, music was analog before, now it’s digital.
Road maps were analog, now they are digital.
The list goes on and on.

It extends to :
gps tracking for car (car insurances, pay as you drive)
Body Area Networks for heath monitoring …

soon RFID everywhere.

The amount of digital data availabe on the physical world is exploding.

Now just think about how digital changed the music industry.
A full digitalized world will change dramatically how we perceive the world and how people take decisions.

Take :
embarked health monitored (heart beat, blood pressure, fat levels, eating habits…) + a decoded DNA, you can pretty much have a good idea of your life span and the disease you ca expect. (+ impact from heatlh insurances ?)

To summarize : if you get something into digital, it is possible to apply computational power on it. It is possible to create statistics, it is possible to create models and simulation tools for it etc…

I believe the most important thing that happened in the last 50 years is the beginning of computer networks and massive digital outputs. This alone changed our daily life. And this is only the beginning.

Genetics, cyborgs and so on are far too complex and “life changing” for individuals. The public opinion will take a looong time to adapt to this.
But look at how people are switching to the digital world. It goes painless, effortless and you just cannot go against it.

You don’t need any body mod to be transhuman. You just need to become so dependent on your digital surroundings that you cannot make a difference between digital and analog.

Soon, as Floridi states, you’ll type in a google engine :”where is my damn stapler ?”

January 9, 2008

Constanza Riddle said:

Mate, you last part of the comment is funny and yet scary

What it really freaks me out is that people doesnt seem to mind if the world is changing or not, they just follow like stuppid lambs the media. If they see the new ipod, crowd want it, if there’s a new psp, hell they go to buy it, a new phonecell… without even thinking if they really need all that stuff…

Im a graphic designer and i “depend” of the computer somehow to do my work, and usually play music to find some inspiration, The problem is that we are so bussy trying to achive the best material life that we forget about ourself, we forget who we are!!!! and deliver our IMaGINATION AND/OR FUN in the hands of TECHNOLOGY.

June 12, 2008

Shiranami said:

Shiranami said:

I did write a really long and amazing post but for some reason it didn’t display above. Oh well.

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