Seth Shostak, the director of communication at the Search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) Institute, is optimistic with respect to the search for extraterrestrials. When it comes to the future of humanity, however, Shostak is a little more grim.
In an opinion piece for SETI entitled, “Could This Be Humanity’s Last Century?,” Shostak suggests that the next two generations of people – who are expected to live until the end of the century and beyond – could “possibly usher in the last act for Homo sapiens.”(1)
In particular, the director of SETI believes that a mixture of designer babies and artificial intelligence will spur a new “alien” species who supersede humanity.(1)
In other words, it won’t be global warming, war or an epidemic that leads to the extinction of the human race. Instead, Shostak proposes three events in the 21st century that will spawn a new species birthed by homosapiens, but not homosapiens themselves.
The first episode will occur when we understand biology at the molecular level. He believes new technologies will be developed, which analyze the human genome and rid it of disease. But this technology won’t just be used to correct the hiccups of our make up. It will also be used for improvement. Although so called designer babies remain a polarizing issue, Shostak writes “ hot-rodding our children is as much on the horizon as the morning sun.”(1)
The second episode will take place when humans start colonizing areas in space. The world has finite resources and a rapidly growing population. Competition over limited resources will drive our descendants into the sky for raw materials like copper, zinc and platinum group metals.(1)
“We can find more of these elements in asteroids, and already several companies are planning to do so. But nearby space could also provide unlimited real estate for siting the condos of the future,” Shostak said.(1)
“Everyone expects our progeny to establish colonies on the moon or Mars, but the better deal is to build huge, orbiting habitats in which you can live without a spacesuit. Think of scaling up the International Space Station a few thousand times. We can put unlimited numbers of people in such engineered environments, and sometime in this century we’ll start doing that. The days of being confined to the bassinette of our birth are coming to an end.”(1)
The third event, that Shostak believes will occur before the end of the 21st century, is the development of generalized artificial intelligence (GAI). In addition to beating people at chess, GAI will fulfill jobs typically reserved for white-collar workers.
“And such machines won’t necessarily be large,” Shostak continues. “A synapse in your brain is a few thousand nanometers in size. A transistor on a chip is hundreds of times smaller. The hardware necessary for human-level smarts – even today – could fit in an iPad.”
These milestones will trump politics, war and economics, according to Shostak. Placing colonies of people on other planets with the technology to tune themselves to their environment, will lead to speciation (the development of a new species).
He claims re-engineering our children on Earth will accelerate this process. “We can eventually produce offspring that are as different from us as dogs are from gray wolves,” Shostak claims. “The haphazard, bottom-up alterations to our species occasioned by Darwinian evolution will yield to the directed improvements of future engineers.”
Shostak paints a logically consistent story about where current technological trends could take us. However, as is the case with most claims about the long and distant future of humanity, these speculations are grounded a rabbit whole, yet to see the light of day.