October 09, 2010
How Will Humans Evolve?

Alex Tabarrok and Tyler Cowen have been arguing with each other about how humans evolve. Tyler sees better looking people who are less creative and less driven.

Let us assume that scientific progress continues. My view is that parents don't so much like "difference," unless it is very directly in their favor. Using technology, parents will select for children who are taller, smarter in the way that parents value, better looking, and perhaps also more loyal to their families. The people in the wealthy parts of the world will look more like models and movie stars, but they will be quite recognizable. These children may also be less creative and some of them will be less driven. It's a bit like the real estate market, where everyone wants their house to be special, but not too special, for purposes of resale or in this case mating and career prospects.

Evolutionary biologist Michael Lynch argues that medical advances are making possible a higher rate of collection of harmful mutations in humans. Makes sense. Lots more pregnancies, babies, and adolescents with genetically caused health problems are saved by medical advances and that trend will continue. However, I expect that trend to stop and reverse once genetic testing for embryo selection with IVF becomes widely used to start pregnancies.

My take: Technology will enable humans to make reproductive choices (e.g. thru in vitro fertilization combined with genetic testing for embryo selection) that will reduce some forms of variation in the short run. However, in the long run I expect humans to make decisions that cause divergences that might eventually lead to the generation of multiple new species.

Starting some time in the next 10 years genetic testing will enable embryo selection that will start off the trend toward healthier, sexier, and smarter offspring. That trend will accelerate in the 2020s and 2030s. Therefore in the 2040s and beyond we (at least those of us who live long enough to get rejuvenation therapies that make us young again) will witness a trend toward higher attractiveness. People will become more perfect-looking and more able. Parents will generally want children capable of achieving more success. This will tend to select for intelligence, looks, height, stamina, and motivation. The choices made to get these desired traits will select against genetic diversity in the humans species.

What I'm not sure about: Will a subset of parents go for kids that are more relaxed with personalities that are happy without achieving much success? If so, we could witness a split to two groups in the population where one is hard-charging and wealthy and the other is poorer, lazier, and more content and happy. Granted these types exist today, but more on a continuum. We might witness the development of gaps between the groups with less of middle-of-the road types of personalities.

Genetic variations that reduce desired attributes will get selected against. Notably, all genetic mutations that are only harmful (and we each probably have hundreds of such mutations) will get selected against. Therefore the genetic load in humans will decline.

But in the longer run a number of other factors come into play. One of the weirder ones: People could start tinkering with genes that control just what we find attractive. As people make different decisions about what instinctual desires for mates to put into their offspring different subsets of the human race could diverge into groups that find other groups much less attractive.

What I wonder about: What sorts of personality types will each personality type choose for their offspring once personality type becomes selectable when a pregnancy is started. Will all personality types choose offspring with the same personality type? Or will couples with a pair of personality types have a more dominant member choose the personality of themself for the offspring so that less dominant personalities get selected against? Or will couples make choices for female personalities different than for male personalities so that average male personalities and average female personalities become more different? There are a lot of possibilities and it is not clear to me what choices will be made.

One possibility: People in different cultures will could different choices about offspring personalities and other qualities. So humans in different regions could diverge from each other to become more unalike. However, a drive toward higher intelligence offspring might have the opposite effect since very smart people might all reach more similar conclusions about what attributes are most ideal for offspring. It is not clear to me how this will go.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 October 09 10:47 PM  Evolution Human Nature

PacRim Jim said at October 10, 2010 1:24 AM:

You assume humans will redesign themselves as biological beings. Perhaps not.

Chris T said at October 10, 2010 10:39 AM:

We'll probably wind up with a lot of weird divergences. Genetic engineering will be as prone to fads as anything else and generations could wind up in arms races for certain traits.

James Bowery said at October 10, 2010 11:13 AM:

Since basic arithmetic seems beyond the "experts in human evolution", James McCarthy's slogan would seem to apply:

He who refuses to do arithmetic are doomed to talk nonsense.

Idiocracy, indeed.

kurt9 said at October 10, 2010 1:22 PM:



Scroll down to the "consistency and change" box.

This was written over 20 years ago. But I think it is a reasonably conservative depiction of what we will be like in the future.

kurt9 said at October 10, 2010 1:26 PM:

If so, we could witness a split to two groups in the population where one is hard-charging and wealthy and the other is poorer, lazier, and more content and happy. Granted these types exist today, but more on a continuum. We might witness the development of gaps between the groups with less of middle-of-the road types of personalities.

A world composed only of laid-back slackers and high achievement types would not be bad at all. It would certainly be a damn sight better than what we have now.

Brett Bellmore said at October 10, 2010 4:06 PM:

So, essentially you're predicting a world of mad scientists and minions, but the minions at least will be good looking?

The problem here is that, given self-reproducing technology, and any degree of real AI, (Both likely technologies in the next few decades.) mad scientists won't NEED minions. Today even the most driven among us need other people to pursue their aims. That won't continue to be true.

In a world where that's the case, having laid back offspring is a good way to guarantee your line will end. If some high achiever wants to surround himself with slackers, he'll run them off on a tissue printer, meat puppets run by his AI. No need to recruit existing people with their own aims. THOSE people will just be in the way.

Being laid back has never been a really good evolutionary choice, it's more one of those counter-survival traits civilization has permitted to become common during a temporary lull in evolutionary selection.

If you've go the choice, make your kids high achievers. Or don't plan on your genes still being around 200 years from now, except maybe in some wildlife preserve.

kurt9 said at October 10, 2010 7:02 PM:

The problem here is that, given self-reproducing technology, .... mad scientists won't NEED minions.

What makes you think that just because I don't need you that I would feel actual malice towards you? I get along with everyone. You don't screw with me, I have no desire to screw with you. We all get what we want.

Today even the most driven among us need other people to pursue their aims. That won't continue to be true.

One would certainly hope so. This current economy has made it a serious bitch to either get investment capital for a start-up or, even worse, make sales. Of course I would like to achieve my aims without needed to cooperation of other people. Why the f**k wouldn't I want this?

The bad news (for me, at least) is that neither self-reproducing technology nor real A.I. is likely to be realized in the next few decades. The closest we will come to the first is advanced versions of the 3-D fabber additive manufacturing that is starting to hit the machine shops and advanced synthetic biology. Sentient A.I. is likely to remain a fantasy for a long time to come. Also, I fail to see what use I could have for sentient AI.

Nevertheless, technology in 2040 should allow a small group of like-minded individuals (maybe a hundred or a thousand) to pretty much do what they want. Since there are probably a 1,000 or more others out there who share my ideas and aims, this is probably my best hope for the long term future that I want.

Biobob said at October 10, 2010 9:33 PM:

IMO, few/no people realize / know what is actually happening to the genetics of humans.

There is a HUGE broadening of all axes of human heterozygosity and gene pool. There is unprecedented mixing of populations and genomes, as well as the removal of selective pressure on certain mutations due to modern medicine, which only increases the aforementioned effect. Certain populations / sub-populations have been under extreme selective pressure (ethnic cleansing) while others have experienced loss of selective pressures. I see no slackening of any of these effects in the foreseeable future and I have my doubts about the speed of implementation of artificial genetic manipulation of the human genome. I think it will be some time before such genetic manipulation has more than a nibbling about the edges effect as opposed to other massive pressures such as the one child policy of China, or the apparent genetic suicide of European populations. I expect that the artificial manipulation of human genome will be much more difficult than is currently understood with many more landmines than currently appreciated, but I have no doubt that it will eventually happen.

As things stand now, there is absolutely NO CHANCE of "decisions that cause divergences that might eventually lead to the generation of multiple new species" for the foreseeable future; quite the opposite. There is now a global human gene pool with virtually no effective isolation of any populations. Only something like a total collapse of civilization can change this; and such an event is certainly possible.

Brett Bellmore said at October 11, 2010 3:54 AM:

"What makes you think that just because I don't need you that I would feel actual malice towards you? I get along with everyone. You don't screw with me, I have no desire to screw with you. We all get what we want."

I don't think this actually requires malice, as such. Just exponentially increasing power, and comparative indifference.

First, consider the situation: Aside from a dinky space station dependent on frequent resupply, humanity is confined to the surface of one planet. In a solar system with multiple planets. In an apparently infinite, or so big as to be effectively so, universe, with no sign yet of other life.

We're the first single celled life in a single tidal pool on an otherwise barren planet. We're the bacterium landing in a vat of culture medium a mile wide. We are set for a VAST expansion, which will ultimately slow, but need never really end for millions of years.

The universe belongs to the driven, that one tidal pool to the slackers. And one day the descendants of the driven will come across that tidal pool, and have as much concern for it's slacker inhabitants as we have for a bacterial film in a puddle. Assuming some accident or other doesn't kill it off; Life confined to a single puddle is precarious.

No, chose "driven" for your children. Slackers won't inherit the stars.

Mthson said at October 11, 2010 7:34 AM:

Re Brett Bellmore:
Excellent way to put it.

Re Biobob:
"I expect that the artificial manipulation of human genome will be much more difficult than is currently understood with many more landmines than currently appreciated, but I have no doubt that it will eventually happen."

Embryo selection is already in limited use. It sounds like you're referring to allele insertion in human embryos, which is some ways away.

"There is now a global human gene pool with virtually no effective isolation of any populations."

How often do Silicon Valley hyper-intellectuals reproduce with members of the illiterate underclasses? It's true that no genetic clusters are absolutely isolated now, but, while this is perhaps just about wording, that doesn't seem like too useful a concept... since mating is far from random, there still seems to be strong effective genetic isolation.

Biobob said at October 11, 2010 10:19 AM:

Mthson, yes, I am referring to comments concerning artificial selection/manipulation for specific phenotypic characteristics more subtle than gender, for instance, such as intelligence, beauty, etc.

Mthson said "that doesn't seem like too useful a concept... since mating is far from random, there still seems to be strong effective genetic isolation."

LOL -- tell that to your teenager with hormones in full flow, on-line dating booty call, or any of the other modern casual sex type encounters. Tell that to the modern day Juliet and Romeo since those stories are far from uncommon. Tell that to the purchased bride, purchased adoptions, mass immigrations, global labor market, etc etc that effectively transfer genes between all global populations. Sure, there is often mate selection bias, but there has also so much gene flow between all hitherto more or less isolated populations in the past 300 years that the massive broadening of the human genome is well underway and can not be stopped except by another massive effect as important as global population movements are currently. It does not take all that much gene transfer to mix previously isolated populations and you must think in terms of the approximate minimum 25 generations for selection to spread genes throughout a population, which in human terms is a minimum of 25 x 18 = 450 years. The mixing of all the newly spreading genome variability is still underway and has a long way to go. Your average silicon valley hyper-intellectual is a [pick some] english/irish/scottish/amerind/russian/chec/spanish/danish/norwegian/chinese/japanese etc etc mix (lol) as it is and his wife the likely product of similar mixing.

My initial point needs to be considered - nobody knows what's really going on now - but certainly the part we do know, this mixing of the last 300 years gives plenty to consider, and is certainly not finished.

Erik said at October 11, 2010 11:28 AM:

Will a subset of parents go for kids that are more relaxed with personalities that are happy without achieving much success? If so, we could witness a split to two groups in the population where one is hard-charging and wealthy and the other is poorer, lazier, and more content and happy.

I suggest we name those two populations "Morlocks" and "Eloi".

-- Erik

British Contrarian said at October 11, 2010 1:07 PM:

Unless, of course, the *billions* unable to afford reproductive manipulation are driven to join a social - perhaps religious - movement seeking to limit the ability of *millions* to give themselves and their offspring an unfair genetic advantage. Even avoiding violent revolution, those billions could peacefully vote "Common Man" parties into office that would outlaw the technologies. This, I think, is by far the most likely scenario. Cultural taboos combined with legislation to ensure no genetically-advantaged "ruling class" arises. At least, no ruling class with *obvious* genetic manipulation. In a sense, this has already been happening for centuries in the most technologically-advanced cultures on Earth. The once-powerful monarchies of Europe have devolved into being little more than inbred, cultural curiosities, and democracies have supplanted them as the ruling political mechanism.

Anyway, fun to surmise.

Frank Turk said at October 11, 2010 1:16 PM:

I wonder how many actual parents have chimed in on this discussion? There are several assumptions here which, frankly, I think are spurrious:

1. it assumes that people who are reproducing are having babies with some personal reproductive agenda in mind. The facts are that in the West -- where the technology to do the sorts of things being described here will be most prevalent -- /illegitimacy/ is on the massive rise. you can read statistics about that here and especially here, but one thing that means for certain is that men (and in some sense women, who are having children indescriminately) having sex really don't care what kind of children they are going to have because frankly they aren't sticking around to raise them. Why spend money to "evolve" when you can just walk away?

2. The likelihood of people with minimal disposable income (i.e. - single-parent mothers) spending it on what is essentially high-fallootin' eugenics seems improbable at best -- they won't spent $3 on condoms, but they'll spend real money to "select" the genetic make-up of their children? Really?

3. This discussion also assumes that many if not most people think their children are prone to be or are likely to be little monsters -- or perhaps more charitably, disadvantageously-gifted. I think that if you meet more parents of more children in the upper 7/8ths of the bell curve, you're going to find that in spite of their circumstances and any nominal self-awareness they have about their own limits and the limits of their kids, most parents actually love the kids they have, as they have them, and do not moon over the fantasy scenario of what they could have been if only they had been given the super-soldier formula or some such thing.

What really bothers me about this, though, is the idea that somehow evolution can be improved by intelligent design. Isn't the real beauty of evoilution that it works in spite of the choices of the individuals? You know: evolution is not a guided process. It's a process which has populations which are not sacrosanct and which are, over time, victims of their own biases. When evolution actually does happen, they tell me, the massive majority of the old genotype goes south not for the winter but forever -- because they are not fit for the new environment. This discussion assumes that if you're really clever, you can out-guess the weather, the solarsystem, the geological events of the planet and your own abject ignorance and help your children become something you are not and could never be.

When we can reliably predict the weather for tomorrow, I suspect we will be in a better place to try guiding our own evolution than we are today.

Ryan said at October 11, 2010 1:28 PM:

I'm going to have to agree with BioBob.
I am a red haired engineer with a degree in Physics and German/Norwegian genes. Not a hyper-intellectual by any means but I can hold my own with most technical people in multiple fields. I married a rather dark skinned girl that grew up in the slums of Guadalajara (we can only guess where her genes come from; Central America, Southern Europe, Africa?). We have come to the biased conclusion from our three experiments in reproduction, that the more diverse the genes the better looking the kid. Not to mention smart. Personally, when I see a thin blond woman (aka any female lead in Hollywood), I think of my sister... not someone I would want to reproduce with.
Much Sci-Fi has been written about this, including Robert A. Heinlein book "Beyond This Horizon"
A couple would go to the Dr when they wanted to have a kid. Where they would look at each parent's genes (written before DNA) and run several "best case" combination from which the parents would choose. "Natural" kids where considered an public insurance policy and could live on the government dole because they couldn't compete. As a society, we may have to adopt some similar policy.

Biobob said at October 11, 2010 1:51 PM:

Frank Turk makes a number of good points.

We all need to understand that evolution is ALWAYS working, even when we don't 'see' it. Aside from the obvious and all too common "Fred forgot his tetanus shot and dies after cutting himself shaving" type of selection, we have all kinds of cultural selection going on with humans, most of which have been changing so rapidly that nobody could possible keep track of its effects. Like I said, we don't have a clue, however, the massive broadening of the human gene pool underway that we do know about is certain to give maximal 'choice' to whatever selection pressures humanity may eventually come under.

I don't know if "somehow evolution can be improved by intelligent design" but I am certain some humans will make the attempt, no matter how stupid the choice may be [rofl].

f1b0nacc1 said at October 11, 2010 1:53 PM:

I believe that the prologue to 'Idiocracy' said it best. Genetic engineering, will be used to deal with hairloss and impotence...that's about it...

Tony said at October 11, 2010 2:21 PM:

Try reading "Brave New World" by A. Huxley. That will give you some idea where this could lead, assuming the technology for genetic control achieves some level of success.

Chris T said at October 11, 2010 2:40 PM:

The original Tyler post asked about 500 years into the future. This is an eternity at current rates of scientific advance and cultural change. Those of us positing direct genetic manipulation/screening are assuming that those rates will stay high.

In that time frame, artificial manipulation could very well supplant natural evolution.

Chris T said at October 11, 2010 2:49 PM:

My final line needs some clarification:

In that time frame, artificial manipulation could very well supplant natural evolution as the primary driver of biological change in humans. Assuming there is still natural reproduction, natural evolution will keep working of course. It's effects would get swamped if genome manipulation became widespread in the population however.

flataffect said at October 11, 2010 2:50 PM:

What could go wrong? Progressives will love it. If you're a conservative, there's an app for that!

We'll all look like clones of our favorite celebrities. The Olympics, indeed all sports, will become contests of who has the best gene splicers. If you think punk rockers and goths are weird, wait until people can change skin color, grow feathers, claws, lizard skin, horns, etc.

flataffect said at October 11, 2010 2:54 PM:

Oh, and don't forget the effect of politics and state regulations on these things. Obamacare could mandate treatments that would make us immune from all diseases, keep us young and productive, etc., but it won't be able to afford to. It was set up to provide care for the unproductive, after all.

Hollywould said at October 11, 2010 3:02 PM:

What? What? I mean what!!! I hope your not inferring that those of us allready tall and great looking are'nt smart, creative and driven. Well, we are, except the driven. I drive myself everywhere. I don't see that changing with a little DNA juggling. You sound like some knuckle-dragging conservative that sees a link between jeans and smarts. That's a slippery slop, that is. Get some smarts yourself, pseudo-science wing-nuts.

Ken said at October 11, 2010 3:03 PM:


Change in what we consider attractive, has already happened a time or two.

One of the more obvious, recent example is that of body hairlessness on guys. Because of the regulations imposed on movies and television, actors couldn't show a bare chest, with hair, and so we've had women grow up, KNOWING that an attractive male doesn't have any chest hair.....

We've even had major linguistic changes, just because of style.

mrsizer said at October 11, 2010 4:00 PM:

I want a tail. Granted, I don't necessarily want it to be inheritable, but still it requires pretty good genetic tweaking. Various sorts of fur would be fun, too: One year zebra, next tiger, next leopard, etc... Genetic fashion will, indeed, arise (assuming we figure it out, at all).

Sterling said at October 11, 2010 5:13 PM:

There are probably traits that are contra survival in young children but valuable in adults.

maryjane75 said at October 11, 2010 6:02 PM:

My 7th grader just had to do a science report on human genome. His overall sense of it all was rather enlightening to me as he came out of his room one evening after reading some information and stated, "boy, everybody's gonna be a basketball star in the future mom." It really will be interesting to see how humanity will define itself when it is given a choice. I wonder what will be the most popular trait, and somehow I think the word "fad" will take on a whole new meaning.

DaveinPhoenix said at October 11, 2010 6:12 PM:

I believe that humans will slowly evolve into armless,legless,and brainless(we obviously don't use them much anymore)blobs of fat which weigh on the order of approximately 400 lbs. We're well on the way there already - as evidenced by a Saturday morning trip to WalMart anywhere in America.

Lone Ranger said at October 11, 2010 6:35 PM:

Unfortunately, a casual look at the tabloids suggest that the scenario played out in the film "Idiocracy" is starting to take shape.

The basic premise is laid out in the three-minute opening sequence of the movie: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSROlfR7WTo

It looks like the future belongs to either Idiocracy - or to the Muslims (by demographics).

Paul ADK said at October 11, 2010 8:53 PM:

1) The generally accepted ideal of what constitutes "beauty" changes dramatically over time. One need only look back a century or so to see that the ideal woman was shall we say generously proportioned. As for the men, think William Howard Taft and Grover Cleveland. To hazard a guess, when everyone is tall and thin, the short Roley Polly will be the new ideal.

2) A Bell curve is not fixed. If everyone's I.Q. suddenly increased by twenty points, an I.Q. of 120 would be the new average and a score of 170+, the minimum to be considered a genius. There will always be those above and below the norm.

3) Just because two reasonably intelligent individuals on rare occasions will give birth to an Einstein or a Clark Gable, does not mean that every pairing carries the same potential. How many eggs does a woman produce, and how many can we rationally expect to be sorted in search of that one perfect candidate? Then, with the egg in hand, you start getting into the real numbers. The computational prowess of Big Blue taken to the 10th power is unlikely to handle all the permutations. And if it could, how many couples could possibly afford it?

PacRim Jim said at October 12, 2010 9:08 AM:

Anyone who believes that human evolution will proceed slowly over time must rethink.

Biobob said at October 12, 2010 10:06 AM:

@ john and PacRim Jim : it depends on your definition of time and a number of factors.

The speed of evolutionary selection for any particular allele is dependent on the size of the population, the presence of a favorable mutation, if the favorable mutation is dominant vs recessive and the severity of the selective pressure. Assuming the mutation is already present in a portion of the population and selective pressure is severe and constant (100% of individuals not having the mutation immediately die), then evolution is virtually instantaneous on a evolutionary time scale. The speed of normal evolution reflects the degree to which these previously mentioned factors are found in natural populations. Newly introduced mutations typically take 25 generations to spread to an entire population in insect studies. Typically it takes a significant number of SNPs, insertions or deletions of entire gene sequences to enforce the creation of a new species.

25 generations could be as short as several hours in fast reproducing prokaryotes or as long as 450 years in 'typical' human populations. From a geologic point of view, both are virtually instantaneous.

Lono said at October 12, 2010 11:53 AM:

I think many here are overlooking a very possible and, dare I say, probable scenario.

One small group of wealthy ideological extremists will engineer their children to be super enhanced in looks, athleticism, and intelligence. Their children then follow the same ideology and pattern for a few generations.

This small wealthy group then begins to dominate Human society while reproducing at a determined increasing rate.

Once this group has essentially become speciated into Homo Superior - they augment their populations with massive cloning initiatives.

A scientific tyranny ensues where the ruling augmented oligarghy carefully controls who can have access to bio-technology and bio-mechanical enhancements.

A.I. is finally successfully created - and the process now repeats.

Wildtype Humans finally are found mostly in Museums and Zoos.

Meaningful Alien contact is achieved - the A.I. and remaining augmented Super Humans are subsumed into the more technologically adavanced and sophisticated civilization.

Biobob said at October 12, 2010 12:44 PM:


Counterpoint: One small group of ideological extremists engineer their children to be super enhanced in looks, athleticism, and intelligence. A new virus appears and generates 100% mortality in that gene-engineered overly specialized homozygous population. Alternate: they discover that all modified children are social deviants with a universal penchant for parricide followed by ritual suicide.

There is an "evolutionary rationale" (derived from many millions of years of selection) for everything under the sun, even if we are ignorant about just what it is. We ass around with genetic modification of humans at our own peril. For the present and near future, we couldn't do what you had in mind successfully even if we wanted to. I suspect that some of the traits you mention would be so difficult to consistently produce artificially in humans that any efforts in that regard would ultimately be counterproductive.

AlanK said at October 12, 2010 4:40 PM:

As I scan down the posted comments, I don't get the impression that readers are fully aware of a fairly standard subject for people who read science fiction -- the fact that genetically enhanced intelligence will lead people to make choices that we cannot readily imagine, because we lack the enhanced intelligence. It is entertaining to speculate about what those choices might be, but we would need enhanced intelligence to truly grasp the options -- to appreciate the doors that will be opened up.

The race up the intelligence scale, through genetic engineering, strikes me as inevitable. Would anyone want their children to be the slow dullards in a classroom full of geniuses? I doubt it. That would be akin to wanting your kids to be ignorant and incompetent. And then "genius" as it is currently reckoned will become average, and people will aim for the next level of intelligence above that.

Another point, for context: change has been occurring at an accelerating rate since the start of the Industrial Revolution. Our day-to-day changes seem achingly slow, but over the longer term -- about a century, let's say -- we have been using things like chemical and electrical engineering, Mendelian genetics, modern medicine, computers, powered flight etc. for enormous change. Genetic engineering is a profound tool for another set of changes. When commenters post suggestions about the "foreseeable future," they need to realize that we probably cannot foresee things one hundred years in the future.

That said, I loved the comment by mrsizer: "I want a tail." So do I, a nice leopard tail.

Biobob said at October 12, 2010 5:29 PM:

I don't consider 100 years "the foreseeable future" let alone 50 years. As far as I am concerned, the foreseeable future is perhaps 10 - 20 years from now at best. Perhaps I read more into science fiction than you do; as it is now, people too often make choices that I can not readily imagine, but not ones I assume you mean. heh. Darwin awards are most amusing.

You assume WAY too much if you conclude intelligence is as simple as flipping a allele or 2 or that such flipping of these 1 or 2 loci is heritable. Already geneticists have hypothesized that intelligence is the result of hundreds of loci in many patterns however the whole idea is just supposition at this point. You also assume that populations will idly allow such experimentation on humans required to hone such techniques as would be required to successfully develop such abilities. Considering the reaction of current populations to genetic modification of food plants and animals eg "frankenfood", and embryonic stem cell research, counting on such an eventuality may be somewhat premature, to say the least. More likely such scientists would be betting their life in the bargain. You also assume that any increasing intelligence resulting from such a process would be without "cost". My assumption would be the exact opposite, that such an increase in intelligence could have both deleterious as well as the seemingly beneficial effects, or are not feasible since after a couple of million years of selection we are not all genius types.

Go ahead and pin a tail on - i won't mind. Perhaps after a generation or 2 of pinning a tail on, your children will be born with one. Epigenetics says so.

Mthson said at October 12, 2010 8:36 PM:

Biobob said:"such an increase in intelligence could have both deleterious as well as the seemingly beneficial effects, or are not feasible since after a couple of million years of selection we are not all genius types. "

That's true. Einstein probably sucked at throwing spears.

Randall Parker said at October 12, 2010 8:43 PM:


When humans start doing embryo selection using genetic test results the rate of human evolution will accelerate by orders of magnitude.

When humans gain the ability to not just select but also to modify embryo (or egg or sperm) DNA then human evolution will accelerate by more orders of magnitude.

When humans gain the ability to run massive simulations to try out genetic variants that haven't happened yet then the new variants they come up with will further accelerate the rate of human evolution.

Biobob said at October 12, 2010 10:57 PM:

hehe, Randall, you are a barrel of laughs.

I can just imagine many orders of magnitude acceleration in evolution


genetic scientists dying like flies, as they are burned by mobs, due to creating "monsters" LOL

Seriously, lets say that for arguments sake "evolution" of humans takes 450 years. ONE order of magnitude increase would be 45 years; two orders of magnitude would be 4.5 years; Three orders of magnitude would be .45 year; Four orders of magnitude would be .045 years or 16 days; Five orders of magnitude would be about 2 hours. I very much doubt that humans will ever be force-grown into adult size, tested to determine success and the next iteration begun in 2 hours or less. I think you exaggerate just a bit, but I understand you say these things for effect, rather than accuracy.

Let's us just say that IMO humans in any kind of society with any sort of internal feedback mechanisms will likely self-limit their genetic modification tinkering to the removal of heritable genetic defects and call it good. The extension of GM techniques to reversion of somatic mutations is much more likely to become widespread in use.

What autocratic regimes // madmen will do is anyone's guess, but for my money, mindless automatons are much more amenable to the rigid control such people desire than thinking beings.

Randall Parker said at October 13, 2010 6:30 PM:


I am not exaggerating about acceleration of evolution. The rate of evolution is determined by 2 factors:

1) Rate of generation of mutations.

2) Rate of sweep of mutations.

Initially the ability to do genetic testing in order to guide embryo selection will work just on the rate of sweep. I think a couple of orders of magnitude speed-up in a sweep is realistic just from embryo selection because selection will happen before embyro implantation. Generate a couple dozen embryos and select among them.

The key here is that large amounts of genetic variation already exist. So there's plenty to select among. The next step up will be to make it possible to edit the DNA. Then lots of undesired mutations will be very rapidly eliminated. All mutations that are pure genetic load (harmful) will get edited out of the species.

Hey said at October 15, 2010 1:31 AM:

Well as far as human evolution the kinds of entities we will evolve into at least within the next 100 years is fairly predictable. We already have numerous genetic islands in our modern world with self-perceived advantages/disadvantages in comparison to others. All you have to do is extrapolate it out. I laughed out loud when the author described future human populations - at least in industrialized nations - as being prettier, cattle-like and much more obedient to their parent's concept of perfection, which will actually hinder these passive-receptor types because they'll take fewer risks. We can see this expressed now in the "hipster" phenomenon in every major metropolitan city. This is a group of people who wring their hands over their self-anointed intellectual supremacy but come across as do-nothings who compensate for their lack of definition by amassing facebook friends. They are kind of like the spelling bee enthusiast who claims to be as good as the participants but secretly would die without spellchecker. They are essentially people full of potential but are irritatingly resistant to actually putting themselves on the line. The girls especially are deluded simply because, for one thing, women are naturally catered to if they have the slightest hint of beauty and secondly, as in everything hipster, passive-receptive traits are emphasized leading these girls to expect perfect male matches to come out of the ether. Due to their cloistered choices these girls believe that they'll get access to the rockstar/actor/athlete/writer at some point because a lot of men hit on them and Julia Roberts reminds them of their best friend.

These are the people that do not realize or care to incur the risks that come with any notable endeavor. They want to reap the benefits of the fantasy life they see on VH1 without putting anything out there but their personality - which might get them a chubby girlfriend and appease their parents but will not break the mold for anyone else. They fear attempting the things they admire. They fear the loss of income that comes with being an actor/musician, fear the heavy duty effort involved with being an athlete and fear the social risks of scientific research. Arguably the best researchers trade their bar-hopping hours for time in the lab attempting to breach that wall of failed experimentation. Most hipsters refuse to take this kind of risk to their social life, yet assume that they could be able to do the job regardless?!?

Anyway this particular sub-culture is really just a leading indicator of what is to come by way of genetic engineering as prescribed by parents. Most of these hipsters are articulate, well-dressed and admire technology even if they don't understand it - these are the positive attributes of this group. But they are subconsciously obsessed with good breeding and status-climbing to the next glittery pop star imitations, because these illusions have told them that is how you are able to get things for free in this society as opposed to true risk-taking. This is why we keep hearing about college kids who have little common sense i.e. coming to work in cargo shorts, not being able to simple tasks without explicit instruction, blabbing on the cellphone while driving etc. That and most college courses are useless for the specialized tasks many businesses want nowadays.

Anyway you also have to remember that there are billions of humans in the third world and by all indications their DNA is becoming MORE isolated not less as is expected from isolated gene pools. The environmental effects on each human population is still being felt on a continental basis simply because most of the planet lives in abject poverty and cannot use technologies to avoid natural effects. For instance how many places in Peru have air conditioning? Or regular vaccinations even? The effect of mass transportation is dramatic, yet marginal on a human genetic level save for the transport of viruses and pathogens. The effect might seem incredible to the myopic eyes of Westerners living in a first world nation beset in a city with immigrants. They see their little city petri dish as being the testing ground for an immense interbreeding program set to dissolve their capabilities into an ethnic crock pot. From their standpoint they might presume that mass transit will disrupt the encapsulated flow of human DNA from sea to shining sea. But of course this only assumes that the rest of the world shares their lifestyle and technological freedoms. In fact huge barriers exist between the western world and the rest. The average bushman has little access to transportation by way of passenger plane and even if there were an airstrip near his hut he probably couldn't afford it. Then there are customs laws for each nation. Beyond that is the matter of appearing suitable as a mate to a foreign culture, which carries another host of barriers. This whole anxiety about mass transit affecting human evolution is true but negligible when looking at the entirety of the human genome. Most populations are caught in their tiny Malthusian mouse traps across the planet. Most of these nations often benefit from the spillover of technology from industrialized nations and if anything it would take a truly mind blowing development, say a group of elites develop a highly contagious nanoparticle that confers superpowers and it spreads across the globe, to make a dent in the human genome worldwide.

Engineer Dad said at October 16, 2010 8:41 PM:

Somehow I feel advances in genetic technologies will more likely occur in eastern mono-cultures, than western democracies.

From Steve Hsu's Information Processing

Thanks to recent technological progress, this story is no longer science fiction.

Homework problems: (1) given a high IQ threshold (e.g., +4 SD), what is the most efficient way of collecting thousands of samples from individuals above that threshold? (2) Assuming M alleles, each with equal additive effect on IQ, what will their frequencies in the high group be compared to the general population? How large a population is necessary to resolve the frequency difference beyond statistical error? (Perhaps these problems explain the motivation behind a certain subset of my ruminations on this blog ;-)


SuperhumanityYear11,000AD said at July 26, 2012 4:50 AM:

I think I'm already evolving into the wealthy, demanding, and tall human - I'm really tall, taller than some of my friends and I am comparably bigger than the celebrities that you see on TV and movies, etc. I am demanding and I have quite a lot of wealthy tech on me.

Post a comment
Name (not anon or anonymous):
Email Address:
Remember info?

Go Read More Posts On FuturePundit
Site Traffic Info
The contents of this site are copyright