June 09, 2013
Humans 100k Years From Now: Big Eyes And Big Heads?

Humans in 100,000 years? "Nickolay Lamm and Alan Kwan think future humans will sport bigger heads, bigger eyes and improved night vision."

100,000 years is the wrong time scale. As soon as we know what a substantial fraction of all the genetic variants do people will will doing embryo selection guided by genetic testing. I expect this to take off in under 10 years because genetic testing has become so cheap and genetic researchers have begun to find markers for IQ differences. Throw in markers for eye color, hair color, facial shape, dental attributes, skin tone, and other attributes and prospective parents who can afford IVF will mostly opt for it. This will accelerate human evolution by orders of magnitude.

Once it becomes possible to rewrite individual genetic letters I expect people will get variations of their own cells made that they'll use to create sperm and eggs to make genetically enhanced offspring. Then the rate of human evolution will accelerate by more orders of magnitude. So 100,000 years will not be necessary in order to see large changes in human features.

The biggest outward change: extreme beauty will become very common. 100 years from in advanced economies now only old people kept alive with rejuvenation therapies won't be extremely attractive. If the robots don't take over then the average young woman 100 years hence will be at least as good-looking as Giselle Bundchen.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2013 June 09 12:27 PM 

observer said at June 9, 2013 3:38 PM:

So the price of surviving to the next century is that we will have to endure being dumber, uglier, and weaker than the kids until they find a way to improve the genetics of fully grown adults--a far more difficult problem than embryo selection. Let's hope we don't have to wait there too long. Assuming we make it, of course.

James Bowery said at June 9, 2013 5:11 PM:

If the large cranial vault "coneheads" went extinct, it was probably via a similar, erocidal dynamic. Like plastic surgery and cosmetics today, the extinguished phenotypes were aped by reproductives -- in that era via head-binding. True, the head-binding practices never achieved the large volumes of the mimiced cranial cavity phenotype, but hey, it is "better" to look intelligent than to be intelligent as long as it gets those babies popping out of the wombs.

Ambacti said at June 9, 2013 10:28 PM:

It is fun to imagine a world of supermodels, but the reality will be rather more harsh. We have been lulled into a false sense of security by 70 years of peace on Earth. Once competent and ethnically aware human political entities start going at each other again, the driving factor in determining what direction genetic engineering takes will be "does it win wars?", in other words, good old unpredictable natural selection. The final organic state our descendants will reach will look something like a massive head with a few tendrils hanging out, this is the probably the ideal body-shape for the spacefaring man.

Phillep Harding said at June 10, 2013 5:48 PM:

Funny how the large cranium models people come up with never have the hips to allow passage of that size skull through the birth canal.

Randall Parker said at June 10, 2013 8:23 PM:


For adults it will be easier to improve looks than raise IQ.


Genetic engineering to reduce genetic load (harmful mutations) will improve looks, brain function, and physical performance. I expect if we fight wars we'll have really great looking warriors.

Sam said at June 10, 2013 8:36 PM:

"...Funny how the large cranium models people come up with never have the hips to allow passage of that size skull through the birth canal..."

The melon heads are extremely interesting. Here's one from Mexico recently dug up.
I've never seen the pelvis region of a female melon head. Looking at the original link posted by James Bowery

the head doesn't look to be wider just longer. Maybe like normal children it's squashed a bit coming out then a large growth spurt elongates the head further. After all moths turn into butterflies which is a much greater metamorphosis.

Another theory. They seem to be located around large pyramids. Tutankhamun had a melon type head. They used to rip the slaves hearts out and eat them in Mexico. Maybe the slaves rose up and killed them. Low birth rates combined with inbreeding would lead to poor fitness.

Amazing that no one will make any serious studies of them. They even have some with skin still on the corpses. Probably anyone who studies them would know he would be destroyed by the "we're all the same" gang. A tragedy.

James Bowery said at June 11, 2013 5:10 PM:

If all these "cone heads" are the result of postnatal cranial deformation, as is claimed by the less adventuresome theorists, then the additional volume of the cranial vault resulting from some of these deformations would provide an interesting developmental pathway that may involve more brain tissue and/or more blood flow with correspondingly higher caloric consumption. That higher caloric demand might have been a motivating factor for the adoption of agriculture since it seems unlikely that the over-sided cranium would have "pulled its weight" in terms of long-distance hunts. Brain power could better be put to use domesticating humans to grow high starch crops. Note, the only genetic adaptation required for this hypothesis is better insulin response and we already have evidence of such adaptation among populations that have longer coevolutionary dependence on agricultural grains.

Additional evidence that this sort of environmental modification of brain metabolism may be in play here is that prominence of trephanation in cultures with "cone head" skeletons.

destructure said at June 13, 2013 1:34 AM:

"Cone heads" result from strapping boards to babies heads to mush them in the shape they wanted.

Head size won't be an issue for the birth canal because babies will be grown in artificial wombs.

To crack the genetic component of intelligence, we'll have to know how the genes interact as well as which genes are involved. By that time we'll be able to perform the necessary gene therapy on adults to help them as well.

aandrews said at June 13, 2013 6:40 AM:

I thought the birth canal limited head size. I hate to think what the proposed fix would be for that!

James Bowery said at June 14, 2013 12:05 AM:

destructure may believe that the cranium pictured in my link is the result of strapping boards to babies heads, as are obviously most such deformed heads, but even so, he too-easily dismisses as unworthy of consideration the obviously larger volume of the cranial vault that resulted from this procedure and what cognitive effects that may have had. That's ok -- well, its as ok as it is for the rest of the rather thinking-impared archaeologists.

destructure said at June 14, 2013 5:37 PM:


I haven't dismissed the larger cranial volume. I have no basis on which to speculate. What cognitive effects are you proposing -- retardation? insanity?

James Bowery said at June 15, 2013 9:34 AM:

If the effects are dysfunctional, it is unlikely that people would have gone to the trouble of head-binding or life-threatening trephanation.

I already hypothesized the potential effects, and they don't stop at the cognitive level -- they extend into the social and help to explain the origin of grain-based civilizations.

Evolution may not generally favor bigger brains than those sported by post-crogmagnon man, but under incipient eusocial conditions, they may provide a temporary advantage, which would explain why these artificial skull modification procedures -- trephanation as well as skull binding -- appear, and do so in conjunction, in early civilizations around the world. The biggest mystery about civilization, however, remains unexplained: Its virtually simultaneous (within a few thousand years) appearance in the old and new worlds.

Brett Bellmore said at June 16, 2013 3:00 PM:

The effects of foot binding weren't exactly functional, but people did it. Then there's that tribe that does the neck stretching, which leaves the victim with a neck that needs artificial support full time. Or you could look at piercing and other body modifications today.

Rather than providing benefits, it might have coincided with agriculture because it was a way of *consuming* productive surplus from agriculture.

Phillep Harding said at June 16, 2013 5:27 PM:


"Global Warming".

Specifically, the Holocene Optimum, when the climate was warmer than it is today.

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