Pharyngula

The Seed Crystal Ball

Our Seed Overlords have submitted yet another question to their blogulous oracle, i.e., us: Will the “human” race be around in 100 years?

I don’t think it’s a particularly good question, I’m afraid. The answer is simply “yes”. If the question were about prairie chickens, cheetahs, or chimpanzees, it would be a more challenging question, but with a population of 6.5 billion of us, I don’t think there’s much doubt. We’ll be here. The only question is what state we and the world will be in. I’ll speculate a bit on possible outcomes.

  1. We keep going as we have been. The population is double what it is now or more, and resources are scarcer. We continue to tear at the planet, squabbling over what’s left, and we’re wallowing in poverty and war and desperation. That can’t last, of course: sometime beyond that century mark, or before, we hit scenario 2.
  2. There is a major resource crash. The oceans are exhausted, climate change wrecks agriculture, plagues rip through a bloated population, and there is a massive die-off of humanity. Populations drop precipitously, leaving only scattered enclaves. Civilization as we know it ends. Humanity continues, but in a barbarous state.
  3. The optimistic scenario: some cultures practice restraint, using technology to control population growth and develop sustainable food and energy resources. They work to bring about scientific and technological advances that improve their chances for survival and progress. Unfortunately, the whole world won’t do that: the gap between the haves and have nots widens. On one side, population reductions by choice and with little disruption; on the other, population reductions by starvation and suppression and war.

I don’t think there will be any significant biological changes in us. Four or five generations for a population as large as ours just isn’t enough time for major transformations. Changes populations of bacteria and viruses is another matter—humanity is one giant culture dish as far as they are concerned, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some hugely traumatic disease does arise in our near future. I’d be surprised if it didn’t. Expect populations of other large and fragile organisms to continue to experience our existence as a disaster. The only real question of import is how much biodiversity will be lost before we come to our senses (unlikely) or are taken down by a few orders of magnitude by nature (much more likely).

Hey, nobody said these questions have to prompt happy stories.

Comments

  1. #1 tus
    February 24, 2008

    suspect that SEED’s use of ‘”human” race’ in scare quotes was referring not to natural selection but human genetic engineering, cybernetics, uploading human minds into computers and in general all those “transhumanist” fantasies that some libertarians get all excited about. Not that those are particularly likely to come true in the next 100 years (if ever).

    why do so many people scoff at wild fantasys coming true in 100 years.

    how much has happened from 1900 to 2000?

    think about that for a minute.

    in 100 years we have seen the rise of the computer, the transistor (which has gone from about the size of a stapler to the size of a cell..or smaller), all of genetics, the vast majority of quantum physics, the particle accelerator, the big bang, reletivity, television, and just about everything you own.
    do you think anyone could have predicted today in 1908? hell just look at star trek from 1960’s looking at it now, aside from warp drive and the transporter, it looks primitive. but in 1960…that was advanced. it advanced so much they had to revise it majorly in 1980’s, and then the major advanced technology then now looks…commonplace.

    wild scifi fantasy has this way of being surpassed in a fraction of the time they set it in, i mean ST was set in 2300’s, they expected that long for technology that seem archaic now.

    so the idea of putting the human mind on a computer, or cybernetics (hell we are nearly there now, we got part of the eyes..straight brain connection) or genetic engineering, i dont see that as being centuries away. also artificial organisms (not just single cells, whole organisms) bio machines, etc doesnt seem far off.

    now of course, human knowlege seems to be progressing much faster than human wisdom…thats always a problem…

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