Re: Clueless Bio Futurists

From: Anders Sandberg (
Date: Thu May 17 2001 - 06:02:49 MDT

onsdagen den 16 maj 2001 23:23 Robin Hanson wrote:
> The following futurist discussion seems completely
> clueless to me. Humanity and its descendants will change
> so fast that they will completely dominate changes in the
> biosphere. Within a thousand years, there probably won't
> be a substantial biosphere that we would recognize.
> >Papers from the National Academy of Sciences Colloquium on The Future of
> >Evolution: 8 May 2001; Vol. 98, No. 10
> >URL:

When I read the papers over the last days, I also was struck by the extreme
conservatism of the views. But on the other hand, as some of them noted,
until recently the whole idea of discussing the future of evolution was out
of bounds. So this colloquium is actually a step in the right direction.

The big mistake is that most papers discuss how natural evolution might be
affected by the activities of a civilisation like the current. The implicit
assumption was either that humans would either vanish somehow or become
totally zero-impact, and then evolution would continue as usual from the new
situation. It is interesting to note that none of the papers I have read
discuss human evolution in this context, the bias is entirely towards the
nonhuman biosphere (David Western menstioned that many ecologists have been
very directed towards the abiotic parts of the ecosystem rather than the
biotic until recently; this might simply be a holdover). I agree with Robin
that not taking the effects of *continuing* human action into account renders
most of these papers rather pointless, unless the assumption is that humanity
dies out in the very near future with a fairly minimal ecological impact.

So, what would a transhumanist paper in this colloquium have included? I
think the method would be to first sketch a number of possible scenarios of
long-term human development and then study how they would affect the
biosphere. This is hard, and would bring in issues of long range economics
(gigaeconomics? exconomics?) and cultural evolution into the discussion. In
most cases the future state of the biosphere would be totally contingent on
human values, not natural evolution. This is an interesting concept if it
could be brought into the conservationist discourse, because it implies a
vast shift in how the biosphere works, not just a question about how it is
affected on the species or biome or environment level. It might be that many
conservationists would consider such a human-regulated ecology (I call it a
cyborg ecology in a paper I'm writing) a bad thing, but at present the whole
concept seems to be entirely outside of their discourse (several papers
discuss the human footprint or shadow, but does not view humans as a key
species or evolutionary force in itself - maybe a holdover from the romantic
origin of the environmentalist movement).

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