Feb 20th 09
Last year, I read a piece in WIRED about a man named Ray Kurzweil. He’s a futurist and inventor, among other things, and he takes “180 to 210 vitamin and mineral supplements a day” in an effort to live to witness what’s called the “Singularity.”
The Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence describes the Singularity as “the technological creation of smarter-than-human intelligence.” Some say it will render biological humans obsolete. Kurzweil, on the other hand, thinks it will immortalize us. What both parties agree on, however, is that the Singularity is near. So near that I, at 22, could live to see it.
I understand why Kurzweil would like to live to witness the Singularity, but in some ways I found it sad that he chooses to live life so cautiously. We are often taught to live each day as if it’s our last. Kurzweil, on the other hand, seems to live every day so that it’s not his last. Of course, a balance should exist between the two, but let’s just say that the WIRED piece didn’t convince me to skip out on any nights at the bar or pints of ice cream. That is, until…
The Arrival of Homo evolutis
Today I was on the TED website and excited to see some new videos had been uploaded from this year’s conference. A talk entitled Juan Enriquez: Beyond the crisis, mindboggling science and the arrival of Homo evolutis caught my attention. I watched.
By the end, I had chills running up and down my spine. Enriquez concludes with a slide that reads the following:
Homo evolutis (ho•mo ev•o•loo•tis) n. Hominids that take direct and deliberate control over the evolution of their species… and others.
Essentially, Enriquez predicts that Homo evolutis will be the next species in the evolution of the Hominid family (e.g., Homo habilis, Homo erectus, et cetera). So, when does he think this new species will arise? Soon. Like, really fucking soon. He points out that “the common stage of affairs is to have overlapping versions of Hominids, not one.” Obviously, one species of Hominid can’t evolve into another overnight. At any point in time, more than one has existed, which is why Homo evolutis will come into existence even while we Homo sapiens are still alive.
Did you know that there are nine women walking around Boston with regrown bladders? I didn’t.
Where will Homo evolutis come from? From science. Enriquez shares many of the experiments and procedures happening this very day in the field of stem cell research, including the growth of human organs. Did you know that there are nine women walking around Boston with regrown bladders? I didn’t. We’re talking real human organs being grown inside petri dishes at a laboratory near you. It’s incredible.
Enriquez goes on to explain how studies are finding that skin cells should be able to take the place of stem cells as the agents of regrowth. “That means that you can take the stuff right here,” Enriquez says as he pinches the flesh on his arm, “and turn it into almost anything in your body.”
Enter Homo evolutis, a species probably similar to the “valids” in Andrew Niccol’s film Gattaca. Except, the valids simply had incredible intelligence, perfect vision, and strong hearts. Enriquez predicts much more for Homo evolutis: the ability to hear bats and whales talk without aid, to see in ultraviolet and infrared, and to easily outpace any of today’s fastest Olympic runners. This isn’t speculation, people. This is inevitable.
The genetically superior valids exercise in Gattaca (1997).
Niccol deals with the negative implications of human genetic engineering in Gattaca, so I won’t tread on covered ground. To me, what’s most fascinating about Enriquez’s talk is his idea that genetic engineering might actually render a new species of Hominid. Imagine, being alive to see the declaration of a new species of human. These are exciting times.
Which brings me back to Ray Kurzweil, who takes 200 vitamins a day and receives “intravenous longevity treatments” once a week. Maybe he isn’t so crazy after all. How much would you pay for a retinal implant that lets you see in the dark? Or a cochlear implant that let’s you hear a wider range of frequencies? How would you modify your daily routine if you knew that in 20 or 30 years these things will be possible?
I’ll just say that I’m having a very healthy dinner tonight of brown rice, roasted peppers, and chicken breast, and I’m quite happy about it.
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