Post-Human Species

Post-Human Species

Show Video

This video is sponsored by CuriosityStream.  Get access to my streaming video service,   Nebula, when you sign up for CuriosityStream  using the link in the description.   About 300 million years ago, there existed a small  shrew-like species who really wished the Earth   wasn’t so full of big, pesky dinosaurs, and while  that creature is long extinct, its descendants now   dominate the planet. As it was with them,  so it likely will be with us in the future…   and maybe in hundreds of years,  not hundreds of millions.   There once was a single mammal, possibly the  Morganucodontids, a creature resembling a mix   of rat, opossum, and shrew, from which every  future mammal descended. Back then this critter   and siblings were a single species and as far as  we know the only mammals, so mammals would have   been a species and not a class, yet. Millions of  years later that species would have become a genus  

composed of many species, millions more and it  would have become a Family composed of many genus   each of many species, then eventually an Order  composed of many families, and finally a Class.   That rat-like ancestor of ours existed  just a few hundred million years ago,   when the Universe was around 2% younger than  it is now, and it would seem like it will not   take nearly that long for humans to split  out into a Genus, then Family, then Order,   then Class all its own. As we spread out to the  stars, those alien environments should change us.   Even without cybernetics, genetic engineering, and  distinction blurring concepts like mind-uploading   and artificial intelligence, humanity as it is now  would seem but a temporary thing in the long run.   But we probably do not have to wait  eons for such divergence of the species,   not with things like cybernetics and genetic  engineering, both likely becoming big factors in   our civilization before this century is out. And  this is where we get to the concept of transhumans  

and eventually post-humans, those creatures and  people who might have us as common ancestors,   but are radically different from us and each  other, human clades grown into their own species   or even further apart. We’ve talked in many past  episodes about various ways human beings might   alter ourselves or our offspring, to adapt to the  various environments and new tasks we’ll face as   we spread across the solar system and galaxy. Today, we’re going to look at relations between   those various types of post-humans, particularly  the degrees to which they might coexist,   come into conflict, or just physically separate  from one another. We’ll also look at the extent to   which they’ll biologically separate, eventually  into forms that can no longer breed with one   another – qualifying them in any reasonable  taxonomy as entirely separate species. But  

this examination of the post-human, multi-species  community won’t be complete unless we also pay a   visit to the many species that humans will  eventually construct--animals we’ll uplift   to human intelligence and robots we’ll make  sentient and sapient from scratch—species that   we’re currently trying to create even now. This will be a lengthy conversation so now is   a good time to get whatever analog to  a drink and a snack is compatible with   your biology and settle in for a while. At the core of all of this is the notion of   species and speciation. We’re going to challenge  and bend the traditional idea of a species,   but the concept of speciation will  still apply so lets review that.   Species is the lowest level of the traditional  taxonomy that’s been used to classify plants   and animals since the 1750’s, with higher-level  categories called genus, family, order, class,   continuing up to phylum, then kingdom, then  domain, under the umbrella of life. We would be in   the chordate phylum of the Animal Kingdom of the  Eukaryotes Domain... those life forms whose cells  

have a nucleus, and we would probably need another  tier above that specifically for Earth-based life,   since cells and cells with nuclei might be fairly  common off Earth but wouldn’t be related.   As mentioned there are a lot of  other classifications in there too,   subspecies, subkingdoms, and so on, with often  only loose agreement on what they should be or   where to draw dividing lines. We should always  remember that any taxonomy, whether it’s of living   things or celestial objects, is an attempt to fit  things into categories that people invented, based   on things they’d observed up to that point. Discovering new things after you defined   categories is how you end up in long discussions  about whether Pluto is a planet or dwarf planet,   or frustrated at the platypus for not quite  matching the criteria for being a “mammal”.   And when you do finally resolve those  controversies, you haven’t actually learned   anything new about Pluto or platypuses, you’ve  only changed the definitions of words.  

One of the traditional criteria for designating  two types of creatures as different species   is that they couldn’t interbreed and produce  fertile offspring. So for example, horses and   donkeys are separate species even though they  can produce mule offspring because the mules   are infertile, incapable of reproduction.  And in fact we use mule as shorthand for any   infertile cross-species hybrid. But this part  of the definition of species has been seriously   challenged by our later discovery of quite a  lot of successful interbreeding by creatures   we already called separate species. For example,  modern humans and Neanderthals have always been  

considered related but separate species, but it’s  now pretty clear that they frequently bred with   one another, swapping DNA many of us still have. A more current but still rare example of   such cross-breeding is between polar bears and  grizzlies, as environmental change brings them   into each other’s territories. But while being  able to cross-breed is no longer a sound criterion   for putting creatures in the same category, it’s  still pretty reasonable to say they’re separate if   they can’t cross-breed at all. But then we also  have to re-examine what counts as being “able”   to cross-breed. Genetic manipulation will enable  us to hybridize creatures that absolutely would  

not be able to in nature. And at the extreme,  digital beings like AIs and downloaded humans   have a genetic code of sorts of their own, and  we’ve already created novel AIs by combining   features from several AIs with desirable  performance traits, which is actually a   pretty good definition of the word breed. An important notion for this discussion is   speciation, the formation of a new and distinct  species. In nature this can occur from species   interbreeding or more often from a single  species splitting into multiple species.   It’s very often driven either by environment  changes that must be adapted to or by migration   into a new environment. So for example, a tribe  of monkeys living mostly in the trees might   find themselves needing to come down from the  trees to forage for food in open grasslands.  

In time, the monkeys best at surviving in the  grass will roam farther from the tree line,   practice standing on their hind legs so they can  see over the grass, and eventually adapt to that   lifestyle so well they don’t see their  cousins back in the trees much anymore,   let alone breed with them. They evolve on their  own separate path, and a new species is born.   The same thing happens when grizzlies in the  cold far north suffer a mutation that makes   them albinos with fatty skin, and they find they  can now survive on the vast snowy plains ever   farther north than their cousins can. Notice  that in both cases, there is a feedback loop,   in which small differences in physical traits  help them adapt to a new environment, which leads   them to migrate farther into that environment,  which takes them physically farther away from   those that lack the adaptation trait, which  exacerbates the difference in traits. The two   groups could have interbred all along, but they  didn’t because they were physically far apart,   and so they also drifted genetically apart. Feedback matters a lot in our discussion too,   as an example, organisms might speciate but also  converge in weird ways. A person might upload   their mind to a robot body, or an artificial  computer mind might upload their mind to a   cloned or biologically engineered body, and either  might have progeny who do the reverse, returning   to the original organism after a few steps, while  their cousins might have diverged in physical   form in just a couple generations by more than a  million natural generations could have.  

But for future humans, gradual evolution  will probably be far less of a force than   sudden deliberate changes brought about by  biotechnology, and those same technologies   might make crossbreeding possible. So too,  they might matter less. It is not impossible   to imagine a human marrying an android, with  whom they could never naturally breed but which   leaves some questions about where and how  the hybrid offspring would live.   It is not just that we have to ponder all  these various post-human groups and how they   would interact with each other, like how the hive  mind gets along with the super-intelligent dogs,   or how the latter don’t get along  with the super-intelligent chatbots.  

Nor is how the uploaded minds get  along with artificial intelligences,   or how cyborgs get along with the AI who download  themselves into synthetic biological bodies.   Instead, ultimately, it will be how a thousand  flavors and blends of each get along.   But for simplicity and in the nearer term,  let us ponder how each of these major groups   will be adapted to their environment, and  how this will preclude breeding.   We can imagine some of the more probable genetic  divergences in humans, be they long term natural   adaptations or accelerated by biotechnology--for  example, alteration to live in low-gravity,   such as on the Moon or Mars, or even essentially  no gravity, such as on most asteroids or in   non-rotating space habitats. See our episodes  on Life on Low-Gravity Planets or Zero-Gravity   Civilizations for further discussion of those. Of course many worlds might have higher gravity  

too, and we can see worlds with different  atmospheric densities and compositions   which might require extensive engineering to  make livable. We can imagine eyes adapted or   altered to see in dimmer or brighter light, or  in frequencies of light invisible to us now.   Of course we can imagine goggles or contacts  or even cyborg eyes performing that role too,   and a critical concept of transhumanism is that  these sorts of technological integrations can   be viewed as a part of speciation in  the same way as a genetic mutation.   All of those examples also illustrate how physical  separation will accelerate the genetic separation.   If you are genetically adapted to be at  home on a high-g planet with visible light   and a slightly acidic atmosphere, you  probably won’t spend much time hanging   out with attractive people who live in zero-g,  breathe Earth-like air, and see in dim infrared.   Even if you could overcome the logistics, mate  with them, and produce fertile non-mule offspring,   those offspring will probably not inherit the  correct full set of adaptive genes to be able to   live in either parent’s environment, so they’d  either need cybernetic implants to help them   or a special environment customized to their  needs. Of course, the mixing of genes doesn’t  

have to be so haphazard as it is in nature. Just  as biotechnology will enable rapid adaptation,   it could also enable controlled,  safe interspecies cross-breeding,   and we’ll return to that topic later. We can also imagine a hive organism,   such as the Star Trek Borg Hive Mind composed  of many different species, and yet itself only   a single organism, and this would be an example of  a post-human. So too would a person who was part   of a Hive Mind, or an artificial intelligence  who chose to join a hive mind, or which had   hundreds of robot bodies it operated, which  is the opposite of a Hive Mind in many ways.   What about a person whose great-grandfather  was a cat, who had been genetically modified   to be smarter, who was followed by a cat, the  grandfather, who was modified to be even smarter,   near human, and have hands rather than paws,  who was followed up by something like a cat   human-hybrid, having fully human intelligence  and humanoid form, who fell in love with and   married a human girl. Finally, their child  opted to be altered to be entirely human  

in DNA and appearance, even while many of his  cousins still dwelled in the ancestral home   as regular or slightly modified cats. This is the potential awkwardness of the   post-human family, not to mention confusing  genealogies. Your neighbor comes by for a visit   and you have to introduce your grandmother to  him as the cat on their lap they’ve been petting.   Or that your step-brother is the car in the  driveway, who is also part of a hive mind,   or that you actually have seven biological  parents, each of whom contributed DNA to you,   that you were grown in a tank, and that  you also regard the House AI as a parent,   as well as the super-intelligent Dolphin who has  been like a mentor to you since you were a kid   and oversaw your doctoral thesis when you attended  the University where he’s a professor.   It’s important to understand that a species  can split even if the product species aren’t   physically separated. In nature, a species can  split simply because different members adapted  

to different ecological niches. Predators who take  down prey and scavengers who clean up the scraps   often descend from the same species, and they’ll  develop traits suited to their niches a lot faster   if each group breeds among themselves even  while they coexist. They will do this even   more rapidly if they can add those traits when  they desire them, and a group already used to a   little of some new trait, like the ability to see  infrared, might be more inclined to embrace those   who decide to add in other sensory augmentation  and mental augmentation and alteration needed   to handle and use those senses. Cyborgs may be heavily genetically   modified to accept the synthetic interface and  to not have bodily needs like physical touch and   diverse nutrition. They may often be Frankenstein  entities, using entirely different DNA for given  

limbs and organs. Even if we tried to force  the interbreeding with genetic manipulation,   the cyborgs might simply lack the genes to  create intact non-cybernetic living things.   Hive mind people will probably require  similar modification, at the very least   a brain interface that connects their minds in  ways that ours can’t, that makes them a true   hive rather than a mere close-knit community. So  where interbreeding people adapted to different  

physical environments might leave you with  offspring adapted to nowhere, crossing hive- with   non-hive-humans might leave you with people who  can’t function in either social environment.   Even if such interbreeding is still physically  possible or can be forced in a lab, it probably   won’t take place often if there is not some  compelling reason to do it. Humans were probably   able to adapt to cold hard northern environments  much faster by breeding with the brawny   cold-resistant Neanderthals who were already there  and adapted, even if those brutes weren’t very   bright. But it’s hard to imagine what similar  issues future humans with biotech would solve   quite that way, and we will be exploring various  biotech options in a couple of weeks.   We might also ask which groups will be most  numerous, to form the new majority or major   factions at least, and that may depend heavily  on which human adaptation will best allow   people to spread quickly across the galaxy and  colonize new spaces? The ability to withstand   cryosleep, for instance, might be partly  genetic, either natural or engineered,   and it might be an advantage big enough to make  such folks the majority of interstellar colonists.   So might the ability to quickly erect  livable habitats, like the folks adapted   to zero-gravity can, since they need not go to  the effort to build large rotating habitats.  

Or the ability to breed quickly, an option  artificial intelligence would seem to   have or those who embraced some equivalent to  cloning and duplication, of mind or body.   Many worry that humanity might face  overpopulation, but many also worry we might see   our birth rates drop below replacement levels,  were this concern to materialize as a threat   to our continued survival folks might embrace  creating folks by more artificial and rapid means.   Indeed we might see techniques that resulted in  very short childhoods become popular, while on the   flip side, parents might embrace technologies  that extended childhood to several decades   rather than one or two. Such groups might not get  along with each other very well either.  

Which sort of traits would let  us best spread out to the galaxy?   And could regular old humanity do it? I mentioned how some of these traits might   be advantageous for colonizing space and thus  contribute to a given faction becoming more   numerous. Now a given faction colonizing space  more aggressively than others and growing does   not mean they themselves are not diverging  too. Indeed the simple limitation of light   speed for travel and communication would seem  to ensure divergence and a lack of cohesion,   so we are not really asking here what traits  might let a given type of transhuman or posthuman   dominate the galaxy as some cohesive empire. That said, one trait that might do it isn’t about   how quick they could get out and colonize, but how  slowly they diverged or how devoted they were to   remaining united. A posthuman clade modified to  be obsessed with no further alterations - which  

regarded its current form as perfect or nearly  so - or which was obsessed with unity even across   interstellar space, might maintain some  sort of interstellar empire. After all,   shipment or transmission of “approved” DNA  wouldn’t be very difficult. They also might make   for very worrisome neighbors, though this trait  need not necessarily be combined with xenophobia   or hostility, or aggressive recruitment like  we tend to assume Hive Minds would engage in.   Of course folks fixated on avoiding  divergence or dissension, friendly or not,   are often the opposite of expansionist. Isolation  in nature can cause an ultra-niche species,   like some creature that is ultra-adapted to  one specific diet in one specific climate   and defense from one specific predator. However  in artificial rather than natural circumstances   it can make it easier to avoid drift, genetic  or cultural, and so folks looking to maintain   some trait without divergence or drift might seek  out circumstances or environments that favor that   trait heavily, or even create them. That’s a topic we could probably spend an  

entire episode on all by itself and may do so  at some point in time, but an environment where   poking noses into holes always gets them bitten  discourages curiosity not just genetically but   culturally too. Either that or the evolution of  a longer and tougher nose. If you’re trying to   discourage lots of socializing in person, then  setting up your colony in some radiation blasted   environment and releasing tons of infectious  diseases is a good way to encourage folks not to   go outside and play or hang out together. Those  are extreme and simplistic examples but if your   goal is to keep some trait around for millions  of years, you might go to such lengths.  

There’s always the question of if  old humanity will go extinct and in   some ways the answer is yes, as we go extinct  every generation, that original first mammal,   some sort of rat-possum-shrew-thing, is both gone  and everywhere, how can something be said to be   extinct when its descendants dominate virtually  every ecological niche? Should we care about   baseline humanity going extinct in favor of a  trillion diverse clades we created anymore than we   care that you or I personally will not be around? And of course we might be around, you and I,   and the most important trait for interstellar  colonization, fundamentally, is longevity. This   can mean either personal longevity so that  you reach the stars, or cultural longevity   which is accomplished by being able to pass your  culture’s way of thinking and doing things onto   your descendants or successors. Even ignoring the  huge travel times, colonization of a system is a   long and deliberate process. This is why another  important trait in natural selection is the urge   to grow and expand. This is true of species taking  over a tidepool or a galaxy, because an organism   lacking this trait is not one claiming new  niches or even maintaining control of old ones.  

We can talk about post-humans replacing us but  you or I might end up as those post-humans. Life   extension is likely to be one of those critical  technologies we discover before going truly   interstellar, in large part because its likely  a lot easier to get volunteers for interstellar   travel when a century long voyage is not something  that you wouldn’t survive to finish and be able to   do something else when you’re done with the trip.  The prestige and curiosity of interstellar travel   might bring on volunteers when it’s new, to fuel  that first dozen colonies, but we need hundreds of   billions of such colonies to fill the galaxy and  we will probably get them regardless but they’d   be a lot easier to find if the volunteers can  expect to live many centuries or millennia.   At this point, this person who is baseline  human except for not aging may or may   not be able to have other transhuman or  post-human alterations as time goes by,   but it is hard to argue that you or I, as a  post-human a million years old, is less of a   human than someone who is naturally descended from  regular human reproduction for a million years   or someone we whipped up a million years from now  with purely modern DNA. Some human-intelligent   cat-person made in 50 years or some android might  feel, with some cause, that they are as much a   legitimate spokesperson for modern humanity as  those two cases I just suggested too. We should  

also keep in mind that genetic divergence into  many groups might not mean physical separation.   We are a specialist society and we might  diverge into castes with genetic differences,   a popular notion in science fiction which  sometimes shows alien species divided into various   sub-species who specialize at given tasks. I suspect they will be around though,   baseline humans of the modern period. They may not  be competitive in a given environment but neither   are most animals in a human-dominated environment  but we still preserve them and a few dedicated   worlds out of countless trillions used for keeping  the 21st century human around is plausible enough,   especially given that these need not be real  planets, they might be simulated worlds entirely   on some computer buried in some post-human  civilization’s bunker-libraries become zoo.  

And those post-humans are human descendants  whether we made them in a lab, on a computer,   or more traditionally. It doesn’t  matter if we intended them either   or if they were the creation of one of  our creations or one of our creation’s   creations, anymore than it matters if that  shrew-like critter from 300 million years ago   meant to make us. Indeed one might argue a machine  mind you made intentionally has a better claim as   a true successor than some critter a thousand  generations of mutation removed from you.   One way or another, there probably will be  folks around claiming to either be human   or their true and legitimate successors, whether  they’re hyper-intelligent brains on a computer the   size of a planet or some nature preserve set aside  by such a creature, in real or virtual space.  

Of course it's always possible we already are in  such a preserve and just don’t know it.   So this was one of our shorter episodes, but  if you’re looking for more information on   Transhumanism, there’s a great episode by Jason  Silva on Transhumanism over on CuriosityStream,   and a point he raises in that is that humans  use tools and they almost become appendages to   us. That can be fairly literal and is something  we’ll be looking at it in our Biotech episode   in a couple weeks, but one thing we didn’t  talk about much today is the mental changes   that might come with post-human or transhuman  existence so we’ll spend a few minutes on that   in an extended edition of today’s episode  over on Nebula in a segment about life in   the fast lane and what it means for speciation. I wanted to thank Curiositystream for their help   growing Nebula, and our viewers even more so,  since they’ve stuck around as we’ve continued to   grow and improve it until its started making waves  and bringing in ever more creators who want an   alternative to Youtube, and if you’re interested  in helping out the show while getting to see all   our episodes ad free, and some with extended  editions, like today’s, you can join Nebula.  

Now you can subscribe to Nebula all by itself  but we have partnered up with CuriosityStream,   the home of thousands of great educational  videos, to offer Nebula for free as a bonus if   you sign up for CuriosityStream using the link  in our episode description. This means you can   watch all the amazing content on Curiositystream,  like Jason Silva’s discussion on Transhumanism,   but also all the great content over  on Nebula from myself and many others.   And you can get all that for less than $15 by  using the link in the episode’s description.   So we’ve got a Livestream coming up this Sunday,  where we’ll be taking your questions live in the   chat, Sunday, April 25th, at 4pm Eastern Time.  Then we’ll close out the month of April with  

a look at how Multiverses and Quantum Mechanics  might impact the Fermi Paradox. That will finish   out April but May will be jammed packed, as  we look at Biotechnology, Alien Languages,   Laser Pistols, Lightsabers, Arcologies,  Solar Flares, and Simultaneous Evolution.   If you want alerts when those and other episodes  come out, make sure to subscribe to the channel,   and if you’d like to help support future  episodes, you can donate to us on Patreon,   or our website,, which are  linked in the episode description below,   along with all of our various social media forums  where you can get updates and chat with others   about the concepts in the episodes and many other  futuristic ideas. You can also follow us itunes,   Soundcloud, or Spotify to get our  audio-only versions of the show.   Until next time, thanks for  watching, and have a great week!

2021-04-24 07:59

Show Video

Other news