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What If Humans Achieved Final Form? | Unveiled

VOICE OVER: Noah Baum
Where will the march of progress stop for humankind? And what will we look like when we get to the end? In this video, Unveiled asks what will happen if/when humans achieve FINAL FORM? Join us for a trip into the future, to look at how humanity is changing... and to decide whether it's for the better, or worse? What do you think... would you like to be a Final Form human?
Transcript

What If Humans Achieved Final Form?


In life, the universe and everything, the march of progress goes on and on. But where will it stop for humankind? And what will we look like when we get to the end?

This is Unveiled, and today we’re answering the extraordinary question; what if humans achieved final form?

Humans are incredible creatures already. Homo sapiens has come a long way in the three-hundred-thousand years or so that it’s been on this planet. We’ve built multiple civilizations, spread out across the world map, and consistently adapted to the environment around us. We’ve developed language, science and technology. And, in recent decades, we’ve even made moves to leave this world in favour of the moon, or Mars, or somewhere even further afield. But here’s the thing… If some kind of world-ending, life-obliterating event happened today, then this is our final form. If something happened to instantly wipe out all of the humans on Earth, including those few inside the International Space Station - something like vacuum decay, for example - then right here, right now would be the endpoint for our species.

Evolutionary science doesn’t usually concern itself with the idea of a final form. That’s because it’s primarily about analysing past life to decipher how present life came to be. What evolution doesn’t do is predict the future. We can find hints about what might unfold in the next one hundred years, or one thousand, yes… but without developing a means to actually see and experience the future before it has happened, we’ll never know for sure.

Evolution is largely shaped by how the environment changes around us, which means that so much of it is beyond our control. Which is why - from an evolutionary science point of view - we can only say with certainty that our final form will be whatever state we’re in when the last of us is killed off. When our environment finally destroys us. When we go extinct.

It’s not a planned, pre-determined point in time, though. It’s not as though evolution has a final form in mind, and it’s diligently working toward that ideal. Humans could well continue to evolve indefinitely, particularly if we do make it off of Earth and to the relative safety of being a multi-planet species. Alternatively, homo sapiens could evolve and branch out into a number of different, new species… and our own final form will simply be whenever our current species disappears.

There are some alternative ways of approaching today’s question, however. And, while it remains true that evolution itself doesn’t have a final form that it’s aiming for, in recent years humankind has begun to take control. Through technology, we’re beginning to shape our own development… and perhaps even to dictate our own destiny.

According to some theories, our plans to spread out across the solar system could prove to be one way in which we affect our own evolutionary path. If our plans for Mars go ahead, for example, the first humans that land on the Red Planet will still be the same as everybody else back home, here on Earth. But nobody back on Earth will have ever had to adapt to such a dramatic environmental change as this one. For those first Mars settlers, whatever effects they do (or don’t) experience - like changes in gravity and atmosphere - will be unprecedented. So, while it’s impossible to predict specific changes with certainty, we could see what’s known as accelerated speciation take hold. Broadly speaking, speciation is the emergence of new and distinct species via evolution. But, in this case, the driving force won’t have been nature just running its course. It will have been human action. The human decision to travel to (and live on) Mars could prove to alter our gene line forever.

For the evolutionary scientist, Doctor Scott Solomon, writing on Nautilus in 2016, a move from Earth to Mars would likely “speed up the process” of speciation. For Solomon, it could mean that changes which usually require tens of thousands of years to happen would take place in “just a few hundred generations [or] perhaps as little as six thousand years”.

From a purely evolutionary standpoint, this hypothetically new sub-species of human could never count as the final form for homo sapiens specifically, because it wouldn’t be homo sapiens. But, if we think of hominins in general, then we’ve seen forks in the road like this before, and we will most likely see them again. We’ve seen how the Neanderthals died out whilst homo sapiens rose… so perhaps, in the future, the new humans on Mars will outlast the old humans on Earth in a similar way. Perhaps they won’t. But, either way, humankind will have shimmied itself just a little further through history… and advanced itself just a little bit more toward a new final form.

We don’t have to leave this planet to see how we’re steering ourselves into the future, though. Advances in medicine, particularly with bionics and gene therapy, mean that we now wield more control over the human body than ever before. Scientists all around the world are busy trying to improve our day-to-day lives, with various products in development to counter disease, defy aging and eradicate genetic disorders. Ultimately, now more than ever, science is trying to push back against death. We’re still a long way from achieving true immortality but, for many, it’s no longer the impossible dream that it once was.

So, would this constitute final form? Would an eternal human also represent the highest level of advancement that humanity could achieve? Perhaps… but for so long as we remain a carbon-based, biological creature, it could be argued that we would still be flawed and vulnerable. We may well have halted the aging process and unlocked eternal youth, but we could still be killed at any moment. We still wouldn’t be impervious to an asteroid strike, for example. Or a super-volcanic eruption. To withstand the worst possible physical scenarios in front of us, then, we may need to transcend; to become post-biological.

This is a wildly popular theme in modern science fiction. With the AI singularity seemingly just around the corner, the idea of machines replacing people has been at the heart of countless books and movies. It could be that we transform our bodies via artificial means so that we’re not only immortal but also indestructible. Or it could be that we leave our bodies entirely, in favour of mind-uploading our consciousness and collective knowledge.

The chief philosophical question here is; would we still count as humans by this point? The land faring, oxygen-breathing, tool-making homo sapiens chapter of our evolution will certainly have been left a long way behind us. We could well be bodiless… but we will, at least, have preserved some semblance of human existence in such a way that it might never be erased. In terms of sheer, unrelenting progress, this could be viewed as final form. Although, it’s worth noting that if our doomsday scenario from earlier, vacuum decay, ever did take hold… then even our disembodied, data-driven, techno-selves wouldn’t survive!

So, does that mean that we still need to reach another level? A post-post­-biological existence, where even the breakdown of reality itself isn’t something to overly worry about? Maybe… but at that stage we would be so far removed from human life that it could be totally forgotten to us. Completely incomprehensible. And it’s a sure bet that, even then, there would probably still be something even higher to aim for!

Final form is a fickle concept. To an evolutionary scientist, it’s something that we’ll never realise we have reached… because it’ll only register once we’re extinct. Until then, homo sapiens continues to mould and tweak its physical makeup to best suit the environment it’s in. But take that environment away, alter it, or thrust our species into somewhere totally new and alien, and we either adapt or die.

But are we now entering into a phase when even adaptation isn’t needed, or relevant? When it’s less natural selection and more technological expansion? According to some forecasts, we could soon see a world that’s divided between those that can and those that can’t make the transition to post-biological - be that for financial, cultural, or any other reason. Equally, we’ll almost certainly see whole sections of society who just don’t want to tech themselves up. Who would prefer to remain human as we understand it today. Where would you fit in this future world? What would you do?

Nobody can predict the future. The end of humankind could be close, or infinitely far away. But we are approaching a many-pronged fork in the road… with the evolutionary path splitting off toward space colonization, artificial intelligence and perhaps even immortality. There may yet be a time, on a distant horizon, when all those routes merge together once again… but, until then, that’s what would happen if humans achieve final form.
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