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What Will Humanity Look Like in 1,000,000 Years? | Unveiled

VOICE OVER: Noah Baum WRITTEN BY: Caitlin Johnson
Let's take a trip one million years into the future! In this video, Unveiled discovers what humans will look like in the YEAR ONE MILLION... and we're expecting some BIG CHANGES between now and then! What do you think... after watching this video, if you had the chance to time travel 1,000,000 years into the future, would you take it?
Transcript

What Will Humanity Look Like in 1,000,000 Years?


Earth is 4.5 billion years old, but the earliest humans emerged here just six million years ago, and modern homo sapiens just two hundred thousand years ago. And yet, humanity is today the most advanced civilization that this planet has ever seen. So, it makes sense that we should hope to stick around for a long time yet… but what will the future bring?

This is Unveiled, and today we’re answering the extraordinary question; what will humanity look like in one million years?

Let’s start with the most cynical answer to this question right away, and then we can move on to brighter predictions in due course. The most cynical answer to “what will humans look like in a million years?” is that they won’t look like anything. Because they’ll have disappeared, died out, gone extinct long before that. And, cynical though it may be, we can’t ignore the actually fairly high likelihood that this will happen.

It’s true that everything ends eventually, including Earth itself and, presumably, humankind. It’s also the case that many mathematicians and statisticians and scientists have predicted that humans won’t live for very much longer at all – for just a few thousand more years based on the most ruthless estimates. You’ve probably heard the reasoning for such a bleak outlook before now… If we don’t wipe ourselves out through war or climate change, then there’s a strong chance that some kind of cataclysmic disaster could do the job instead, like a super-volcanic eruption or another giant impact event. Alternatively, perhaps evolution will steer us down an altogether different path, and homo sapiens will naturally die off to make way for an all-new species. And perhaps that species won’t be recognizable to us, at all. Either way, in a million years, there’s zero humans to speak of.

But perhaps none of those scenarios actually comes to pass within the next ten thousand centuries. So, if even a tiny trace of humankind still exists in this far future time, then how might it have changed? And what might it look like?

One common trope often seen in science fiction is cybernetic enhancement. For decades, we’ve been dreaming of the time when we can technologically modify ourselves in a variety of ways – from robotic limb replacements to digitizing our entire brains. But this vision of the future is arguably more likely to happen in the next few decades rather than in a million years’ time. So, the rise of the cyborgs could well have already been and gone by the time the era we’re looking at comes around. Equally, though, our early experiments with cybernetics could prove to be so successful that they really do completely change what it means to be human for thousands and thousands of years. In one million years, then, how far down this path might we have trodden?

There have been various predictions made in recent years. We could go so far that we become post-human, replacing bits of ourselves with mechanical upgrades until we’re eventually entirely machine… making it easier and easier to achieve immortality. Or we could go the other way and continue to live out our days biologically, but with our brains translated into code and kept on computers. We could then transfer those brains into any number of perishable bodies from here until eternity. Safe in the knowledge that we’ll always exist in the digital world. If history heads in this direction, which option would you prefer? Indestructible, artificial beings? Or discarnate data files on a higher power desktop somewhere?

Of course, the danger with both of these outcomes is that humans won’t actually be needed at all. For so long we’ve played an influential role in how life on Earth operates, but is that role about to come to an end? We’re no longer talking extinction through natural causes, but removal by the holy grail for twenty-first century far-future theorists - the technological singularity.

We’ve done plenty of videos on this before now (feel free to check them out after this!) but what this scenario basically boils down to is that the future of life on Earth is one hundred percent artificial. Machine-made and self-building. AI develops to become more intelligent than humans, and therefore robots take over the world. The books and films usually have the android uprising as being a pretty violent affair, but it could be a more peaceful ascent to power, as well. One where humans and androids live alongside each other until organic life eventually runs its course. Perhaps those world-ending, asteroid-striking cataclysms from earlier do kill humans but don’t kill the stronger, faster and smarter machines. And the only remnants of humanity in one million years’ time are the n’th generation bits of tech, the first versions of which we created.

Say it’s not quite as bleak as all that, though. If, in one million years, AI and humans successfully live alongside each other, then the world (the universe!) would be a completely different prospect for humankind. We already know that sending robots into space for us is the surest and safest way of reaching new planets and star systems. We also know that any interstellar mission will take multiple generations to complete (another reason to send robots first of all, because they don’t die). But a million years is a long time into the future, and plenty long enough for us to have finally spread out across the stars.

Alongside our AI allies, in a million years we may have built human outposts on all the habitable bodies in the solar system… in our neighbouring star systems… and maybe even in entirely new galaxies. The Andromeda galaxy would still be too far away, however. It is moving towards us, but it’s still 2.5 million lightyears between here and there, so it isn’t likely we’ll have arrived there in time (unless we develop FTL travel). But there are dozens of smaller, dwarf galaxies that are closer to the Milky Way… and those may well have been reached. By this time, any development on Mars (the like of which we’re only just imagining) might even have been abandoned, as humanity stretches out and out. Maybe even the homeland of Earth will have been left behind.

But what if our planet is still habitable? What if there were a continuous human presence on Earth from now until then? The population could be tens of billions of people, so our homes and towns and cities will’ve had to have changed. Open space would be a premium, and buildings would have to be taller than ever before. But what of the humans themselves? Will they have dramatically evolved? Nobody can say with certainty, but there have been a number of predictions made. A popular one is that we’ll have developed flatter thumbs thanks to all our texting and typing; or that we’ll have weaker legs because we sit down so much; or larger eyes to see screens better. But, interesting as this is to think about, most evolutionary scientists don’t view it so simply. The changes that emerge in a species via natural selection are usually to either better its chances of surviving its environment, or better its chances to reproduce. Would flat thumbs do that? Or weaker legs? In a hypothetical world governed by technology, there’s an argument that they would do. But there’s zero guarantee.

As we found in a previous video, it’s not evolution’s business to predict the future. But based on other forecasts, we might expect biological humans to adapt to a warmer climate. Or else, to a colder climate should some kind of natural disaster trigger an ice age. If some of the more dramatic depictions of future-Earth come to pass, then we could see future humans forced to live underground, or even underwater. Both of which could demand specific and rapid evolutionary tweaks. And, finally, if we did successfully expand to live on many different, alien worlds, then we could see humans evolve in totally new ways on different planets.

The last possibility, though, is that we just stop. Or severely slow down. And there are some arguments that human evolution really is grinding to a halt. That all our technological progress is actually stunting the process, already. The problem now is that there are increasingly fewer environmental challenges that our technology can’t overcome, so we let it do the work for us. Why would we adapt to the heat or the cold, for example, when we can create climate-controlled, artificial habitats to maintain what we already know? Why, if we ever needed to, would we adapt to become faster, when we can just design faster vehicles instead? According to some theories, even without technology the carbon-based, biological human may have already reached its evolutionary apex - with small changes in store for us over the next million years, but nothing major.

On the one hand, in the grand scheme of life on Earth, a million years isn’t all that long. On the other, if you were to travel that distance back in time, then modern humans wouldn’t even be close to existing yet. So, clearly, a lot has changed since then.

If you were to somehow jet forwards in time to meet with a human one million years from now, they may have passed through a technological transformation, they may have left this planet, and they might even exist only in digital form. But none of those things is certain… and, in a number of aspects, future humans might not have changed all that much. And they could still be wondering just what it is we’re all supposed to be doing here?
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