From time to time I have a mindblowing experience. Reading Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind was one of them.
Harari paints an interesting picture about the future of Homo sapiens and asks a very important question: How long will we actually exist?
A professor of history, Harari argues that three important revolutions shaped the course of history and affected humans and other animals: the Cognitive Revolution (70,000 years ago), the Agricultural Revolution (12,000 years ago), and the Scientific Revolution (started 500 years ago).
Human beings, be they Neanderthals, Homo sapiens, or others, were not always the masters of the earth. Bigger, faster, and stronger animals ruled nature. Slowly, during the Cognitive Revolution, humans began to cooperate in larger numbers than other animals. Without believing in common myths – religion, rules, or societies – this would not have been possible.
Modern Homo sapiens have existed for 70,000 years, a relatively short amount of time. What next?
This is where the mind-blowing part starts. Throughout history we have been subject to the same physical forces, chemical reactions, and natural selection processes that govern living beings. But this is no longer the case.
The replacement of natural selection by intelligent design could happen in any of three ways: biological engineering cyborg engineering (which combines organic and non-organic parts), and engineering of inor- ganic life. All of which raise a host of ethical, political, and ideological issues.
Today we can use biological engineering to grow an ear on the body of a mouse and transfer it to a human. Should we transform living lineages and recreate dinosaurs by mapping the genome of ancient mammoths? Possible, but questionable. But what if this research would help us to prolong human life, curing all diseases and upgrading our cognitive and emotional abilities?
Let’s take it one step further to cyborg engi-neering. An amputated arm is replaced by a bionic arm, which takes orders directly from the brain. Great! But what about bionic insects which are used to spy and eavesdrop on secret conversations?
And finally, how about engineering completely inorganic beings? What if a computer could create an entirely new digital mind with a sense of self, consciousness, and memory? Would it be a person? What if you deleted it? Would you be charged with murder?
Hariri argues that the pace of technological development will soon lead to the replacement of humans by “completely different beings who possess not only different physiques, but also very different cognitive and emotional worlds.”
It is disconcerting to think that we, the Homo sapiens, will no longer exist.
Before losing all hope, however, we should remember that what seems to be just around the corner does not always materialise. After all, the nuclear age did not destroy the world and a flight to the moon has not resulted in us all living on Mars.