Futurology blog: what’s the next trend that’ll disrupt our world, financially, socially or just pointlessly?

Thursday, 4 September 2008

What's next for human evolution?

The accomplishments of the bioengineering or GM industry have been fairly unspectacular so far. No superfood crops spreading over the Sahara, no fuel-producing carbon super-scrubbers. But it’s early days yet and presumably those things will come.

I’d like to look a little further ahead, to the day when nano-engineering and GM come together to make it feasible to manipulate the genes of living creatures – er, like us – without the need to actually create a whole new generation to see the results.

We’ll be able to change our eye colour, hair colour and skin colour. Have less sweaty feet. Bigger breasts, penises, or both. Better eyesight and better hearing.

Even more interesting, we’ll be able to shop for traits or characteristics presently only enjoyed by non-humans. Hallucinogenic sweat, anyone?

More soberly, given that our environment is likely to change considerably over the next few hundred years, what are the traits that would make the most sense? Here’s my list:

1. A second stomach.

Meat eating is on the way out. Cattle take up too much space, compete for food and biofuel, and produce tons of methane, a greenhouse gas that carbon dioxide can’t even hold a candle to. But our digestive systems aren’t all that good at processing plant food. A second stomach would be an enormous help.

2. Photosynthesis.

With more CO2 in the air, increased desertification and more competition for food, why not just get some of our nutrition straight from the air? All we’d need is chlorophyll in our hair – and an awful lot of hair, a great big shaggy pelt, really – and we’d be truly green.

3. Egg-laying.

Women aren’t going to stand for all this pregnancy nonsense for much longer. Us males are going to have to make a decision: either we undergo modification so that we can shoulder all the morning sickness and backpain ourselves, or come up with a solution that allows a couple to share responsibilities, like penguins.

4. Shorter memories.

Supposedly the natural ageing process will soon be a thing of the past and we’ll all live endlessly – or until we get squashed to death by our ever-multiplying neighbours in about 500 years’ time. Well, if I’m going to live that long, I’d like some hope of wonder and surprise along the way, not just an overwhelming sense of seen-it-all-beforeness. So that goldfish gene that makes every lap around the bowl a voyage of fresh discovery could be quite useful.

Got any more?

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