Hi, I'm Tim Tyler - and this this is a synopsis of an essay I once
wrote entitled The Engineered Future.
The popular fantasy of human persistence
Many people seem to visualise a future in which unmodified human
beings persist - as though we may get a future of the type portrayed
by Star Trek, Star Wars, or Firefly.
I think that is deeply unrealistic. Those are science fiction
movies, constrained to use human actors, and to portray roles that
moviegoers can identify with - not serious attempts to
consider what the future might actually look like.
The future of life
If you consider what's likely to actually happen, then a
fairly obvious conclusion is that organisms in the future are
likely to be engineered - that is to say that they will be products of
The engineering advantage
We can expect to see engineered creatures in the future because they
will rapidly become superior to organisms attempting to evolve by more
Conventional evolution uses random mutation, sexual reproduction
and selection to improve its organisms.
Engineering approaches can use random mutation and selection if they
want to - but they can also use intelligent design, directed
mutation, cross-species recombination, Lamarckian inheritance and
selection under simulation to produce the next generation of
This is a superset of the tools normally available to evolution via
Since things like intelligent design and cross-species
recombination are so plainly extremely useful design
tools that the end results are practically bound to be superior to
what we have seen so far.
Progress so far
Currently, engineering design is a relatively new player on the scene
- and so far it isn't responsible for very much of the planetary
biomass. However, the progress that it has made so far is astonishing
- it's as though the evolutionary process has suddenly become
Given that we haven't yet mastered the key technologies of
superintelligent machines and molecular nanotechnology the products of
engineering design have made impressive roads into the existing
Skyscrapers tower over the tallest trees. The hoover dam trumps beaver
dams. Spaceships fly higher than any bird. The land speed record has
been taken from the cheetah. Jets dive faster than a peregrine falcon.
The internet puts the global network of whale-song to shame.
Even though the results are still incredibly technologically
primitive, they are already displacing existing species from their
niches - and are largely responsible for the current mass extinction.
Routes to an engineered future
An engineered future could be produced by using genetic engineering
based on existing organisms, by developing from today's machines,
or by some combination of the two.
However, development based on existing organisms seems likely to prove
to be problematical - because DNA-based organisms have been cobbled
together by natural selection. In addition to all their design flaws,
they are also inscrutable and unmaintainable. It seems very likely
that most of today's genetic and phenotypic technologies will be
completely replaced - and with them will go most existing organisms.