The Engineered Future

The Engineered Future

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 intelligent design.

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 means.

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 designs.

This is a superset of the tools normally available to evolution via natural selection.

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 turbo-charged.

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 biosphere.

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.


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