The New Organisms
The New Replicators
The new replicators are already here, of course - and they are doing
spectacularly well. They have their own phenotypes, but these are
usually not on the same scale as that of the current dominant
The New Organisms
It has long been a matter of speculation what form the
immediate descendants of human beings will take initially.
I will be suggesting here that one of the most promising
candidates for the form of our most immediate descants is a
class of organisations currently known as "companies".
Companies as organisms
Today's companies share many of the features of organisms.
Companies reproduce. They produce new copies of themselves
that survive in different locations.
They have a genome - in the form of their business logic -
which copies itself into the new branches of the company.
The new company premises often vary from the "parent" that
gave rise to them - the offspring are rarely identical
Often companies have sex with other They take "genetic"
elements from other companies and incorporate them into
Companies eat one another - taking not just busingees
information but resources and territory from other
Companies also have functions analogous to metabolism,
growth, eating, and excreting - and they generally have
clear physical boundaries.
Companies undergo natural selection. They die.
They enjoy differential growth and reproductive success.
In general, they share many attributes with living
There are some systematic differences as well.
Companies evolve by a process involving directed
mutation, design, and planning.
Organisms have not employed such strategies much -
Companies are usually composite - in that they are typically
composed of other organisms.
Of course most large organsims are composite. For example,
some 90% of the cells in the human body do not contain any
human DNA - rather they are bacteria.
The composite nature of companies means that they are rather
similar to a body being composed of cells - or to an ant's
nest - composed mainly of workers.
One difference is that the humans within companies are
themselves fertile organisms - capable of becoming ancestors
without their company's assistance.
This means that a company's human workers are fundamentally
less harmonious than somatic cells and worker ants. They
waste time engaging in reproductive competitions, damage one
another in fights over mates - and generally are less
In particular, workers can typically - at any point -
leave the company and go and work for someone else.
Companies can try damage limitation by contractual means -
but they face a difficult problem - they have no easy way
of making their employees completely dependent on them.
There are a variety of ways of dealing with these problems.
- Dominance heirarchies and threat displays are used to
resolve conflicts without actual fighting.
- Threats, drugs or environmental control can be used by
the leaders to control the behaviour of workers. Farming
would be an example of this - and it is also how we
endeavour to control our gut bacteria.
- Reproductive control can be employed. This takes the
reproductive process out of the hands of the workers - and
gives control to the leaders. This is the mechanism used to
control our mitochondria. They are allowed to reproduce -
but only when their host cell reproduces. This
synchronises the two germ lines involved - and
hopefully prevents most sorts of conflict.
- Sterilization is the most extreme - but also the most
effective method. The workers must cooperate with their
reproductive kin - it is the only hope they have of
helping their genes achieve immortality.
Frequently, nature's solution to this problem is to
create a sterile worker caste.
The best-known organisms that have adopted this strategy are
ants, bees, wasps and the Portuguese man-o-war - but it is
also important to recongnise that most multi-cellular
creatures have adopted this stratgey. Sometimes
"vegetative reproduction" is permitted - but often somatic
cells are sterile.
Worker organisms are related to their reproductive
companions in some way - but are normally unable to
reproduce themselves - they are totally dependent on the
colony for reproductive success.
Of course many companies already contain large numbers of
"cloned" objects. Typically, these are not organisms - rather they
are machines. These are manufactured to the same specification
to allow uniform scaling, parallel operation and easy management.
It seems likely that organisms will also be manufactured
en-masse in this manner, by companies in the future.
Currently such manufacturing of organisms is largely
confined to bacteria - and the like.
As time passes, it will make sense for them to extend
this sort of manufacturing to higher organisms.
Sterilisation results in loyalty more effectively than any
drug or contract can manage. It is a solution which has
repeatedly been adopted by nature when facing the problem
of how to ensure cooperation among teams of organisms.
Beyond companies: governments
The next highest level of organisation above "companies" is
It is not to the benefit of governments for companies within
their boundaries to be able to enjoy unrestricted
reproduction either. This leads to conflict between the
companies - where there should be harmony.
Governments currently have a variety of tactics they can
used in attempts to prevent competion between companies:
My assessment of these methods is that they are miserably
ineffective at preventing harmful conflicts between
companies within governments.
- Patents can be awarded to companies. These deter
other compaines from competing with the patent holders.
- Copyright is used in a similar manner - to grant
monopolies over information to selected agents, and prevent
others from competing with them.
- Laws governing corporate behaviour are also employed -
to make sure that any conflicts that do occur are relatively
fair - and don't cause too much collateral damage to the
rest of society.
Governments are in economic competition with one another.
Those governments that operate most efficiently will eventually
come to dominate.
Over a period of time, governments can be expected to
eventually succeed in quelling the friction within their
borders - using the same strategy that the companies
themselves used - controlling the reproduction of their
constituent parts - and probably eventually sterilising them.
Individual company reproduction will first be regulated and
controlled - and eventually company growth and reproduction
will be wholly under governmental control.
Companies will eventually come to play the same role within
governments as organs play within the body. In a similar manner,
individual humans are analogous to cells within those organs.
As these higher levels of organisation are exposed to
evolution and selection, harmony and cooperation between
companies within governments - and between individuals
within companies will increase - in much the same way as
cooperation between organs and cooperation between somatic
cells have come to dominate inside animal bodies.
In principle there are still higher levels of organisation
beyond governments. The next most obvious level above them
is that of planets.
However the operations I am describing depend on natural selection
acting between multpile units of each type. If there is only
one planet with governments on it, such natural selection
is not likely to happen.
Even if multiple planets come to bear life, natural
selection between planets is likely to be rather
slow - due to comparatively slow reproduction rates.
Consequently, adaptations on the scale of planetary
organisms may take some time to arise.
Not everyone seems to regard the new organisms positively.
One of those who forsaw their coming existence was
Hamilton regarded cloning and collaboration - in part - as
the consequences of the conquering of disease - and the
subsequent lack of selection for sex.
But the question for us as individuals is: do we want our
descendants to become like the cells of organs, organs which
in turn comprise some larger entity - that is, totally dependent on
the functioning of our civilised system as a whole, mere cogs in
wheels? Is it inevitably to this end that the human pattern,
like the metazoan and the social insect patterns before it,
had to evolve? Lastly, if we should not want to evolved this
way, are we still able to haltthe trend that is already in
progress, and if so how?
- W. D. Hamilton - Narrow Roads of Gene Land: Vol 2: Evolution of Sex, page 407.
Hamilton doesn't answer his own questions - but the "mere
cogs in wheels" phrase suggests he is uneasy with this
outcome - and regards it as less than welcome.
In my opinion, the main hope for those who would avoid the
new cellularity lies in individuals becoming the new
This path would necessarily involve cyborgdom and life
The path doesn't seem very realistic to me - the advantages
offered by cooperation with others are too strong.
The observant will notice that the scenarios I am describing
would represent the end of capitalism within the countries in
From an evolutionary perspective, capitalism can be seen as
analogous to the anarchic state that exists where cells and
organs are engaged in continuous conflict with their
neighbours. In a similar manner to the way such situations
are eliminated when cells come together to form multi-
cellular organisms, so nature will eliminate competition
between individuals within companies - and between companies
Natural selection is often cited as one of the models
capitalist systems derive their inspiration from.
I'm suggesting rather the opposite here - there's good
evidence from biology that the organisation of companies
within governments will ultimately involve harmony - rather
- Ken Kelly - Out Of Control
- W. D. Hamilton - Narrow Roads of Gene Land: Vol 1: Evolution of Social Behaviour
- W. D. Hamilton - Narrow Roads of Gene Land: Vol 2: Evolution of Sex
- Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels - The Communist Manifesto - 1848
- Adam Smith - The Wealth of Nations - 1776