The Imminent Speciation

by  —  August 26, 2008

One need not look too deeply into the science news of the world to follow the quickening march of both genetic and man-machine-merging developments. As successful human trials become prevalent, self-enhancement by private individuals will soon follow. This self-enhancement can be neither universal nor equal and so, due to this, places the world human population on an immutable convergent path to speciation.

In the past eighteen months, we have seen announcements of successful genetic modifications in mice which enable them to learn more, and deduce more quickly, than their non-modified brethren1; new skeletal muscle grown which is stronger than natural skeletal muscle2; a pill developed which triggered genes in mice to give them nearly-immediate ultra-endurance3; and, of course, Dean Kamen’s “Luke Arm”4.

Many people have observed this trend and written extensively about what this portends for the future of the human species. What strikes me as odd, and incorrect, is that they5 describe the culmination of these changes in terms of a ‘singularity’; i would instead suggest that, more correctly, we are converging on a branch point.

Once the technology can be bought on any publicly accessible market (legal or not), governments will need to create policies which address its access. The more naïve policy would be to seek an outright banning but, as we can see from other efforts in banning products, banning ownership of a product only works when ownership can be proved6. While this stymies the cyborg hopefuls amongst us, it fails (and will continue to fail as long as citizens cannot be compelled to submit to genetic testing) in situations in which a person need only consume a pill, or take a vacation in another country where they would receive therapeutic medical treatment.

Discounting the idea of banning, we are left with two scenarios.

Further, it appears likely that the stratification will naturally diverge greater and faster as time progresses. This seems like a safe bet since the majority of those who undergo self-enhancement will do so in order to obtain attributes which will give them greater success in life endeavours. So, in other words, a person who undergoes self-enhancement, who thereby is able to obtain greater success in terms of professional and personal accomplishment, will likely have greater capital at hand, and be able to bestow that capital for either further enhancements of themselves, or quasi-altruistic enhancements of close associates and/or family in their social network.

There can be no doubt that the day is coming for those able to afford it, whether that be in terms of just resolved ethics, or also monetary requirements; i just hope it arrives while i still have time to enjoy it.


  1. ‘Smart’ mice teach scientists about learning process, brain disorders []
  2. Embryonic Stem Cells Create Healthy Muscle in Mice []
  3. Oral pill turns slacker mice into marathonists: study []
  4. IEEE video report []
  5. for example, Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil []
  6. …or when banning is universally enacted across all nations, and the product’s construction requires such complex machinations that it could not be carried out under the radar of monitoring agencies. So, practically: never []
  7. for example, theologically based arguments []
  8. so while it’s likely that there would be subsidized treatment for a person suffering from Muscular Dystrophy, it seems unlikely that they would subsidize muscle creating treatments in a healthy individual []

Marked as: ScienceTranshumanism  —  4 comments   (RSS)

4 Comments so far
  1. seekue August 27, 2008 2:33 pm

    As I see it, this sort of technology will most likely be limited to those with disability and to those select individuals with narrow goals in mind… because that is the way that We like it. I am sure that running faster, having greater endurance, and having large muscles is appealing to many people within our population, but, maybe I am out of touch, I do not hear of blood doping or anabolic steroid use by the masses. Why not? Where are the lamenting masses speaking out for the current performance-enhancing technology to be cheaper and more available? They don’t care. Nor do I think the masses will ever care, and so the enhancements – outside of legitimate medicinal purposes – will likely be relegated to the super athletes, to the wealthy with money to burn, and to the bleeding edge tech hobbyist. And really, the later two groups are unlikely to supersede the more altruistic “normal” folks in reproduction rate, so I do not foresee any self-selected speciation going on. I think there will need to be some other vector.

  2. Loki der Quaeler August 28, 2008 12:10 am

    By addressing the muscle issue only, i think you’re being too narrow in your view… but let’s knock that one out first. The shared problem with blood doping and steroid use, for example, is that these still require lazy-ass people to get up and do regimented exercise; augmenting this detracting factor is that blood doping is generally used for one-off events, and steroids have some pretty undesirable side effects.

    In contrast, what strongly appears to be coming down the pike is the situation in which the modification enables a default grow and replacement inside the receiver who needn’t alter their physical activities; in much the same way that people already grow different types of muscle (i.e., fast twitch versus slow twitch) due to genetic predisposition, the modification receiver would just grow, for example, a thicker bundle of slow twitch.

    I agree that muscle growth might be towards the lesser end of the spectrum that attracts people to modification, and there’s a seemingly endless list of physical attributes that i, too, am going to ignore here, but i would like to point out two ‘obvious’ examples that i think anyone in their right mind would pursue:

    • organ resiliency
    • neuronal enhancements

    Some people’s genetics and/or environments produce sub-standard organs (heart, kidneys, liver, …); in addition to those candidates, even those who have ‘average’ organs who are given the chance to have optimized organs (longer lasting, better functioning, …) are all likely to have a desire for this type of augmentation — simply to live a longer, healthier, more trouble-free and hospital-free life.

    Lastly, the world economy is in, and seemingly will continue to be in, the phase where intellectual capital is the valuable bean. Due to that, discovery, invention and entrepreneurship will fetch accolades desirable to most people (and i would argue that for even the most Luddite in the crowd: anyone who has children, and who remotely cares about the chances those children will have during their life, would opt for augmentation of the children). As the rewards continue to be notably higher for people able to operate on higher cognitive levels, the incentives to be able to perform on those levels will also be great. (And don’t get me started on what happens once we can deploy robots to work the majority of blue-collar / service-industry jobs).

  3. seekue September 5, 2008 10:41 pm

    If there is a preponderance of lazy-ass people failing to attempt excellence in an endeavour now, why would they even bother taking a pill that may help them to excel in activity? If I am lazy, but I have bigger muscles from a pill, I do not think I will suddenly want to participate in sports. The people who have the drive now to excel in a sport, will still work hard even after they are enhanced. The people who do not have the drive now will not even bother with the enhancement.

    I think this carries over to neural enhancements that potentially result in quicker reflexes, enhanced decision making skills, retention of data, or any other grey matter related adjustments . Right now we have the tech to get bigger boobs, keep an erection, make us feel chemically better, and keep our soldiers awake and alert. These are the important things, and these have been important for past centuries, and will likely continue to be the important things (until there is some Big Event to reorganize our priorities). The sad fact is that We currently have great nutritional and educational knowledge and technology widely available to make Us veritable superhumans (compared to what We settle for now) without needing to GM the people. It does not take a lot of resources or energy expenditure to prioritize eating well over entertainment, but look around.

    In order for speciation to really occur, traits will need to be passed on to future generations. The examples you gave are post-birth enhancements. To my [limited] knowledge, these are not alleles nor genetic improvements that exist without modifying or “turning on” something in a pre-existing human being. Even if We start doing the in utero eugenics that the film “Gattaca” illustrated, the result is, at best, a different class or caste system than we have now. [As opposed to the "Time Machine" result of Eloi and Morlocks.]

    Like you, I foresee an increase in organ resiliency, or at least repair by way of less intrusive means. I am not certain there will be inheritable modifications, but I can imagine triggering repair in some biological manner. However, I cannot imagine why such a technology would be disseminated to the masses within a nation such as the USofA differently from how medical breakthroughs are currently divvied out.

    All in all, I agree that “those who undergo self-enhancement will do so in order to obtain attributes which will give them greater success in life endeavours”, but I disagree with the notion that this will result in a speciation any time soon. My beliefs probably align me closer with the “singularity” idea, but I am not as optimistic with the event timeline as Kurzweil and other futurists. However, I am sure that within a couple decades a technology is going to be available to all of Us to “will” a computer to locate some porn.

  4. magdalene September 10, 2008 12:46 pm

    Mere wishful thinking. I see no convincing data (here or elsewhere), that would allow for such specific and confident predictions about enhancements influencing human stratification. Status quo usually prevails (though perhaps The Robots would be a sufficiently weighty instigating factor). I imagine any such speciation would be temporary, if even lengthy enough to be noticeable. “Ethical” boundaries change, especially when undergirded by survival directives. The financial argument seems more plausible. Still, all it would take is a multitasking hausfrau to happen upon the experience of being “enhanced” (if we’re going so far in this discussion to posit the idea of a pill), and my guess is the mass of “the masses” would want some of that. “The masses”, being in majority and all, might then find a way to make such enhancements more commonly accessible.

    As for seekue’s commentary, it’s the cynic’s argument. Despite elitist perceptions, consider that the average Joe *may* be motivated by more than immediate gratification and avoiding boredom. See above haus frau (or working mother, or anyone not currently living with their parents). Anyone who’s ever successfully pulled off a dinner party while parenting small children and negotiating with a romantic partner about x relational issues and pursuing a scrapbooking hobby, would, at the very least, give consideration to such enhancements. As previously mentioned, all it would take is one “enhanced” experience and voila — instant motivation to be biggerbetterfastersmarter. Circling back to the source argument, practical motivators often override the so-called ethical.

    The sticky point for me in all of this the basic human desire to explore/grow/learn, and the pleasure derived from experiencing increased prowess. Would it be as pleasurable if the increased prowess were artificially induced? I’m guessing not. Though, granted, this may be erroneous as it assumes that Enhancements would preclude extra-enhanced, or “natural” (for lack of a better word) learning/growth.

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