Dr. Curry and the future of mankind

Dr Curry warns…in 10,000 years time humans may have paid a genetic price for relying on technology.

Spoiled by gadgets designed to meet their every need, they could come to resemble domesticated animals.

Social skills, such as communicating and interacting with others, could be lost, along with emotions such as love, sympathy, trust and respect.  People would become less able to care for others, or perform in teams.

Physically, they would start to appear more juvenile.  Chins would recede, as a result of having to chew less on processed food.

There could also be health problems caused by reliance on medicine, resulting in weak immune systems.  Preventing deaths would also help to preserve the genetic defects that cause cancer.

Dr. Curry also claims:

Further into the future, sexual selection – being choosy about one’s partner – was likely to create more and more genetic inequality, said Dr Curry.

Only his third paragraph — about less sociability — fits my basic model of future human evolution.  Genetic engineering aside, won’t greater choosiness favor physically fit partners?  And given the ease of birth control, I expect that people will come to love their children more, even though they will care less about everyone else.  Who needs allies for quality child care when per capita income is very high? 

Here is the full story.  Thanks to Jason Kottke for the pointer.

Comments

Unfortunately, evolution doesn't quite work the way Dr. Curry seems to think it does. There are no genes for "technological skills". The map from genome (genes) to phenome (what we are)is extremely complex, and while selection may directly produce resistence to a disease that kills,it is less likely to impact on this kind of trait. Ibn general, technology grows/speads as a disease (epidemiologic model)but changes in genes, and in particular, loss of traits,grow with a much slower model.

If there was ever an argument for teaching more evolution, this is it.

Two points: with increased technology, there will be increase in leisure time.
And thus more opportunities for social interactions then currently exist.

As for birth control and the connection to caring for children more: The ease of birth control often causes
children to be placed chronologically after the career, the house, the car, the boat, and all
other nice things. I can't help but theorize that because a child comes last often
chronologically in modern families -- they also are inadvertantly placed lower on
the rung in importance. After all, what comes first later, the toys and career or time with a child?

Less sociability? No. Just look at everyone talking on cellphones all the time and compare it to rural society in the 1800's when you only talked to nonfamily at church on Sundays. A vast increase in sociability.

My prediction is that over the next 10,000 to 100,000 years, soi-disant experts will continue to make baseless predictions.

Oliver Curry is not a biologist. He teaches political science. PZ Myers at Pharyngula is a biologist and
quite effectively points out the silliness of Mr Curry's ideas.

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/

The big part of fitness right now is based on the choice of whether and when to have kids, and how many to have. Genes that predispose you to choose to have lots of kids (don't use birth control, start cranking them out early, don't abort them) are presumably under heavy selection. Assuming away genetic engineering, imagining we stay at the current technology level for the next few centuries (impossible!), I would expect that almost everyone would just want kids really bad, and would hate the very idea of birth control.

I knew that article on confirmation bias would arrive at that conclusion.

So, how has the last 10,000 years of technological development worked out?

Ninety-nine point nine percent of natural selection is not about
becoming something different -- at least not in any positive sense
-- but about holding on to what a species already has.

It is possible for a child to be born without mutation and indeed
this must frequently occur -- or we wouldn't be here -- but most
children are born with one or two or three or nine significant
changes to the DNA they inherit from their parents. It is
possible that a random change could be constructive but it's
fantastically unlikely. Thus every generation starts with more
problems -- more genetic problems, more things that don't work --
than the parents that gave birth to them.

In the natural world natural selection kills much of the new
generation (in most species it's most of the new generation)
before reproduction. Individuals with mutations are slightly
more likely to die than those without. The new generation of
parents ends up being just as fit -- just as relatively mutation
free -- as the old.

Since mutations compound (it's an exponential curve) any species
that has a tiny, persistent tendency to accumulate mutations
will rapidly become extinct.

Death and differential fertility are the tools of natural selection.
If they aren't significantly present among the young then natural
selection simply isn't happening and the mutational load has to be
rapidly rising.

This would seem to describe the human situation today. There are
few places in the world where the raw death rate among the
young is anything like what natural selection would need to do its
mutation pruning. There are significant disparities in human fertility
but my guess would be that though some of this is the grist for natural
selection most of these fertility disparities are uncoupled from the DNA
(and mutation pruning) and are being driven instead by the differences
between human cultures.

Of course just because we are on this path now does not mean we will
follow it all the way to the end.

Unfortunately I can imagine only a few ways out.

One would be to try to reestablish what I'm almost certain was the
human condition 10,000 years ago: tens of thousands of tribes with
relatively few members (implying only a tiny fraction of today's
population) who spend a significant portion of their lives trying to
and succeeding in killing their neighbors.

Or genetic engineering. There are a number of different ways to do
this but one of the easier would be to outlaw natural fertilization
and only allow implantations of embryos that have been prescreened.

If anyone can think of any other way out I'd like to hear about it.

Luispedro - are you being sarcastic?

While I have no intention of joining raw food addicts, I have torn apart the odd very raw steak, chomped into sashimi (raw seafood), carrots, apples, bananas, etc. We've hardly lost the ability to eat raw food.

The brilliant evolutionary anthropologist John Hawks' thinks Dr. Curry's future is about as likely as Zager and Evans's future in "The Year 2525."

http://johnhawks.net/weblog/reviews/future/curry_morlock_future_2006.html

Privatization of education is a problem. Any way to design a system to raise the children independent of the parents' net income?

Yeah, I think they covered that pretty well in Brave New World.

I wrote to Oliver Curry.

He quickly responded to my email with what looks like a form
letter. And it should be no surprise to learn that he was
misrepresented.

Here's the paper on which the BBC article was based

http://web.mac.com/scottukgb/iWeb/Evolution/Future.html

The discrepancies are substantial.

It's one scenario. He may be right, he's probably
wrong, but it's at least ten times better than what
appeared in the BBC.

If homo sapiens were to become less sympathetic or socially inclined, and at the same time more genetically diverse, to the point that sub species were evolving, I would tend to think this situation might resolve itself quickly with some form of genocide. Whenever competition for resources heats up (due to environmental or economic catastrophe or what have you), the taller, more athletic sub group would likely be inclined to simply wipe out large groups of the smaller, goblin-type people.

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