Saturday, 13 September 2014

The end of biological reproduction (not)

Here's an article about the future of cultural evolution by Cadell Last titled:

Human Evolution, Life History Theory, and the End of Biological Reproduction

There's no paywall. There's also an accompanying slideshow. Most articles speculating about the future of human evolution are written without an understanding of the theory of cultural evolution - however this is not one of those articles.

The article paints a picture of longer-lived humans and more effort expended by them on meme propagation than gene propagation. These seem like extrapolations of current trends.

However, the paper's forecasts extend out to 2050 - a significant distance out - and in a zone where is challenging to make reliable forecasts.

My own perspective is that we will probably see a large explosion of artificial life significantly before then - which will have a big impact on the terrestrial ecosystem. Eventually this will turn the human world into a sideshow - the coming memetic takeover which I frequently speak of.

This is likely to be the real story of the next forty years. Life extension and reduced fertility of humans seems like a rather irrelevant by comparison - these things will have negligible socio-economic impact.

Indeed, they are less certain outcomes - since the transition to a machine-based civilization might be a disruptive one. When most humans become redundant and unemployable, it isn't immediately obvious what will happen to them. No doubt here will be nature reserves - but a nature reserve that accommodates ten billion humans seems as though it might face significant budget scrutiny.

The article (irritatingly) contrasts biological and cultural evolution - as though culture is somehow non-biological - which is a newbie mistake. Even a full-blown memetic takeover wouldn't be "the End of Biological Reproduction". Cultural reproduction is a form of biological reproduction because culture is part of biology.

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