100,000 years in the future is a moot point

By Razib Khan | June 8, 2013 2:45 am

H. sapiens sailermoon?

I’m somewhat interested in genetics and evolution, to engage in a bit of understatement. My friends know this, so whenever a genetics and evolution themed story or meme explodes in the media they ask me about it. A large fraction of the time I get irritated, because the media often grasps upon very sensational nuggets, distorts them out of shape, and makes genuine understanding difficult. A few weeks ago it was the story of an artist being able to reconstruct portraits from DNA, credulously reported by NPR and The Smithsonian. As someone who tries to keep up on the latest genetic research in forensic genetics I knew the media depictions of what this individual was doing were simply not realistic. Either the artist in question was a fraud, or the media was engaging in conscious or unconscious misrepresentation and conflation. If Matthew Herper’s reporting is correct, and I see no reason to doubt it, seems more likely the latter than the former. Before that there was the genius Chinese babies meme, the robustness of which is attested to by its interjection into the Geoffrey Miller saga (an update was offered, but it is still notable that the original sensationalism has had more legs than subsequent corrections of that sensationalism). Finally, today there emerged a bizarre critique of weblogs over at Current Biology, which was nicely satirized by Christie Wilcox. It always strikes me as rich when institutions which still publish in print and have reasonable overhead costs (e.g. editors) make a big show of their oversight, but due to their power and prominence they are often invariably the exact sort of organization which is perfectly placed to launch a ridiculous meme in the first place!

So in this vein today Forbes publishes a piece titled How The Human Face Might Look In 100,000 Years. I saw this on Twitter and Facebook, and my first thought after seeing the headline was 1) probably totally unfounded in substance 2) multiple people are going to try and sound me out on this. That’s exactly what happened. When Herper asked on Twitter for thoughts on the piece I responded with a vulgarity and a query as to why the faces of the future had the hair of men and women of 2013. I also suggested that these are more likely to be the faces of the future. Why is the piece so ridiculous? Just click through to the article and you’ll see that the faces of the future look something like Rick Hunter and Lynn Minmay.

As far as the text of the piece it reminds me of the incoherence of mediocre space opera. On the one hand humans have access to all sorts of advanced genetic engineering, and yet they value being human-looking due to a mysterious implicit Orange Catholic Bible. Actually taking the inferences seriously is even more humorous:

Eyes will meanwhile get larger, as attempts to colonize Earth’s solar system and beyond see people living in the dimmer environments of colonies further away from the Sun than Earth. Similarly, skin will become more pigmented to lessen the damage from harmful UV radiation outside of the Earth’s protective ozone.

Does anyone believe that future Titanians will deal with the distance from the sun simply via enlarging their eyes? Even today we have infrared goggles, so one presumes that more modular technologies which one might discard and rotate between are going to be more important. Similarly, the nature of solar radiation is such that one will need more than darker skin. Of course there is likely going to be terraforming, but in that case humans could probably create their own artificial ozone layers as well. For more entertainment read the whole thing.

The bigger issue is that these sorts of projections into the far future are folly. It presumes that while technological advancement accelerates by leaps and bounds, our culture is as static as the Oldowan. I am very skeptical even of 100 year projections! And you should be too. If technological civilization still exists 100,000 years from now, and our species has not gone through cycles of booms and busts, then I presume that these far future individuals will live in worlds far less recognizable than that of Alvin in The City and the Stars. If the world of 98,000 years A.D. is recognizable, then something has seriously gone wrong with technological civilization and human cultural evolution.

MORE ABOUT: Futurism
  • Andrew Selvarasa

    I never thought I would see a Sailor Moon reference on this blog.

    There is a new series starting later this year. Are you going to watch it?

    • razibkhan


  • Sandgroper

    Margin note: It always irritated the hell out of my daughter that the English language voiceovers for Sailor Moon were so, as she put it, “heavily sanitised”; so much so that she refused to watch it in English.

  • ronaldmsonntag

    Couldn’t agree with you more!

  • TheBrett

    It’s hard to say, because we don’t know where the technological “frontiers” will close in fields like genetic engineering, robotics, and augmentation. If they’re wide open, then 100,000 CE humans could be pretty bizarre – probably not even recognizably human. But if we run into difficulties earlier on . . .


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This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com


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