But let us consider our own
case. What is the long-term future of
humans? To begin with, we will
certainly spread beyond the bounds of our world. A single, round planet cant host us indefinitely. Our initial forays will be to obvious
targets: the moon, Mars, and the space in between (populated by the rotating
aluminum cans promulgated by Gerry ONeill and Thomas Heppenheimer in the
1970s). Some time early in the next
millennium we will colonize the asteroids, as envisioned by Freeman Dyson.
In other words, within a
century or two, at most, humankind will be dispersed. This is a potent hedge against self-inflicted catastrophe. It will be difficult to eradicate the human
species once colonies are spread throughout the solar system. While I might (with difficulty) get rid of
the ants in my kitchen, I cannot eliminate the worlds entire ant
complement. Humans are going through a
bottleneck of only a few centuries time - a bottleneck during which we might
be able to exterminate ourselves. But
given the relatively short period of time involved, we may reasonably hope to
survive this peril. Professor DeVore
has pointed out the large number of species that have gone extinct, sometimes
catastrophically, on this planet. This
is referred to as clearing the deck. Humans (and by extension, other intelligent beings) may not be very susceptible
to such sudden elimination, simply because they are quickly off the deck.
The spread into the solar
system will give humanity time.
Certainly, it will allow sufficient time to push forward the type of
research that, someday soon, may initiate the evolution of our own
successors. At first, these will
consist of artificial augmentations of our traditional biology. The immediate prospects are for engineered
replacements for diseased or destroyed human tissue. Perhaps we will make some such constructs a permanent part of our
anatomy, becoming like the Borg: half organic, half manufactured.
Contributed by: Dr. Seth Shostak