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Homo Artificiosus - The Next Step in Our Evolution

"Homo Artificiosus - Person, skillfully made (artificial)"

Everything is changing so rapidly we don't even have time to name the period we are in - in my lifetime I've seen the Atomic Age, the Space Age, the Computer Age, the Internet Age, and many others Yet the most monumental change is now dawning on us, and only a few know it is coming. We have entered the last century in which Homo Sapiens will dominate our planet; for Homo Artificiosus will soon superceede us.

Sequencing of the human genome has been completed and the code is rapidly being deciphered. Soon we will understand what most, if not all, of these millions of genes control. Before 2020 we will be manipulating these genes to create designer people (blue eyes, blond hair, low body fat, high IQ, and many other choices). Before 2030 we will begin experimenting with creating our replacement, Homo Artificiosus. By 2050 Homo Artificiosus will be living among us. By 2075 they may constitute a large portion of the world's population. By 2100 Homo Sapiens will be rapidly disappearing and soon to be extinct.

Homo Artificiosus will be a continual work in progress, with 'version releases' initially occurring as each new member of the species is created. Although there won't be a single male or female model copied by everyone, we will begin to look more alike, continually moving to some societal 'ideal'. It's also probable we will be able to change our physical makeup as we progress through our lives. After all, hundreds of millions have already altered their appearance through hair coloring, contact lenses and plastic surgery - not to mention tattoos and piercings. Stem cell research holds the promise of growing new organs to replace defective ones. It's a small step to replacing healthy organs with ones with new capabilities - perhaps an athlete would opt for greater lung or heart capability.

However, these manifestations are only a minor part of the differences occurring with the rise of Homo Artificiosus. This new species will have capabilities that, until now, have only been present in science fiction. What if we could breathe underwater, have night vision like an owl, have the strength to weight ratio of an ant, or reengineer our physiology to better handle low gravity environments? Here's a quote out of an article from the year 2000.

"... NASA has by no means ruled out the possibility of genetically modifying astronauts, ..., to cope better with the stresses of long-duration space flight. It would involve inserting genes that protect against major health problems associated with low-gravity conditions in space."

One thing we will definitely have is the ability to immediately tap into the accumulated knowledge of the world, probably with a direct connection to our brains. As has been said about the Internet, "This changes everything." We are already moving out of evolutionary change to revolutionary change. Will instantaneous access to everything ever known take Homo Artificiosus to a state of relative anarchy; changes occurring so rapidly in every aspect of life that our successor species will be conditioned to continual reaction? Look at how the pace of life has quickened in just a generation - ADD attention spans, 24/7 availability, and people upset with having to wait more than few seconds for a text response.

We currently witness government inability to respond to the compressed time frames of today's developments. Governments are constructed as deliberative bodies - theoretically, taking time to study all aspects of an issue and consider divergent points of view before reaching a conclusion. However, this simply does not work in the area of high technology. By the time a governmental decision is made, the technology may well have advanced to a new level, and that well-considered decision is now moot. The appearance of Homo Artificiosus may force radical change on the form and operations government.

Initially, Homo Artificiosus will entail minor revisions to Homo Sapiens. However, before the end of this century Homo Artificiosus will be an entirely new form of life; one that we create - not by evolutionary trial and error, but through an ongoing, ever-changing experiment. We have already reengineered the DNA of various life forms to create such things as disease and pest resistant agricultural products. With the rapid advancements in biotechnology, Homo Artificiosus is almost a foregone conclusion.

This development impacts the very roots of the religious beliefs held by most of the world, since a large portion of the global population believes in a credo of God as the creator. Will these beliefs be retained after years of bioengineering new life forms? Will Homo Artificiosus have interest in any of the world's religions, since they will know their life was created by other Earth-based life forms? These questions will become more and more pertinent as this century progresses.

Perhaps the thing causing the greatest pause when contemplating Homo Artificiosus is the fact that this species will suddenly take over the world. In less than 100 years from gestation, it will dominate. This is less than an eye blink in evolutionary terms. Until now, minor change within a species took hundreds of thousands of years, while emergence of a new species occurred over millions of years. We have no context to guide us on how Homo Artificiosus will impact our existence and that of every other life form.

Within this century "life as we know it" will begin to phase out of existence, rapidly replaced with entirely new concepts. As we create Homo Artificious we will also create an untold number of other new plant and animal life forms - perhaps a new category of life that combines elements of both.

Does our stewardship of the Earth include the 'right' to create life forms to meet our needs? No one has ever evidenced any moral quandary with the thousands of years of breeding of desired qualities into plants and animals. However, as we begin to actually create life, the basic tenants of the world's major religions are being put to the test. For it is a widely held belief that only God has the power to initiate and terminate life.

My purpose is not to start a movement to ban bioengineering (it would be a futile and ill-considered effort), but to awaken you to the cataclysmic changes looming over us. As our evolutionary marathon suddenly switches to a 100-yard dash, we must consider what directions are best for Homo Artificious and all the other life forms we are creating - for we will all be profoundly impacted by the results. Since this affects the entire world, people of all beliefs should have a voice in this.

The ethical issues are the most significant we have ever faced. However, other than opposition by 'the usual suspects', the implications of these monumental changes are barely discussed in any venue. Everything our species has done to this point pales in comparison to what we are now doing - at an ever accelerating rate. Shouldn't we demand this be thoroughly analyzed and discussed across the spectrum of our societal organizations - before we blaze new trails through unknown territories? Once the horse has left the stable, it doesn't do any good to lock the barn door.

We have been debating 'the meaning of life' and all its profound implications for countless millennia. Out of this has evolved the ethical tenants we all live by. You don't need religious beliefs to understand that 'doing to others as you want them to do to you' is a good way to live. Our species evidences wide agreement on the incorrectness of willfully hurting other people. However, we have arrived at this universal acceptance after thousands of years of actions, reactions, philosophical proposals and endless discussion. Yet we are currently on a fast track to not only radically alter life, but to create new life, with almost a total absence of reflection on the consequences.

Personally, I believe we are continuing our move to a higher plane of being, which, at least at a conceptual level, is something most people would consider to be a desirable outcome. I would just like some degree of assurance it will produce a better life for our descendants; one we can be proud we brought into existence.

Keywords:

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