Perhaps by now you have seen the recent movie, Ex Machina. If you have not, suffice it to say, an Internet coder is drawn into an unusual experiment in which he engages with a true artificial intelligence (AI) being delivered in the form of an attractive female robot. Is this the stuff of science fiction, or is it possible that humans may transform themselves fundamentally based on human design?
Historically speaking, it was not that long ago that Homo sapiens were not the only human species walking the planet. Indeed, Homo sapiens existed contemporaneously with Neanderthals, and there were other human species along the way as well. As we of course know, Homo sapiens are the only currently surviving human species. But is that about to change? By way of our own ability to create and invent, are we about to change Homo sapiens, or at least some Homo sapiens, into yet a new form?
Since the beginning of the 20th Century, in some parts of the world, the life expectancy of Homo sapiens has been dramatically extended. This has come about as a result of the development of certain medications, medical and surgical techniques, safer water and food techniques, the provision of electricity and many other advances.
In addition, the ability of Homo sapiens to function has been improved by technological aids such as eyeglasses, contact lenses, hearing aids, and artificial limbs. At what point, however, might we become something different than true Homo sapiens? Are we getting close to the brink when intelligent design by Homo sapiens themselves (as opposed to intelligent design by a higher religious being) might replace natural selection in leading to a different and perhaps more evolved form of human species?
For example, working at the DNA level, geneticists already have been able to extend the life expectancy of certain worms by a factor of at least six. If this could be applied to current Homo sapiens, such beings potentially could live hundreds of years. Also, mice already have been engineered with greater memory and learning skills. Thus, there is the possibility that current Homo sapiens could be changed to live exponentially longer and with greater capabilities. At that point, would they still be Homo sapiens?
In addition to such biological engineering, Homo sapiens could arrange to have inorganic parts merged with their organic parts. Rather than just applying simple eyeglasses, contact lenses or even heart pacemakers that seek to perform the usual and expected bodily functions of Homo sapiens, imagine, for example, the utilization of bionic limbs that have tremendously greater power and flexible use than traditional limbs of Homo sapiens. Would these partially bionic humans still be part of the Homo sapiens species, especially when combined with biological engineering and nanotechnology?
When it comes to nanotechnology, Homo sapiens already are developing tiny nano-devices that can reside in our bodies to perform many functions, including eradicating cancer cells, battling bacteria and viruses, and opening arteries. And beyond that, nanotechnology experts are seeking to create interfaces between brains and computers; the Internet literally could be inside of these humans. Would they still be Homo sapiens?
It is possible that by way of biological engineering, the merging of inorganic with organic parts, and nanotechnology, a different, more advanced and longer lasting form of human “species” may emerge. And that species, if we are to call it that, very well could exist at the same time as Homo sapiens as we know ourselves now. Why? Because it is very possible that only the wealthier Homo sapiens could embark down the path of further development, ultimately becoming something else, while leaving traditional Homo sapiens to continue to live as we do now – or perhaps worse off – as the gulf between the wealthier, stronger, longer living new human “species” and Homo sapiens widens over time.
Of course, many ethical and legal issues would be created if the history of the future unfolds as described above. Would all “people” really be created equal? Would the new humans be allowed to crowd out Homo sapiens by living longer and controlling more resources? The list of questions goes on and on.
Fasten your seat belts, as we move through a new history, whether as Homo sapiens, or something else!
Eric Sinrod (@EricSinrod on Twitter) is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP, where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. You can read his professional biography here. To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod’s columns, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org with Subscribe in the Subject line. This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s law firm or its individual partners.