Deep space exploration could lead to the emergence of a new breed of genetically- or robotically-modified humans, a top astronomer has predicted.
U.K. Astronomer Royal Martin Rees said that in future, some people may decide to leave Earth in order to live on other worlds. Eventually, he added, they might use advanced technologies to modify themselves in order to adapt to their new environment.
“They will find themselves ill-adapted to conditions there, so will have a more compelling incentive than those of us on Earth to redesign themselves using powerful genetic-engineering and cybernetic technologies,” Rees wrote in a comment piece for New Scientist. “These techniques will, I hope, be restrained on Earth, on prudential and ethical grounds; but those on Mars will be freer to experiment.”
“We should surely wish them luck in modifying their progeny to adapt to alien worlds. This may be the first step towards divergence into a new species—an evolution via ‘secular intelligent design’ that proceeds on timescales of technological advance, perhaps thousands of times faster than Darwinian selection,” he said.
Rees proposes that these “post-humans” could one day transition into becoming “fully inorganic intelligences” which may not even need an atmosphere to survive and may thrive in zero-gravity environments, which normal people are not adapted to. In these environments, they could be capable of constructing “massive artifacts” that are far beyond our current technological capabilities.
“So it is in deep space, not on Earth, nor even on Mars, that non-biological ‘brains’ may develop powers that humans can’t even imagine,” Rees said. “Earth, we can surmise, would no longer seem an alluring environment to them, a reassuring thought, as they would be likely to leave our descendants undisturbed.”
The astronomer even suggested that the next phase of human space exploration could lead to a migration in which ever more complex, immortal beings colonize the galaxy. This could potentially be achieved with the help of self-reproducing machines or other technologies.
“Interstellar voyages would hold no terrors for such near-immortals,” he wrote. “There’s plenty of time ahead.”
Despite these predictions, Rees warns that humanity should not fall back on the idea that it can avoid disaster on Earth by heading deeper into space.
“It is a dangerous delusion to think that space offers an escape from Earth’s problems,” he said. “We must solve them here. Coping with climate change is a doddle compared with terraforming Mars; there is no environment in our solar system as clement as even the Antarctic or Everest’s summit. There is no ‘Planet B’ for ordinary risk-averse people.”