Illustration for article titled How will biotechnology change human evolution?

A somewhat tongue-in-cheek article in The Guardian is proposing some rather interesting predictions for the future of humanity — changes to human form and function that would even make some of the X-Men jealous.

To make his predictions, Dean Burnett worked under the assumption that biotechnology will be used to address ongoing selectional pressures.


"Evolution is obviously a complex process," he writes, "But it's also a slow process. This means you can make claims about it and by the time it progresses to the point where you're proved right or wrong, you'll be long dead so it won't matter."


Ultimately, the question he asks is, what could humans end up being like if current cultural trends and features remain relatively constant over the next few million years? His answers are more a commentary on modern life than bona fide predictions.

Among them, Burnett speculates about color-changing skin. He writes:

Much like the chameleon, humans could eventually acquire the ability to consciously alter the colour of their skin. Maybe via chromatophores, or perhaps a more technical method will be found. Either way, there are numerous benefits that could lead to evolution making this the norm. Individuals who can change their skin colour would confuse prejudices based on race, which would be a depressingly useful advantage. In addition, the false tan/body whitening market is presently quite a profitable one. Many people aspire to change their default skin tone, so the ability to alter it at will would be highly sought after, resulting in more mating opportunities. The sometimes unsettling orange skin tones worn by some also suggest that the ability to change skin beyond the "natural" tones would be a positive. Being able to either visually blend in or stand out at will would be a potent advantage in modern society, one that evolutionary pressures could make more common.


And on the prospect of tentacles he says,

Why stop at the fingers? Although there will be limited practical reasons to develop tentacles instead of limbs, a major factor in evolution is sexual selection. If Susan Greenfield is right and constant exposure to online porn is desensitising us to sexual stimuli, alternative methods of arousal may be required. With the rise of tentacle erotica, that may be one possible outcome.


He also predicts wings, flexible skeletons, and selective hearing. Be sure to read the entire article to see where he's coming from.

More seriously, and to state the blazingly obvious, "current cultural trends and features" won't remain constant over the next few million years — and not by a long shot. It's a point I've made when debunking the claim that we'll grow anime eyes and that we'll continue to evolve during multigenerational space missions.


Top image: X-Men.

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