Some final thoughts then, to both close things out and close the loop for the argument I’ve presented here. We’ve managed to derive some lessons from our previous cultural depictions of a society featuring humans, uplifted animals and machine intelligences. We’ve taken a brief overview of the current legal situation, as it pertains to this matter, and a more in-depth technical survey of some of the science involved. Now let’s sum things up with a few more observations.
At the beginning of this post I talked about how our ancestors teamed up with the wolf, and how that partnership led to both our species prospering. That in time led to a point in history known as the Neolithic Transition. When a combination of three things led to the dawn of the Agricultural Age: domestication of cattle and horses, wheeled vehicles and a genetic mutation for lactose tolerance (known as the ‘LP allele’). The prevailing theory now seems to be that it was a people known as the Yamnaya, steppe herders from what’s now Russia and the Ukraine, that had the winning combination of all three, and five thousand years ago swept across Europe, outcompeting the existing hunter-gather populations there.
Once the LP allele appeared, it offered a major selective advantage. In a 2004 study, researchers estimated that people with the mutation would have produced up to 19% more fertile offspring than those who lacked it. The researchers called that degree of selection “among the strongest yet seen for any gene in the genome”.
Compounded over several hundred generations, that advantage could help a population to take over a continent. But only if “the population has a supply of fresh milk and is dairying”, says Thomas. “It’s gene–culture co-evolution. They feed off of each other.”
The factors that enabled the dawn of the Bronze Age could apply equally to the coming of a true Space Age; partnership / co-evolution with animals, a new means of transport, new habitats and transforming ourselves in the process.
The billionaire space enthusiasts are set to work building us a real interplanetary transport infrastructure, in concert with those nations still possessing a functional space program.
We’re figuring out how to use the increasingly powerful gene editing technology CRISPR, something that could be used to create astronauts capable of surviving long term on Mars or in zero gee, or wherever the off-world colonies end up being.
As for what that genetic enhancement might be, we turn to a fictional universe for some advice one last time. In the manga/anime series Knights of Sidonia the remnant human population, facing starvation as they flee a destroyed Earth with limited supplies, decides to engineer all future generations to have the ability to draw energy via photosynthesis. Eliminating the need for food, as we knew it. Giving them a selective advantage as remarkable as the ability to digest the milk of another animal. Just one of many imagined advances given to this space faring posthuman evolution of the human species.
Also, for no clear reason that I’ve been able to determine – other than it’s implicit when envisaging the future, tying us back to Ark II – there’s at least one Uplifted Bear amongst their population (who SPOILER ALERT was part of the ruling committee, so was no junior partner, unlike poor old Adam):
Which is the final part of the Bronze Age to Space Age analogy. As I’ve hopefully amply demonstrated, we could perform a whole new level of “domestication” as co-evolution as Uplift.
(If you’re wondering, by the way… China is the nation with the winning combination of all three attributes. A growing space program that will probably leap-frog the US and Russia by the decades’ end, and pioneering work at Beijing Genomics Institute that covers the other two. Firefly/Serenity was probably half-right, in the space faring future every person just speaks Mandarin.)
The other thing the Bronze Age had was the emergence of writing; “proto-writing”. A communication protocol that enabled the functioning of a true human civilisation. We might also map our idea of a multi-species, borg-like, group mind here. The communication protocol enabling the functioning of a true posthuman civilisation. This is where we meet the very edge of popular culture – the idea of posthuman group minds are explored in the new tv show, Sense8, from the Wachowskis and the Nexus series from Ramez Naam.
To repeat, the overall message is this: as we continue this process of co-evolution and mutual aid with upgraded companion species both machine and animal we will all prosper. We as in: those who choose to come aboard for this Grand Extropian Adventure. Continuing to thrive and extend the boundaries of the Atemporal People’s Republic to the stars, as the first post in this series also talked about.
We are both the Monolith and the Star Child.