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This article is from the In-Depth Report The Human Evolution Issue—2014
See Inside Scientific American Volume 311, Issue 3

Experts Tackle Question of How Humans Will Evolve

Our species is still changing. What will become of it?



Katy Weidemann

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What will become of humanity hundreds, thousands, millions of years from now? In the September Scientific American, experts make predictions about what the future holds for our kind. Additional predictions follow.

“Evolution is not a process that allows us to predict what will happen in the future. We can see what happened in the past only. To do that, we would need to know what was causing some individuals to leave more surviving descendants than others, and to be sure that that selection pressure would be maintained for hundreds or thousands of generations, and know what the genetic and phenotypic basis for the variance underlying these differences was. We don't and really can't know any of those things, so all I can say is that we should come back in a million years and see what happened!” —paleoanthropologist Carol V. Ward of the University of Missouri

“In a population as large as ours, there is no way we will acquire any meaningful biological novelties. We will find ways of compensating for what we perceive as deficiencies, but unless some disaster horrendously fragments our population, there is no way we are going anywhere in terms of biological evolution. All the action is now on the cultural/technological front.” ––paleoanthropologist Ian Tattersall of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City

“Selection is more or less at an end in developed countries. If you look globally things are different because for demographic reasons there will be an enormous increase in the proportion of Africans which will change the world's genetic balance for skin color and other genes; but within the developed world so far this has had little effect.” ––geneticist Steve Jones of University College London

“Could it be that 5,000 years from now, we will be able to download our minds onto computers, travel to distant worlds and live forever in the network?” ––neuroscientist Joe. Z. Tsien of Georgia Regents University in “The Memory Code” [Scientific American, July 2007]

Advanced artificial intelligence could encapsulate the various components of human cognition and reassemble those components into something that is no longer human—and that would render us obsolete.” ––paleontologist Peter Ward of the University of Washington in “The Future of Man--How Will Evolution Change Humans?” [Scientific American, January 2009]

This article was originally published with the title "Where We Are Going."

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