Could Genetically Engineered Superhumans Destroy the Human Race?

Conventional wisdom has held that humans are not likely to evolve into two separate species because international travel and communication have brought us close together, facilitating widespread interbreeding. Genetic engineering could change this. As genetic engineering and artificial intelligence becomes more sophisticated and allows us to design ourselves, and as we begin to merge with machines, not everyone will participate equally. Only peoples in technologically advanced nations may have access to gene editing and computer brain interfaces, and in those nations, access will probably be limited by social and financial status. Some will opt out for religious or moral reasons, and some cultural groups will reject the technology altogether. It is very possible we may develop communities in which genetically engineered humans with computer brain interfaces are nearly universal, and other communities in which these technologies are not available or are rejected almost entirely. As these genetically engineered kids grow up with their uniquely good looks, high IQs, prolonged lifespans, and computer enhanced brains, they may choose to mate preferentially with others of their kind, and over time create social groups with enhanced physical and mental qualities, and enhanced wealth and influence (augmented, no doubt, by the wealth that they will inherit from the parents who had enough money to engineer their offspring in the first place). If the barriers for mating outside the group become great enough, this new genetically engineered, computer enhanced community could evolve into a new and separate super elite species.

The implications are profound. The rich and connected could access greater intelligence, longevity, and physical prowess, while the poor are left behind—broadening the huge economic and social divide that exists today into a more fundamental biological divide. As the late Stephen Hawking warned: “Once such superhumans appear, there will be significant political problems with unimproved humans, who won’t be able to compete.” Commoners will be left behind and become irrelevant. As people become more alienated from one another, eugenics-like movements could dominate the planet, shaking the foundations of democracy and fostering totalitarian states in which dutiful soldiers and obedient workers serve the engineered super elite. When we look at our long human history of ethnic strife and genocide, it is not hard to imagine the scale of potential conflict between two diverging human species. After all, the divide between species is much greater than the divide between ethnic, racial, and religious groups. How would a new genetically engineered, brain enhanced Homo species treat an inferior Homo sapien species? Remember what happened to the Neanderthals.

If we are to preserve human rights and the ethical and moral fabric that we value in our current societies, we must avoid the creation of separate species—one of which would surely be dominant, the other subordinate and possibly enslaved. To ensure this future, we must guarantee a broad access to genetic engineering and other technologies that will bring new and enhanced traits to our species, regardless of economic and social status. We must strive to maintain an egalitarian society, even as we evolve into something new. This will not be an easy task, and our success is by no means assured. But the responsibility is ours. We will be evolving ourselves. As we evolve into a new species of man, we must remain inclusive. We must evolve into a single species. Our humanity depends upon it.


This blog is excerpted and adapted from Brodie’s recently published book Why Are We Here? The Story of the Origin, Evolution, and Future of Life on Our Planet.

Stephen Hawking warned: link

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