Oxford Astrophysicist Predicts We Will Evolve to Live on Mars Within a Century or Two
Mars has long been a primary candidate for sustaining some kind of life, but could humans evolve to withstand its treacherous environment within the next two hundred years? In a new interview with Vice, Oxford cosmologist and astrophysicist Lord Martin Rees claims that humankind will undergo artificial, self-directed evolution in order to be suited for Mars living in the relatively near future.
First, he argues that evolution as Darwin conceived of it has been all but eliminated by modern medicine: "Darwinian Natural Selection has, in many ways, stopped, due to medical advancements and the fact that we can now keep people alive who otherwise would have died."
He then asserts that, in place of traditional evolution, there will likely be a trend towards widespread cyborgism and genetic modification: "Future evolution won't happen on the slow timescale of Darwinian Natural Selection. Instead, it will happen via the application of technology. Within a couple of centuries we will be capable of altering our descendants via genetic engineering and 'cyborg' techniques into almost a different species... Our knowledge of genetics and cyber techniques could bring about a much faster form of evolution. I'm confident that if we can survive the next century these kinds of changes will occur, but it's harder to predict the timescale. But it's not beyond the realms of possibility that such genetic and physical augmentation could occur over the next few hundred years."
He qualified that cultural stigmas may prevent this trend from reaching its seemingly extreme logical conclusion, but that it will more likely occur within communities living in space: "It may not happen here on Earth due to human choices and ethical preferences, but a century or two from now, small communities could possibly be living away from Earth in space. And surely we'd wish them the best of luck in adapting to alien environments through these kinds of drastic modification? It's at this point that our species will diverge as we spread throughout the solar system... Those living away from Earth will modify their physique, adapting towards what is optimal for a very different environment."
In a separate point, he argued that the events of The Matrix could, in fact, occur in reality, although it's unlikely: "A much more far-out speculation, by the way, is that we could exist inside a simulation being carried out on a vast computer created by a more advanced civilization, akin to The Matrix. I think such an idea is pure science fiction. Having said that, it's not against the fundamental laws of physics. Galactic scale super-civilisations could build computers on a planetary scale with stupendously massive processing power. So, while wildly futuristic, such civilisations are possible."
Like fellow Oxford professor Nick Bostrom, Rees believes that artificial intelligence research will lead to an exponentially self-improving superintelligence. This superintelligence may achieve more longevity than the human race, and therefore there may also be extraterrestrial superintelligences that have outlived their human creators: "The human brain carries with it many limits. A silicon-based intelligence could eventually far surpass the human brain in terms of mental capacity, and especially in speed. If extra-terrestrial intelligence is detected it's quite likely that it will be non-organic, possibly created by a long extinct civilisation... computers that have the ability to simulate life itself."
Finally, he revealed his predictions that within the next few centuries, we will be able to colonize space through techniques such as suspended animation and/or faster-than-light travel: "Travelling across the Milky Way for thousands of years may not seem daunting to creatures who are near immortal or can induce states of suspended animation. While the idea of warp drive seems impossible to us currently, we have to be open-minded to the idea that we may be unaware of certain scientific principles." These concepts may not even be as futuristic as Rees is implying, as medical researchers are beginning clinical trials for a suspended animation technique, and NASA scientists are currently working on a proof of concept for a ship with warp drive capabilities.