Friday, July 03, 2009

Hawking on self-directed evolution

The Daily Galaxy has a post on a Stephen Hawking lecture, in which the physicist postulates that humans are entering a new phase of "self design evolution" -- in which we purposely affect change on our genetic code to some , hopefully, useful end. (I will refrain from making any intelligent design jokes at this point.) It is an interesting idea, but Hawking downplays the role of the traditional Darwinian evolution in his next phase of evolution. I'm actually surprised at that, because, while it's true that evolution does take a damn long time, it should be noted that our evolutionary history to modern humans was a result of two factors -- random mutations & natural selection; and, reproduction. Reproduction prior to modern humans was limited to smaller populations. So, if the rate of random mutations has stayed the same, the reproduction rate of our species has increased exponentially since the industrial revolution. A result from this should more changes due to random mutations -- and an increased chance that those changes would be beneficial to the species and be passed on to future generations. In this sense, Darwinian evolution is not slowing down, rather, it should be speeding up.

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