Humans today live in big times. Our brains are getting larger, our lives longer, and our cultures, in many ways, more advanced and refined each day.
All together, those things show the leap of our species ahead of any other. They also might signal an impending evolutionary jump in which our future descendants will be mightily different from our ancestors, and even ourselves. That’s the finding of a speculative study in the journal Current Aging Science. Similar to how monkeys advanced into apes and apes into humans, we may again be the midst again of a evolutionary shift, the result of which might be an entirely different species that’s extremely intelligent, lives much longer, and reproduces far later in life.
Of course no one can be sure what will happen in the future. We may eliminate our species—and planet—via catastrophic climate change before these predictions can come to pass.
All things equal, however, the past provides a reasonable blueprint of what may be coming. In the past few million years, mammals in the “homo” genus have gone through well-defined shifts. Brains became bigger and arms became shorter. When monkeys evolved from prosimians, lifespan jumped from about 40 to 45 years. A few millennia later, the transition to apes renovated the process again. Four or five times, depending how you define evolutionary shifts, our ancestors made big jumps that resulted in us. The arrival of humans was the biggest yet; big brains allowed us to discover medicine, agriculture, and to change the planet to suit our needs.
So what’s next? By citing a few futurists, Cadell Last, an evolutionary anthropology researcher with the Global Brain Institute, believes the future human species will live dramatically longer—seemingly around 130 to 140 years. They’ll reproduce far later, sometimes through traditional methods but increasingly with the kind of advanced reproductive technology that Alison Wolf describes in her terrific and insightful book, The XX Factor. The era when females are tasked with building a career during their most fertile years may soon be over.
Meanwhile, all of us—but especially our offspring—will become smarter. For all the evils that come with incessantly peering at screens, the constant influx of information is making our brains more agile, equipping them to handle bigger problems that are likely to lead to larger jumps in innovation. Issues that confound us today like climate change or economic inequity may be easily solved by our future selves. A bigger challenge might be getting a planet full of highly intelligent people to agree on what our new super species should be called.