Augmented evolution: Why the definition of “human” is about to change

Astronomy, Science Communication
January 23, 2018
If there are intelligent alien civilizations out there, would they look like us? To answer that question, we first have to ask another: Is our species about to take an evolutionary leap? "I think that the definition of being human is about to change a lot in the next century," says Michelle Thaller, astronomer and Assistant Director for Science Communication at NASA. Over the next few decades, Thaller speculates that humanity's augmented evolution will begin as we start to merge with A.I.s. Our biological bodies might just be a first step in human evolution, says Thaller, and high-tech implants and neural interfaces may make it possible for us to design our own bodies. "When you design your own body to suit any environment you want, why look like a human? Maybe you want to—[or] maybe you want to be a piece of foil that spreads itself across square kilometers to fly on solar winds and actually move around through solar systems. Maybe you look nothing like a human. Maybe you have nothing like a human life." So what does this have to do with aliens? Thaller posits that any advanced civilization that is more evolved than us would also have left its biological evolution behind. Expecting humanoid extraterrestrials might be too narrow minded. Maybe aliens are algorithms. Maybe we shouldn't even be looking for DNA and microbial life. Perhaps ET is a flat sheet of foil cruising through the universe on solar winds.