An artist has partnered with a computational geneticist to illustrate what our faces might look like in the far future. Apparently we’re all going to become anime characters.
All images Nickolay Lamm.
This picture is starting to create a bit of a stir on the internet — and not in a good way. The duo responsible for the images, Nickolay Lamm and Dr. Alan Kwan, have described it as “one possible timeline,” where, owing to zygotic genome engineering technology, the human species will have taken control of its biology and evolution. They look at it as a kind of whimsical and speculative look down one particular timeline — but a number of commentators have complained that they did so under the guise of science.
The following images depict what the human face will look like 20,000, 60,000, and 100,000 years from now.
A typical looking man and woman.
In 20,000 years, we'll have larger foreheads and a "communications lens" in our eyes.
In 60,000 years, we'll have larger eyes, pigmented skin, and a pronounced superciliary arch.
And in 100,000 years these features will become even more pronounced. There is green "eye shine" from the tapetum lucidum, and our eyes will be capable of a sideways blink.
Parmy Olson elaborates in Forbes:
Kwan based his predictions on what living environments might look like in the future, climate and technological advancements. One of the big changes will be a larger forehead, Kwan predicts – a feature that has already expanding since the 14th and 16th centuries. Scientists writing in the British Dental Journal have suggested that skull-measurement comparisons from that time show modern-day people have less prominent facial features but higher foreheads, and Kwan expects the human head to trend larger to accommodate a larger brain.
Kwan says that 60,000 years from now, our ability to control the human genome will also make the effect of evolution on our facial features moot. As genetic engineering becomes the norm, “the fate of the human face will be increasingly determined by human tastes,” he says in a research document. Eyes will meanwhile get larger, as attempts to colonize Earth’s solar system and beyond see people living in the dimmer environments of colonies further away from the Sun than Earth. Similarly, skin will become more pigmented to lessen the damage from harmful UV radiation outside of the Earth’s protective ozone. Kwan expects people to have thicker eyelids and a more pronounced superciliary arch (the smooth, frontal bone of the skull under the brow), to deal with the effects of low gravity.
In addition, Kwan says we may bio-engineer low-light vision and a sideways blink to further protect human eyes from the disruptive effect of cosmic rays. He also predicts larger nostrils for easier breathing in off-planet environments, and denser hair to contain heat loss from a larger forehead. As for cybernetic implants, Kwan says that they will start to become “untrendy” as people increasingly value traits which make them look human; that “will be ever more important to us in an age where we have the ability to determine any feature,” he says.
Since the publication of Olson’s piece, another Forbes writer, Matthew Herper, has slammed into Kwan. And he nails it with this paragraph:
Lamm is actually not thinking big enough. The ability to really muck about in the human genome is only decades or centuries, not millennia, away. Harvard’s George Church does a wonderful job explaining this in his book Regenesis. But it’s odd to think that these technologies will be used for increasing eye size and not in some more creative way. In the short-term, we’re going to be getting rid of obvious genetic diseases, not trying to modify things we don’t even understand, like height. Will people try to change minor things like their appearance? That’s a cultural, not technological question — but the technology to do it is probably far enough away that it’s outside of our ability to think about it intelligently. Lamm’s vision is science fiction that belongs in the same category as the big-headed aliens from the first Star Trek pilot.
Interestingly, Kwan has since written back to Herper, complaining that far too much is being read into the project, saying it was just a “harmless thought experiment,” and not “scientific prediction.”
To which Herper replied: “Your speculation was being widely misappropriated as prediction by most people who saw it. I noted that Parmy’s article was clear on that, I thought the whole thing was an interesting conceptual experiment. But was it coming through clear that this wasn’t science? No, it wasn’t. So be louder next time.”
Alright, now my own two cents on the matter. I agree with Herper that Lamm and Kwan should’ve been “louder” about this being a “thought experiment” — something they did for for fun rather than science.
Even so, as a thought experiment, it’s quite pathetic. Like, really? This is what we'll look like in a hundred thousand years!?
Look, given the accelerating pace of technological change, we don’t know what the human species will look like in 1,000 years, let alone 100,000. Now that we’re starting to remove ourselves from agonizingly slow Darwinian processes — replacing them with biotechnological interventions — evolutionary timescales no longer hold any relevance. Within the span of the next several centuries, we could completely rework the human form, whether it be through genetics or cyborgization. There’s also the possibility of uploads and the potential for remote presence (i.e. controlling avatars [like robots] externally).
Moreover, if we're going to colonize other planets, we're not going to do it by changing the pigment of our skin, the thickness of our hair, or by giving ourselves larger nostrils. Colonists of the year 102,013 will scarcely resemble biological organisms, instead taking on the form of cyborgs (or robots) imbued with machine minds.
Or something we can't even possibly begin to imagine.