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Five Cool Ways Humans Go Extinct

By Scot Noel

At least eight human species have gone extinct before us: Homo habilis, erectus, heidelbergensis, neanderthalensis, rhodesiensis, floresiensis, luzonensis, naledi, and the Denisovans. When will it be our turn?

Modern humans, that is “Homo sapiens” seems to have been around for about 315,000 years, with some of the oldest remains uncovered in 2017 in Morocco. Meanwhile, our cousin species, the Neanderthals, have been found to have existed for about 350,000 years.

So, as a mammal and a human species, natural evidence suggests we have somewhere between 35,000 and 685,000 years to go!

Of course, we have big brains and big bombs, and you might not be mistaken to think that, when it comes to Homo sapiens, all previous rules are out the window. Unlike every other species on Earth, even our extinct cousins, I’m pretty sure we get to pick our own fate. Let’s take a look at 5 possible extinctions, ones that aren’t quite the end of everything.

On December 8, 2023 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the world’s first CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing therapy. The treatment, called Casgevy, targets sickle cell disease by helping patients produce healthy hemoglobin. Another gene editing therapy for children with Duchenne muscular dystrophy was approved earlier in the year.

If you’re reading this, you probably have a basic idea of CRISPR genome editing technology. It is a method for altering the DNA of organisms in a precise and targeted manner. It uses a system originally found in bacteria, which includes a molecule called CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) and a protein like Cas9.

This system can be programmed to find a specific sequence in an organism’s DNA and then cut the DNA at that precise spot, allowing scientists to add, remove, or replace genetic material, thus enabling precise genetic modifications.

To make a new species, the changes would have to be heritable. Are they? I think the answer is — they are if they are designed to be so, and sometimes even if they’re not.

Non-heritable CRISPR editing involves making genetic changes that are isolated to certain tissues and are not passed down to future generations. I think most of the current work in CRISPR is being done in this area. But controversy on heritable changes extends worldwide.

In some countries, germline gene editing is banned, in others it is not so tightly regulated.

As the science of human genetic modification advances, there will be both forces pushing for “designer babies,” those with selected traits, such as gender, appearance, intelligence, or disease resistance, and the simple elimination of suffering in babies diagnosed with debilitating genetic defects.

Given time, and remember — these technologies will advance and extend for many centuries and millennia to come — both intended and unintended genetic changes may spread and compile over time until the species we are today is extinct and Homo Novus supplants us.

There are a variety of ways in which humans are becoming more artificial and cybernetic. Simple mechanical enhancements include things like pacemakers, dental and cochlear implants, insulin pumps, and artificial lenses.

Today, some humans have had their lives improved with advanced prosthetic limbs, medical exoskeletons, and deep brain stimulators. The near future should offer artificial pancreas systems, synthetic trachea, and lab grown organs.

Going from the big to the small, medical nanotechnology (the manipulation of materials at the scale of nanometers (one-billionth of a meter) is also progressing.

Microscopic materials and devices are used to deliver drugs directly to diseased cells, or to improve the sensitivity and precision of diagnostic imaging, like in MRIs. Nanomaterials can mimic the structure of biological tissues, making them useful in regenerative medicine. This includes developing new therapies for repairing damaged tissues and organs, potentially revolutionizing the treatment of various diseases and injuries.

In a future where nanotechnology continues to advance, humans could integrate nanobots into their bodies to enhance their abilities, repair damage, fight diseases, and possibly even halt aging.

These nanobots could eventually become so integrated with human biology that they would alter the human organism at a fundamental level, leading to a form of life that is a blend of organic and machine. This new form of existence would be characterized by a seamless integration of biological and nanotechnological components, potentially leading to abilities and forms of consciousness far beyond what is currently possible for humans.

While none of these medical or network upgrades would directly cause extinction, I can see where they would create a last common ancestor scenario. Over time, upgraded humans and organic humans might split into two distinct civilizations, with the upgraded species having the best chance at long-term survival.

While you may not be packing your bags to move to asteroid 16 Psyche any time soon, it seems pretty certain that in the centuries ahead humans will be setting up hearth and home far from the green fields of Earth.

It’s more than Mars. Humans may well settle the Moon, the clouds of Venus, the interior of asteroids, giant rotating habitats called O’Neill Cylinders, and perhaps eventually build a Dyson Sphere around the sun. As they do this, and as generation after generation build on early footholds away from Earth, humans may have some evolving to do.

In some places, our skin and eyes might evolve or be medically altered to withstand different radiation levels and atmospheric conditions. Lower gravity could lead to taller, more slender human physiques over generations, with less muscle and bone density. Prolonged life in controlled environments could lead to weakened immune systems, as exposure to varied pathogens would be limited. Without natural light, circadian rhythms and vision could adapt uniquely.

The end result might be humans who could never comfortably return to Earth, or even adapt from one space borne environment to another easily. And as those populations increase, the fate of today’s original, ground-bound humans might be sealed. Ultimately, space will be where the opportunities are, and the populations of true Earthers are likely to dwindle over time.

Another path to extinction is the possibility of humans simply becoming post-biological.

“The Singularity,” as envisioned by futurist Ray Kurzweil, is a transformative event anticipated to occur when artificial intelligence surpasses human intelligence and humans merge fundamentally with their own technology.

Kurzweil’s vision of the Singularity is underpinned by the Law of Accelerating Returns, which looks at technological progress, especially computing, as something that grows exponentially. This growth is not linear but accelerates as we build more advanced tools, which in turn facilitate even faster progress.

According to Kurzweil, once artificial intelligence reaches a point of human-like cognitive abilities, it will quickly surpass human intelligence due to its ability to self-improve at an unprecedented rate.

As these technologies accelerate, Kurzweil envisions a future where we enhance our bodies and minds with technology, leading to augmented abilities and prolonged lifespans. This could mean embedding nanobots in our brains to directly interface with computers or using advanced biotechnology to eradicate diseases and aging.

Another scenario offers the possible obsolescence of human biology. If machine intelligence offers greater efficiency, durability, and capabilities than organic brains, there might be a shift away from biological existence. Either humans could gradually merge with machines, or machine intelligence could simply outpace and replace biological forms, relegating humans to a lesser role or even leading to extinction.

For Homo sapiens, extinction might not be a cataclysmic event but a gradual evolution into something new – a post-human existence. This new form of existence could offer unimaginable benefits, such as eradication of disease, elimination of physical and mental limitations, and even immortality. However, it also poses significant risks, including loss of control over our destiny and the possibility of creating a superintelligent entity that doesn’t align with human values and ethics.

What do I think is the most likely of these to happen? That’s easy: everything, everywhere, all at once, including things we can’t and won’t see coming.

I think the future of Homo sapiens is one of extraordinary transformation. The integration of genetic modification, cybernetics, and nanotechnology, along with adaptation to diverse solar system environments, and Ray Kurzweil’s vision of The Singularity, will not be a singular event, but a multifaceted evolution, occurring simultaneously and in an interconnected manner.

The advances in CRISPR and other gene-editing technologies have opened the door to eradicating genetic diseases, enhancing physical and cognitive abilities, and even extending human lifespan. These capabilities are not just theoretical but are progressively becoming practical realities. As our understanding of the human genome deepens, we are likely to witness a deliberate, self-directed evolution of our species.

Simultaneously, the field of cybernetics and nanotechnology is advancing at an unprecedented pace. The integration of technology into the human body, through cybernetic implants and nanoscale devices, will enhance our physical and cognitive abilities. These technologies will not just be for repairing or replacing lost functions but will be used to augment our existing capabilities, blurring the lines between human and machine.

Furthermore, the concept of a telepathic human network, facilitated by advanced neural interfaces, is rapidly transitioning from science fiction to potential reality. Projects like Elon Musk’s Neuralink are indicative of a future where human thoughts and experiences can be shared instantaneously, creating a new form of communication and collective intelligence.

Adaptation to various environments in the solar system is another frontier. With the current pace of space exploration and colonization efforts, it’s conceivable that humans will modify themselves to better suit extraterrestrial habitats, be it on Mars, the Moon, or immense space habitats that will themselves be independent city states. This adaptation might include physiological changes to withstand different gravitational forces, radiation levels, and atmospheres.

Finally, we have Ray Kurzweil’s vision of The Singularity – where artificial intelligence surpasses human intelligence and humans merge with their advancing technologies. As AI integrates with human cognition, it will not only augment our intellectual abilities but also potentially lead us to question the very essence of what it means to be human.

In conclusion, these advancements are not isolated phenomena but are interlinked components of a broader evolutionary trajectory. They represent a collective leap towards a future where humanity transcends its biological limitations. It’s a scenario where everything changes, everywhere, all at once, redefining our species in ways we are just beginning to comprehend.


Reference Links for Further Study:

Feb 2023 Parsec meeting

February is poetry month at Parsec!

Love is in the air so show your love for SF/F/H by bringing your original poem to the Feb Parsec meeting. Attendees are encouraged to bring short and effective pieces to read.

Bruce Boston will be our our guest!
Bruce is an accomplished SF Poet and the author of sixty books and chapbooks, including the dystopian novel The Guardener’s Tale and the psychedelic coming-of-age novel Stained Glass Rain.

Bruce will read for us “Interstellar Tract,” and some other poems from his latest collection, Spacers Snarled in the Hair of Comets, which is entirely SF poetry.

His fiction and poetry have appeared in hundreds of publications, especially Asimov’s SF Magazine, Amazing Stories, Analog, Weird Tales, Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction, Realms of Fantasy, Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, The Nebula Awards Showcase, and DreamForge Magazine. Boston has received the Bram Stoker Award, a Pushcart Prize, the Asimov’s Readers Award, the Gothic Readers Choice Award, and the Rhysling and Grand Master Awards of the Science Fiction Poetry Association.

Meeting Information:

Date: Saturday, February 18, 2023

Program begins: 1:00 pm (ET)

Register for Zoom
The Squirrel Hill Library will not be available to us in the First Quarter of 2023.

Did you miss the January Parsec meeting?

You can now catch a recap of Crystal Crawford talking about her Kindle Vella experience on our YouTube channel!

Sept Parsec Meeting 9/18/21

This month we are pleased to present a talk by Diane Turnshek about the Pittsburgh Dark Skies Initiative.

The September Parsec meeting will be held on Saturday 9/18 at 1:00 pm on Zoom


Alternate History: What if today’s level of light pollution had always been?
by Diane Turnshek

The timeline of astronomy would have been severely altered if the current level of light pollution in the world extended back in time. Would we have ever discovered Neptune and Uranus? Current technology allows us to travel to and build in the most remote locations in the world, but historically, dangerous treks to distant lands were for the brave or foolhardy. How far would science have progressed without scientists being able to see stars? And how would the fallout from that loss impact the current world?

John E. Bortle is an American amateur astronomer. He is best known for creating the Bortle scale to quantify the darkness of the night sky. The Bortle Scale measures the night sky’s brightness and the interference caused by light pollution.

Are you aware how many everyday things we take for granted are due to astronomy research? Personal computers, communication satellites, mobile phones, Global Positioning Systems, solar panels, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanners, and CCDs (to name a few). Join us for a vision of a different history where the skies were polluted early on and astronomy never flourished. How dark is your night sky?

Diane Turnshek teaches college astronomy classes in Pittsburgh and has been named a Dark Sky Defender by the International Dark-sky Association. She has been on the Board of Directors for both SFWA and Parsec, Pittsburgh’s premier science fiction charitable organization. For nine years, she mentored graduate students at Seton Hill’s MFA Writing Popular Fiction program. Since 2017 she has set up book signing events for over 300 authors and curated three space art galleries. She is the founder of Write or Die, a critique group running since 1996, Alpha, a teen writing workshop since 2002 and the CMU Speculative Fiction Lecture Series that began in 2014.
Her latest project is to make a high resolution, nighttime, light pollution map of Pittsburgh, PA for researchers.

Join us for the September meeting and meet our surprise Confluence 2022 guest of honor!

Upcoming Parsec meetings:

Oct 16th: Beware the Scare!
Authors, Michael Arnzen, Scott Johnson and Frank Oreto will regale us with spooky stories and talk about horror writing.

Nov 20th: Cat Rambo talks about her upcoming new release, You Sexy Thing, the difference between writing short fiction and novels, the Satanic Panic, and RPGs. And all the great online writing classes she offers through the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers.

Dec 18th: Holiday Party! More information coming soon.

Use the registration link at the top of this post to register once for all of the upcoming Parsec meetings.

Have an article, note or announcement that you would like to see published in the Sigma newsletter?
The deadline for submissions for the Oct Issue of Sigma is Sunday 10/3/21 – Send your plain text or RTF document to: