Science Questions

Is technology steering human evolution?

Mon, 31st Mar 2014

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Question

Stephan from Zurich asked:

"will we get thicker bones and tooth enamel to deal with longer lifespan? Will we have longer and more muscular index fingers to cope with touch screens and computer mouses?"

Answer

Hannah -   So, are our modern lifestyles directing the way us humans evolve?  Over to Robert Foley, Professor of Human Evolution at Cambridge University.

Robert -   Evolutionary changes usually occurs through small genetic shifts which are Evolution: ape skeletonsthen selected for and spread through a population.  For humans to evolve significantly in a new direction will take immense selective pressures.  selection like this, fingers coping with touchscreens is unlikely to be really very strong and certainly, unlikely to be strong enough to spread through such a large population of the human.

Hannah -   Still concerned about the speed of natural selection and my digits, I dial up John Armour, Professor of Human Genetics at Nottingham University.

John -   Spreading genes by natural selection is incredibly slow.  Its a generation by generation process, but its effective.  Humans, because we have ideas and communication, we can spread ideas and technologies and tricks if you like much, much faster than we can spread genes.  Of course, we can spread ideas to people were not related to, where genes by natural selection can only be pass on to descendants.  So, I think the answer is that engineering at the market will fix a new touchscreen tablet is easier for human beings as opposed to human beings evolving to adapt to the touchscreen pad.

Hannah -   And on Facebook, Gerald McMullen comments that technology changes too fast and natural selection too slowly to make any advantage apparent.  Back to Robert Foley for this word of caution.

Robert -   Having said that, there are possible ways in which things will change as we use computers more and more.  It may not affect our muscular physiology or skeletal biology of humans, but it could well affect the way our brains are wired, particularly as these are often developed interactively with the environment in which we grow and develop.

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Very interesting theories dude! most liekly yes! I mean thinking about it we might even grow more fingers to help us type even faster... If our bodies feel a urgency for something it will adapt. Oceanbliss, Tue, 16th Dec 2014

Think about how evolution works. People need to have a breeding advantage from being better adapted to the environment. If the people who can't cope so well with new gadgets are still helped to breed as much as the ones who can type fast, or whatever other advantages they might have, then there will be no evolution to select for those skills. David Cooper, Tue, 16th Dec 2014

Typing is a transient pastime, hopefully soon to be replaced by voice activation of everything, and the realisation that most of what is typed is never read - or certainly never acted upon. People who spend their lives playing with screens and keyboards are in fact life's losers and will be outbred and outfought by those who don't. For the time being, secondary and tertiary markets dominate western society but with the imminent collapse of derivative capitalism, the world will be ruled by those who produce food, not those who buy and sell it.  alancalverd, Tue, 16th Dec 2014

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