Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking warns of genetically-enhanced “superhumans” in a book set to be published Tuesday.
The late Cambridge University professor, who passed away in March, argues that humans will soon become capable of editing their own genes, allowing them to enhance specific traits.
In an excerpt from the book, entitled “Brief Answers to the Big Questions,” Hawking predicted that “self-designed evolution” would allow certain individuals to quickly evolve beyond normal humans.
“I am sure that during this century people will discover how to modify both intelligence and instincts such as aggression,” Hawking wrote.
Although the professor says the technology would at first likely be used to fix genetic defects, such as muscular dystrophy, advancements could lead to humans splitting into two groups.
“But some people will not be able to resist the temptation to improve human characteristics, such as size of memory, resistance to disease and length of life,” Hawking argued.
Normal humans, Hawking added, would presumably “die out, or become unimportant.”
“Once such superhumans appear, there are going to be significant political problems with the unimproved humans, who will not be able to compete,” Hawking wrote.
The changes could produce a “race of self-designing beings who are improving themselves at an ever-increasing rate,” the professor concluded.
“If the human race manages to redesign itself, it will probably spread out and colonise other planets and stars.”
Although the excerpt does not provide details on the supposed “political problems,” the Sunday Times science editor suggests that Hawking’s concern was wealthy elites – pointing to past examples such as the eugenics movement during the 1900s.
The physicist also used the book to warn against the dangers of advanced artificial intelligence, which could “match or surpass humans” who are “limited by slow biological evolution.”
Humans, would “couldn’t compete and would be superseded,” could very well see “such technology outsmarting financial markets, out-inventing human researchers, out-manipulating human leaders and potentially subduing us with weapons we cannot even understand.”