Obsolete after the Singularity: Top human design flaws
Humans have come a long way in their evolution, but as technology and culture progress we humans are lagging behind. Why can’t we evolve fast enough? Here are a few big hurdles holding us back.
Our skulls are too small. The capacity of the human brain is evolving faster than the skull can grow to contain it. The human brain has nowhere else to grow, so as it evolves it folds in on itself like a walnut trapped in a shell. Average human skull size cannot grow any larger and still hope to fit through a birth canal, which poses a reproductive problem. We’re also getting taller as our brains get bigger, making us top heavy and prone to picking mates with big heads and skinny hips. We’ve found ourselves in an existential trap called our skull; we can’t make it bigger and we can’t get out. Maximizing human skull size has led to the development of Cesarean section surgery to bypass the birth canal. Maximizing the output of skull-bound neural computation has led to offloading logic into mathematics and computers too complex for the average human to fully understand. Help.
Our manual dexterity has peaked. In the good old days throwing a spear or weaving a bolt of cloth was all the manual dexterity humans needed to survive, but now we are pushing our fingers to the limit. Despite fancy keyboards we cannot force our fingers to type any faster than about four characters per second. Even using child labor in Third World factories, producing goods that need tiny parts assembled on production lines has reached a functional limit of two actions per second. We cannot run global industry any faster or cheaper by speeding up fine finger movements; we’ve maxed out the functional capacity of our digits. Time for robots to take over.
Our output bandwidth is pitiful. Humans are great at consuming. We consume food, media, drugs, air, and pass it all through our system with high efficiency. But when asked to produce output all that we provide is a trickle. For instance, I take in visual memory at about 9000 kilobits per second, but if I wanted to download every memory I ever had to you I would have to type it all onto a page at less than four characters a second, or speak it to you in less than three words per second. I could try to make a film or series of artworks to describe this information faster and in higher detail, but it would take me and a production crew months or years to reproduce even a few authentic hours of memory in any form of physical media. I can consume a photograph in under a second, I can imagine a photographic picture in my head instantly, but if I want to take the picture in my head and transfer it to your head? Forget it. The data will trickle out in the range of bits per second. Weak.
Our working memory is selective. Humans can’t pay attention to everything. In fact, if we try to pay attention to more than one thing at a time we get confused. In order to cope with confusion we have a selective working memory that focuses only on things we are interested in, or on things that are right in front of our faces. Everything else we ignore. Worse than this, our working memory will sometimes refuse to acknowledge information that directly counters our existing predispositions, or will distort conflicting information to paradoxically support existing predispositions. This gives humans a pathological egocentric tunnel vision for interacting with the world. Even humans who acknowledge this flaw are susceptible to its shortcomings. Ouch.
Our long term memory is lossy. Do you remember everything you learned in high school biology? How about what you were wearing the last time rode in an elevator? What about the subject line of the last spam email you deleted? Why can’t you remember these simple details? The sad answer is because you are stupid. Humans are born stupid. Humans must work hard over many years of development to learn how to not be stupid, and although working your way out of stupidity is mandatory for participation in modern culture, many people never get the hang of it. Even the smartest among us are stressed to pathological anxiety when forced to remember all the little details we are expected to have at constant recall. The evolution of symbols, language, religion, math, physics and information technology are all there to help us compress important data into Post-it notes to remind us to not be so stupid, and yet we keep forgetting. Bad humans.
We take too long to mature. Let’s face it, bringing an infant human up to speed to interact productively with the rest of the human population is a long, expensive process. It is a ridiculous cost-benefit analysis when you look at it from an evolutionary perspective; we are the only species that spends this much time nurturing our young. Do you know how many generations and mutations a strain of bacteria can go through in the span of time it takes an infant human to reach breeding age? No, you don’t, because even though you’re a mature educated human you can’t think exponentially. Next item.
We can’t think exponentially. The human imagination is perfectly capable at doing addition and subtraction, fairly capable at doing multiplication and division, and horrible when it comes to calculating logarithms, exponents, or root functions. Students of math must use tricks or brute force to do these sorts of calculations, and more often turn to the calculator, which can handle such functions with a minuscule fraction of the speed and power it takes the fastest human to brute force an answer. We can’t keep up with this level of processing; humans are not designed to run that many calculations per second. Truth hurts.
We grow old, get fat, go bald, get senile, become feeble, and die. What’s that all about? Just when we were getting the hang of things. Total raw deal.
James Kent is the editor of DoseNation.com and author of Psychedelic Information Theory: Shamanism in the Age of Reason