TCS Daily

Moore's Law Meets Evolution

By Sonia Arrison - October 14, 2003 12:00 AM

This month, Ernest Hemingway's grandchildren settled a dispute over the estate of the writer's transsexual son Gregory, averting a ruling from a judge on whether Gregory died a man or a woman. Although this seems a bizarre case, it is the inevitable result of the application of Moore's law -- the edict that computing power rises exponentially with time -- to human evolution.


New technologies have affected society in many ways, from making it easier to conduct a long-distance relationship using the Internet, to turning the entertainment industry upside down as music and movies are illegally copied and shared en masse. With the help of Viagra, men like Bob Dole can have happier sex lives and, although controversial, stem cell research is promising cures one never thought possible to myriad diseases.


But aside from specific wonders, new technologies have ushered in a significant societal change: the wide acceptance of the alteration and customization of the human body. Not that the idea of body alteration is new -- people have been doing it for centuries. Women bound their feet in ancient China; in Africa, tribes coiled their necks. In present day America, youths and adults alike frequent tattoo parlors and now plastic surgery is gaining in popularity.


But for a long while in America, the opportunity for any significant body alteration was out of reach for most people. Now that the technology has become increasingly pervasive and cheap, more people accept and have access to procedures that only the very rich could afford before.


Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, has had so much cosmetic surgery that some people think of him as rather freakish. But what is important to note is that most people do not object to the procedures themselves. What they dislike is his taste in those changes and that he refuses to admit the extent to which he's been under the knife. It's as though Jackson is a walking piece of art and everyone's a critic.


New television shows such as Nip and Tuck and Extreme Makeovers that glorify body alteration also reinforce the new societal fervor that changing one's body isn't taboo anymore. But this is only the beginning.


With nanotechnologies and other advances in medicine, soon almost everyone who wants to will be altering themselves more drastically, and with greater ease. Already, people have merged their bodies with computers, such as University of Toronto professor Steve Mann who only sees the world through a wearable computer known as an "eyetap" apparatus.


When body alterations of this sort become more commonplace, political fights will follow. Some will warn that the ability to change oneself will kill individual differences. But the more likely result is a power shift in who creates individualization.


For the most part, differentiation between people's bodies takes place through the natural lottery -- what we were born with. But with greater access to new technologies and methods, differences will be based more on things like education, taste, and character.

Some on the political right will say this is an insult to God or nature or both, and some on the political left will say it's an experiment with nature that compromises our humanity or somehow contaminates the human race.


But there will be splits.


Some feminists will like it, because if you think you are discriminated against as a woman, it won't be so hard to become a man. Black people could become white; white people could become black. Maybe new designer colors will emerge.


Whatever future societal tastes follow, technology has forced both a moral and a practical change in how we view ourselves. The idea that one has to live with the body he or she was given in the natural lottery has been significantly weakened. As those watching the Hemmingway case and other sex change controversies can see, Moore's law now applies to human evolution.


TCS Daily Archives