The Frankenstein Prophecy
Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2014) is a fascinating read that tracks the development of Homo sapiens throughout our existence.
The book ends with Harari outlining a frightening vision of the future, which he describes as ‘The Frankenstein Prophecy’.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) is the story of a man who tries to create a superior creature but accidentally creates a monster. But there’s a much deeper meaning behind this story aside from the warning that we shouldn't play God.
The Frankenstein myth, according to Harari, tells us that humanity’s last days are fast approaching. Simply put, the pace of technological progress will soon lead to us being replaced by creatures who are physically, cognitively, and emotionally superior.
This isn’t a nice thought, and that’s putting it mildly.
The idea that some creature in the future will look at us the way we look at the Neanderthals, for instance, isn’t easy to digest.
Is it inevitable?
No one can be sure that such a prophecy will occur, however. Forecasts of the future have been wrong plenty of times before.
When Apollo 11 landed on the moon in 1969, imaginations went into overdrive, with many envisioning the human race living on other planets and space colonies by the end of the century.
They were wrong, of course.
However, the idea that the next stage of our history will involve a fundamental transformation of human consciousness is something we should take seriously.
The Human Enhancement question
What do we want to become?
This is the question that faces Homo sapiens. If our successors have a different type of consciousness, what will it look like?
The key debates of human history (politics, religion, and philosophy) will surely be important because the first generation of these new beings will be shaped by their creators.
But there are other questions, too. Questions associated with ethics. Is it right to carry out genetic experiments in the first place? Should we be cloning chimpanzees? Is it ethical to work with stem cells?
Scientists typically avoid ethical issues, however, by arguing that their work will cure disease and save human lives.
And it’s a hard point to argue with.
If Harari’s discussion does indeed come to light, Homo sapiens have surely entered their final chapter given the rate of technological advancement in the last 300 years or so.
Honing in on an exact date is impossible right now, but relative to the previous 70,000 years of human development, the next stage of our evolution is right around the corner.