Technology: Nature’s Catalyst for Human Evolution

09 Jun,2022



By Ashoke Agarrwal


Ashoke AgarrwalPre-script: My remit is to write a column on the interface of technology and marketing. This fortnight I take a step back and take a look at the interface of technology and modern civilisation of which marketing is small subset.


The doom and the gloom hang heavy over the world these days— the reality of climate change, the increasing social and cultural divide within and across nations, a naggingly persistent pandemic and the spectre of war and economic hardship.


An antidote to the doom and gloom is to take the long view.

Take technology, for instance.


Many cite technology as a critical factor driving the crises facing humankind. The agriculture and industrial revolution fuelled a consumerist, rapacious society overburdening the earth. The resultant destruction of animal habitats and air travel makes zoonotic pandemics inevitable. And, of course, the Internet and social media divide society into mindless tribalism and parochialism. And new, advanced weapons promise to make the wars of the 21st-century ultra-destructive. And so on. The charge sheet against technology is long.


So much so, the trope among run-of-the-mill science fiction writers is to imagine a dystopian future for humanity: a dog-it-dog, bleak Mad Max world.


Peel away these layers of techno-pessimism, and you will find a view that puts technology, at the core, outside the order of nature. A belief that sees technology as an aberration fuelled by human ambition, greed and hubris.


Allow me to present an alternative view.

What if we view technology as an integral part of human evolution?

In his pathbreaking bestseller, A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari presented a compelling insight into two revolutions that shaped early human history.


The first he called the ‘Cognitive Revolution’ – was propelled about 70,000 years ago by changes in the brains of homo sapiens that enabled the emergence of a language that allowed for conversations that ranged beyond the signalling of approaching danger and of the availability of food. According to Harari, this significant development initially led to the emergence of gossip as a human occupation and, in time, fiction creation. An anthropologist could classify both activities as unproductive and harmful in the initial phase. Much as a sociologist is liable to label the effects of social media today.


However, in Harai’s telling, taking a longer and deeper view, the emergence of gossip allowed bonds of trust to form and for communities to emerge. And the ability to create and propagate fiction is at the heart of the uniquely human ability to create myths and intangible entities – the creation and propagation of religion, nations, education and business entities.


About 30,000 years ago, the Agriculture Revolution happened. With the widespread cultivation of wheat, rice and potatoes, humankind starts transitioning from being foraging and thus nomadic bands to settling down into communities around farmlands. Contrary to popular belief, the Agriculture Revolution’s early effects were to reduce the quality of life drastically. Foraging offered excitement, a much more varied and nutritious diet, and a better shot at survival than the boredom and near-slavery of farming, the restricted diet, and the ever-present threat of famine. Yet, many thousands of years later, it is acknowledged that the Agriculture Revolution was much more than that. Without it, humankind would not have become the dominant species. And human civilisations, with large swathes of their population freed from foraging for food, could rise through the pursuit of commerce, the arts, and the sciences.


The Scientific Revolution is not more than 500 years old. The internet is just 50 years old, and AI and biotech are still in relative infancy. So, could it be that the immediate effects of this revolution are just the preliminary and passing results of the latest step-up in human evolution?


It took between twenty to thirty thousand years for the long-term evolutionary effects of the Cognitive Revolution to be fully realised.


The Agriculture Revolution took less than ten thousand years. Evolution is speeding up. Will the ongoing Scientific Revolution fully realise the next stage of human evolution in the next two to three hundred years?


Given the ills of today, many would assert that modern technology has only exacerbated inequalities and inequities and brought the planet to the brink of disaster.


That, I think, is an ultimately self-defeating way to look at it.

Going by the past epochs of humanity’s history, we must believe that the Scientific Revolution heralds humankind’s leap into a new orbit.

Perhaps technology is a dance – two steps forward, one step back, three steps ahead.


Perhaps the threat of climate change will ultimately result in the acquisition of geoengineering – the ability to effect change at a planetary scale, not over centuries but in decades. Perhaps the next economy of sustainable consumption will be driven by sustainable, on-demand, accretive manufacturing that will destroy inequalities based on means of production and consumption. Perhaps genetic engineering and symbiosis of man and machine will give every individual the means to discover and fulfil their potential. Perhaps space exploration will reach a stage where national boundaries here on earth will seem meaningless. Perhaps physics will solve the mystery of consciousness, and humankind will dissolve divisive religious myths.


Perhaps as Yuval Noah Harari posits in his book, humankind, on the back of the Scientific Revolution, will graduate in a hundred or two hundred years from being Homo Sapiens to Homo Deus – a godlike species with seemingly magical powers and flirting with immortality.


All that could be in humankind’s grasp, but only if we let the dreamers among us dream and strive. And not given to the doubts and the gloom as they will arise every now and then. And allow technology to perform its role as nature’s catalyst for human evolution.


Post a Comment 

Comments are closed.