Could we and should we become the Zerg?
The Zerg – probably the least popular race in the game Starcraft. But why are the Zerg the least popular? Personally they are my favourite race. Perhaps its because they are more biological than the other races, do we humans more often associate with technological advances over biological ones?
Why do we shrike away from biological advancements while highlighting and praising technological advancements? One key reason might be the slow speed at which normal biological processes take – we just aren’t ready to accept that those processes can be sped up by us.
So what can the Zerg teach us about the possible future and direction of our race? I’d like to examine that in this post.
More Than Just Plants
So far the majority of radical changes made by the human race through genomics have been on plants. Plants are easy, they don’t have ethics comities and most people don’t actually come in contact with plants enough to see the differences between GM and non-GM crops. Plants don’t raise too much concern and so have gone by with (relatively) less fuss than other organisms might have. However its important to realize that biological advancement is not limited to just plants.
The Zerg obviously show us the possibility for military applications of biological advancement (taking the meaning of biological warfare to an entirely different level). This is however at the moment more of a ficticious idea than a real possibility – but military funding is one of the ways science can often be taken to new levels. What interests me more however are some of the other capabilities of taking biology to new levels. What of biological infrastructure and architecture? What of biological sewer systems and highways? What of meat that is grown on racks rather than on cows (this one is already in research actually)? These are ideas for the future, but this may be a future closer than we realize.
Why not just stick to technology?
Well the first thing we need to address is what benefits would we yield from having a biological world akin to that of the Zerg. What is the key difference between technology and biology? Aesthetically we can think of quiet a few differences, just look at the difference between Terran buildings and Zerg buildings in the game. But aesthetics can be changed, what is more important is functionality. As I see it we are looking at two options. Structures made with metal (technology) need to be produced ineffectively, built, maintained and eventually rebuilt. They are strong and fairly weather resistant, but the only effective maintenance possible involves another person/machine coming to fix it. Compare this to biology, biology is usually weaker than metal however it is more flexible, it regrows and with circulatory systems it can constantly repair itself. The addition of neural systems also allows large computers to monitor large sectors of it to a very detailed level. Once we discover the basis for aging, it is also probable that we could make biological buildings which effectively last forever.
Now I am not advocating that we suddenly convert all our buildings into living structures, but I am suggesting that we will see compromise in the future and the introduction of these things. When our control of biological systems increases we will see that these types of structures have their own advantages which we can take a hold of.
Transhumanism is the field of advancing the human race. One of the things many people are scared of when they look at the advancement of technology is the increasingly useless part humanity looks to play in it. If we invent robots which can think, work and design better than we can then won’t we become obsolete? Transhumanists say we won’t because we can make ourselves better. Perhaps through the implementation of technology into us, ie. cyborgs. Or through a change to our base genetic code. Small and slow changes are possible easily through the use of eugenics (aka. Gattaca ), but for large changes we would need to directly alter our genome.
This is exactly what the Zerg do. Through the coordination of the overmind they quickly assimilate other races into their own to make themselves more effective. This is exactly what we can do, but not for global conquest, rather the advancement of our society as a whole. By altering ourselves genetically we can not only keep up with our technology and machines, but be on the leading edge of it. That said, I think it is important to think of our society as a whole, not as individuals. This isn’t about humans vs. robots – we are all in this together.
To be or not to be…
That is the question. The question “could we be?” is up in the air and research will tell us in time, however I think it would be very naive to not consider this an eventual outcome of our current line of research. With technology increasing at ever faster speeds, it may be possible that we start to see these changes within the century. However the important ethical issues remains – should we be? I am sure a lot of people will immediately take to their gut reaction and say no, we should not go down this path. But why? Is this just part of the natural rejection of scary new technologies? Or are there fundamental reasons why we should not?
Some reasons we should not are very conditional on specific aspects of our technology. For example pain. If we cannot create biological structures immune to pain then we run the risk of causing inhumane pain to those structures.
I’d like to come back to this topic later and go into specifics on individual possible infrastructure and transhumanist projects I think may be possible and what benefits they could yield, but for now this is a good intro to the topic. So what do you think, should we move towards a society which advances itself biologically like the Zerg?
Note: For now I am ignoring some of the other aspects of the Zerg such as the hive-mind aspects. That is a conversation for another day.
(This image comes from: http://www.wallpaperez.info/games/StarCraft-2-zerg-wallpapers-619.html )