Could we and should we become the Zerg?

zerg-land

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

kerrigan

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.

Zerg

(This image comes from: http://www.wallpaperez.info/games/StarCraft-2-zerg-wallpapers-619.html )


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~ by Myles O'Neill on February 8, 2009.

17 Responses to “Could we and should we become the Zerg?”

  1. Personally my initial reaction to transhumaism is “hell yes” but remember myles that a biological system is in fact a technology, you seem to be separating biology and machines. There is no real difference aside that we make one (tech) and nature/evolution builds the other (bio). Yes, we use substances in our machines that are not present naturally in biological systems but again that is no real distinction.

    So do I think that in the future we will become like the Zerg. I think that in some ways we will, I think that we will enhance our bodies in various ways. Some may be started at this idea yes, you see it on movies all the time but already we are looking a nanobots and capsules that will live in our bodies and monitor our health and when we’re sick release the correct antigen. Are people scared of that? Generally I’d so that no they aren’t. Another thing is having an RFID tag placed in the web of your hand to be used not only for identification but also for transactions (this is actually in practice atm for VIP’s in a club in England..can’t remember the name sorry). This, I think, is the start of transhumanism and it will slowly creep up on us so that 50 years from now (much faster than evolution but it will) we’ll look back and that how on earth we survived back then. I mean look back 50 years now…

    The question of whether should we, I think should be changed to why *shouldn’t* we? Some will argue the evils of it but all technologies can be used for evil. The computer your reading this on probably has the capability to fire a missile (granted not very accurately) at someone. Does that make it evil? Looking back those 50 years and then at the world around you now, you look at how much better off the majority of people are. Why stop? Why stop technological progression when it has the potential to help even more people?

    no that was actually a question…why stop?

  2. […] Bones says that the human boner has no baculum bone! What if the crashing is make by the dread Zerg, alien bioengineers luring Dreams In Vitro onto a path of […]

  3. Hey, i like the zergs… Each race has it strong point. Zergs are difficult to use so everyone dont like them.. but i do… Mutants are good too, but i prefeer humans with their medics haha

  4. First of all, sorry for my bad spelling.

    I agree that the time for bio evolution is closing in, and “hell, its about time” since such kind of bio-technologi can be use to save millions of lives by f.eks creating a heart or a kidney to a sick person or createing healthy good food for the whole planet.

    Most people say no to this kind of evolution if (i think) 2 primary reasons.
    1: It can be used for evil (everything in this world can be used for evil – EVERYTHING)
    2: religios reasons (fact is religions of diffrent sorts are the one who have hold “cleaver people” back thoughout the entire human existence and punishing them if they are questing the diffrent religions)

    So why stop? I dont think we ever “stopped”, but more correct slowed down. Maybe because it was not profitable, maybe because of the time it takes, or because we dont have enough clever heads on this earth, or maybe its just a simple as humen control (and remember, politiciens and religios leaders are all about humen control, and keeping that control for as many generations as possible.)

  5. I feel this is a great topic to be talking about. I sometimes wonder why don’t the Terrans bend over to the Zerg i mean Kerrigan is a former human and may show favor over the Terrans. The Zerg have physical evolution that may be on par or surpass terran technology. The Zerg soldiers can take bullets with their natural skin and are naturally surperior with their physical bodies. Any advancements in technology can simply be breeded into the soldiers very easily.

  6. biological immortality is getting closer and closer to being feasible we can already lengthen telomeres, i am honestly not sure if every human deserves immortality but i think that the majority of people on the earth could handle it(forgot to add not true immortality just a end to senescense)

    i would like to see biological structures and specialized humans but we would need to have a single organism in charge of a least a entire city the best this means possible corruption of the individual and danger to the whole

  7. […] in. I already posted similar ideas about movement in this direction in my most popular post to date Could we and should we become the Zerg? but unlike the Zerg the Na’vi are aesthetically pleasing. People are shallow and when it […]

  8. This is quite a fascinating topic. Personally I don’t want to go totally Zerg, cause its creepy. The idea of Genetic Modification is actually a good idea in some ways. I mean, I want thicker skin, a better immune system, organs that wont fail, and that kind of stuff. More internal mutation, there is only 1 problem. You can only modify an organic life form while in the womb, at least from what I know, and we have only done it with fruit flies. Unless we could create an injection kind of like the plasmids in Bioshock, may not work in my lifetime. IF possible I want an extended lifetime. Or maybe, I could wait for cryo freezing to be down, and then freeze myself into the future. Not too far, just 10 years or so. A lot can happen in 10 years. But yes, gene modding is a very good idea, as long as we don’t go too far and screw with the brain, we may end up apes again. Every human on earth is diseased, which makes our jaw muscles smaller, and our brain larger. That’s how we evolved, so be careful scientists. We shouldn’t go TOO far that we turn into something just plain creepy, but what about enhanced muscles? like, leg muscles that let me jump 20 feet into the air would be nice. But Immune systems is a PRIORITY. If we can make it good enough, we could be immune to disease. Also, slowing the decay of cells would extend our life, but we also need something to keep our muscles from breaking down and crippling us. And Alzheimer and all those horrible things alike wouldn’t be good. I for one, think that were on the way and its going to be a great part of our life some day. Now, i do NOT want an Overmind. No organic buildings either, that’s just overkill. Mostly cause its just…… weird. If only we could fuse organic materials with a building in a thin layer, that will produce metal or whatever the material is, and repairs it. That would be a fascinating advance, Unfortunately, someone might freak out on this cause his house is covered in living stuff, but think of it this way. It would be a very dumb cell, and wouldn’t have much for being intelligent. I think it would be fascinating and useful for dams, so they can repair leaks quickly. It would have to be able to crawl over the gap, cause the water would squirt it away, so it would produce something to seal it, or maybe crawl into the gap and turn itself into concrete, then reproduce to make more sealant. Fascinating ideas aren’t they? One forgets the power of organisms, because, remember my dear friends, we are organic ourselves. Why be anything else?

  9. I think the use of biological technologies and structures is a good idea in order to aid our infrastructure, such as cleaning the air, our water, producing energy, eliminating wastes, and healing ourselves. These things we already do, and will continue to improve I believe to levels we can’t imagine, far more efficient than traditional “technology”.

    As far as using biological technology to improve humans, in a way, evolve our race, I think that is the debate. If done, it will need to be done slowly, deliberately, and preferably not drastically alter what it is to be human. With genetic technology we can improve our DNA to increase our abilities and reduce deficiencies. Augmenting ourselves with new organs is a difficult question, but a future possibility as well. The zerg do it to improve themselves, and they even create whole new life forms to serve special purposes. We do this with domesticated animals, but so long as it is humane. The wrong path to take is to do what the Motie do in “The Mote in God’s Eye” (Larry Niven/Pournelle) and evolve new species from their own for special purposes. We should not breed humans into new races for specialized purposes.

    My fear in all this is to lose our humanity, to begin to look grotesque and wrong. Maybe its biological to fear a change in our image. Maybe we could improve that way, and make it look natural, but that kind of open thinking doesn’t make the idea any more comfortable. The other issue is almost a class issue (this always comes up). To change ourselves as a race as a whole would be a monumental effort, spanning many generations. Private technology would make improvements only available to the rich and privileged. Richer nations may advance faster than poorer nations. There would be a gap between generations of those that came before and after human enhancement within countries, and between countries themselves. If all didn’t follow eventually, humanity may break up into several true, physical races that are easily defined by our enhancements and appearances. Who knows what kind of political/humanitarian problems this could create. War? Extermination? Enslavement?

    Using biology as a technology to aid our lives as we live them today is easy, painless, and adaptable to everyone on the planet. Any human can use technology. The issue that will be faced with improving the biology of humans will be that of if those improvements can be given to all, over time, so that the entire species follows this path, leaving no one behind, and how the time between this reality will be handled when there exists the haves and have-nots, the befores and afters.

    It could lead to a great future, improved abilities, lives, and possibilities for humanity, but it can also lead to a time in history filled with turmoil greater than anything ever faced by our species. It may be inevitable that we’ll begin to improve ourselves, and the hope is that this is handled in a way that doesn’t lead to conflict with inhumanity the likes of which has never been seen. We do not want to give up our morals, our ethics, our civility, and most importantly our beliefs in basic freedoms for everyone.

  10. @Max
    What you said kinda scared me. War? Extermination? Enslavement?
    That scared me, what if we wipe out all the old humans? Oh my god this would make a GREAT movie! Humans that changed themselves and try to wipe out the old human race, the rich staying alive with their augmented bodies. Insane

    In my opinion, what would be great is what i said above. Perhaps a plant that breathes greenhouse gases and gives out oxygen?
    Oxygen still works as a greenhouse gas, but not as bad as co2 and all those other things. The one problem is that we would have too much oxygen and create oxygen burn, if I’m right. What if the oxygen plants spread? what if they overpopulate? What if the extremes of oxygen KILLS US ALL? I know plants normally give off oxygen and take in co2, but I mean on a HUGE scale, like it does it with 100s of times larger. This is pretty creepy if you think about it right. The bridge repairing idea I had was a really good one in my opinion. The Organic sealant would remind me of the creep in Starcraft. Maybe we would need creep colonies to keep it alive, or something similar? That would be funny, it looks like barnacles on a dam. O_o

    This is a VERY serious topic in my opinion. I think our race is ready for some genetic modification. The first thing? Get rid of our frigging appendix. We don’t use it anymore, why do we have to be born with it? Modify our toolkit genes! The only problem? We can only do it with fruit flies! We need to modify ourselves by little amounts. If anyone has read the old star craft manual, it tells a story about how the Terrans modified their genetics and screwed up the world. Then a government rose up and exterminated the modified humans. That could be the future you mentioned Max!
    Lets be careful

  11. I love the zerg but going down a more biological path would be pretty ridiculous. itd be backtracking to an extent. of course if you think about 200 years later taking this path we would have increased muscle and endurance but at what cost? becoming another animal race? eventually the increased loss of mind use would take effect. Mind over body?

    P.S. im a zerg rusher come get some

  12. wow this all really makes sense but at the same time is very risky since we are a very fragile race and may not be able to control ourselves from being ever more and more stronger every time! i do like the idea oftranshumanism! thinking of humans using their mind to make themselves better rather than learning new ways to kill themselves! GREAT THEORY!!

  13. I personaly love the Zerg. I was one of the original fans of the Zerg back during Starcraft’s early years. Each race has there own talents, and use all three, but my personal favorite is Zerg. Now the idea of Bio-buildings is very interesting, and plausible, but we would have to make them immune to pain. Also, transhumanism is a very possible future, and would partake in small inhancements now if the tecnology is available.

    But, one thing you said worried me. The Zerg were a race that the Terran’s enginered, and did a good job making them into wepons, but, they lost control. If we enginered a robot that was smart enough to realize it didn’t have to listen, we could bioenginere a creature that realized it didn’t have to listen. Actualy, it’s more likely that we lose control of the bio mefore the mecha. Using the Zerg as a wepon has he same dangers the Terran’s faced. If it wasn’t for the Protoss, there wouldn’t be any Terrans left.

    We probbaly won’t have a alien race to save us this time. If we lost control of a race like the Zerg, it could mean the end of humanity. So, bio-buildings are okay, transhumanism is great, but biowepons tend to start problems. The reason I like the Zerg, is that they are evil. They consume and distroy all. They kill for no reason and further their race through distruction.
    If I put it that way, they sound human.

    I hope we never have to face an Overmind.

  14. now i like your way of thinking i play starcraft every now and then but i have thought in a slightly different way
    this is one of my ideas
    It’s a starting point for thinking about structural materials in nature, and in engineering. In works of fiction, metal is the material of choice for skeletons, both exo- and endo-, from the bionic man (and woman) to Dr Who’s cyber men. In the real world we make bone replacement parts such as artificial hip joints from metal alloys, including stainless steels, titanium 64 and cobalt-chromium alloys.
    Suppose I was to make you an offer: you can go into hospital and have all your bones taken out and replaced with nice shiny new ones, made from an engineering material of your choice. You could have metal alloy, or maybe you’d prefer a carbon fibre composite? I suspect that you would be somewhat reluctant to take me up on this fine offer. Apart from a (perfectly natural) suspicion of putting yourself in the hands of the medical profession, you probably think that the bones that nature gave you are likely to be the best possible solution, having been refined for their purpose through millions of years of evolution. This view is very common, encouraged by science writers of the “Nature is Wonderful” school of thought, who seem to be dedicated to explaining the marvels of nature and to telling you that us poor human beings can’t possibly make anything as good.
    So let’s look at the facts. The bones in your body are made from material which has a tensile strength of 150MPa, a strain to failure of 2% and a fracture toughness of 4MPa(m)½. For a structural material that’s not good. We can make alloy steels that are ten times better in all three of those properties. But of course there are some other factors we need to take account of in order to make a valid comparison. Bone is less dense than metals and this is important because the weight of our bones strongly affects the energy needed to move around. To do a quantitative analysis we need to consider the geometry and loading on the structure. The major bones are mostly tubular in shape, loaded in compression and bending. So a rational comparison is to imagine tubes made from different materials, all having the same length and diameter, with their thickness adjusted to give them all the same weight. Putting in some typical dimensions and material properties we find that the stresses in a bone made from titanium alloy, for example, would be about 1.3 times higher than in a bone of the same weight, made from bone. But the titanium alloy is 5 times stronger so obviously its safety factor is much higher.
    There is another important property which engineering materials don’t have, and certain biological materials do, which is self-repair. A broken bone will heal, and in fact your bones are continually being damaged as a result of the cyclic loads experienced in normal activities. Small fatigue cracks initiate and grow; you would fall apart from fatigue within a few years if it were not for the fact that these cracks are continually being detected and repaired. Living cells carry out this continuous maintenance process; we still don’t completely understand how it’s done and it’s a fascinating area of research. But if you had metal bones they wouldn’t ever need repairing: titanium alloy for example has a fatigue strength of about 500MPa which is more than five times greater than the stresses that it would experience in its life as a bone. And in an impact situation the metal bone would probably bend, not break, and could simply be bent back into place.
    Another argument that’s often made about bone is to say that it has a “unique combination of properties”. What this comes down to is that it has a relatively high strength, combined with a relatively low Young’s modulus. It’s true that if we wanted to make a material with the same modulus as bone, about 15GPa, we would probably have to use a composite material and it would be difficult to match the strength in that case. But what’s the virtue of this particular combination of properties? Having a relatively low modulus and high strength means a large area under the stress/strain curve, and thus a large amount of energy absorbed in straining. This energy is of two types, both of which can be useful. For stresses below the yield point we have elastic strain energy, which can be stored and released with relatively little loss. This is very important in dynamic situations: when you are walking or, especially, running, energy is stored during one part of the gait cycle and released a fraction of a second later. Most of this energy is stored in your bones, muscles and tendons. At stresses above the yield point we have energy which is absorbed and not released: this is very useful in impact fracture situations. So yes, it’s important to have a large area under the stress-strain curve, but (you’ve guessed it) many engineering materials are superior to bone in this respect as well. Steel has about the same elastic energy but about 25 times the total energy absorption of bone. A typical carbon fibre composite has a similar total energy but about 10 times the elastic energy of bone.
    If you’re the kind of person who is more convinced by a real life example, then take Oscar Pistorius, a South African athlete who has the slight disadvantage of having no legs. But maybe it’s not such a disadvantage after all. He runs using legs made from carbon fibre composite, and was for a time prevented from competing against able-bodied runners when scientific analysis concluded that his artificial legs give him an unfair advantage. I rest my case!
    We human beings should be proud of ourselves, especially those of us who are materials scientists and engineers. After a long and glorious history, metallurgy and materials science reached the point where, some time early in the twentieth century, natural organisms started to make materials that were actually better than those in their own bodies.
    Now this is all very well, I hear you say, and if I do happen to lose an arm or a leg it’s comforting to know that I could get a good replacement, but my body can’t make steel so what’s the use? This brings me on to my next question: why have our bodies, and those of other animals, evolved so as to make the particular structural materials that they do make, and not to make others, especially metals? This is a bit of a mystery. As far as I know, there are no organisms that make use of metals as structural materials, but we all have lots of metallic elements in our bodies. There doesn’t seem to be any fundamental reason why an animal couldn’t evolve which makes steel, for example. It would get its raw material like we do, from iron ore. The activation energies for oxidation and reduction of iron are of the order of 30-60KJ/mole, comparable to the figure of 57KJ/mole for ATP, a molecule that is commonly used for delivering energy around our bodies. We normally make iron from its ore at very high temperatures, because the rate-limiting process is diffusion in the solid state. But the body makes materials in a very different way, from the bottom up, atom-by-atom, molecule-by-molecule. And of course the fact is that you are already oxidizing and reducing iron inside your body all the time. Hemoglobin, which is the molecule that carries oxygen around in your blood, works by having a single Fe ion at its center, whose oxidation state can be changed to allow the molecule to take up, or release, oxygen atoms.
    So it seems that there are no fundamental reasons why animals could not evolve a metal skeleton. Maybe they already exist on some other planet. If so, what would they be like? Well, assuming they had the same body form as we do, and were subject to the same gravity, then they could afford to be a lot bigger. With a bone material that’s four times as strong as ours, one can use scaling laws to estimate that the entire body could be four times taller, 64 times heavier. These seven-meter tall giants would get their raw materials by eating rocks, which would be no problem since their teeth would be made of casehardened steel. Let’s hope they are friendly!
    Evolution is wonderful of course, but it has its limitations, and it’s better at doing some things than others. For example, evolution is very good at changing the shapes of animals. Take mammals for instance; all mammals have basically the same set of bones, the only thing that distinguishes me from a mouse or an elephant is the size and, to a lesser extent, the shape of each bone in our respective bodies. The breastbone of a bird is, relatively speaking, much larger than yours because it’s the point of attachment for the major muscles used in moving the wings during flying. These kinds of morphological changes can happen gradually from one generation to the next, allowing species to adapt. When it comes to materials, however, nature is much more conservative. Virtually all biological materials, whether found in animals or plants, insects or fish, are fibre composites made up of proteins and polysaccharides, reinforced with ceramic particles based on calcium or silicon compounds. As far as we know it has been thus since the dawn of time. For a couple of billion years there were no hard materials, at least if they were they left no record in terms of fossils. Around a half a billion years ago nature seems to have discovered the trick of making hard materials by the process of precipitation. Bones, for example, are very soft when first made, consisting largely of the protein collagen. Over a period of months they gradually harden, thanks to precipitation of the calcium compound hydroxyapatite (HA), a process that is monitored and controlled by cells living in the bone. Exactly how the cells do that we’re not sure, and when things go wrong it leads to crippling diseases such as osteoporosis, so it’s a matter of great interest.
    Probably I shouldn’t be so hard on nature, because there is something about bone, which is quite remarkable. It has reasonable properties considering the terrible stuff that it’s made from. The materials involved – collagen and HA – are very poor compared to engineering polymers like epoxy and reinforcing fibres such as carbon or glass. Researchers have tried to make artificial bone using nature’s material and the results are nowhere near the mechanical properties of real bone. The trick, and this is where nature’s bottom-up approach is so successful, is to make a nanocomposite. The size of the HA crystals (a few microns thick) is similar to the critical defect size for this brittle material, thus optimising its use. There is also some important structure at the hundred-micron scale: features called osteons perform a similar function to grains in other materials, acting as barriers to crack growth and thus improving toughness. There are some tricks here that we can learn from when developing nanomaterials for structural purposes.
    If you would like to know more about bone and other structural biological materials, I can recommend two excellent books: John Currey’s Bones: Structure and Mechanics and Julian Vincent’s Structural Biomaterials

  15. gusto ko ito kac poh maganda at may exp. hehehehhe

  16. one of the most philosophical posts on race selection I’ve read.

  17. i have put multiple posts and i have all the starship trooper movies the way that species is so uniquely set up the zerg vs klendathu very very different yet closely liked species the klendathu achieved its genetic status over years of sexual selection and evolution the zerg kinda cheated

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