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The Daily Flash -Eco, Space, Tech (1/06)

Stephen Hawking: "The Human Species Has Entered a New Stage of Evolution" - The Daily Galaxy Top Story of 2009

Discovery_chan_id1_04a Although It has taken homo sapiens several million years to evolve from the apes, the useful information in our DNA, has probably changed by only a few million bits. So the rate of biological evolution in humans, Stephen Hawking points out in his Life in the Universe lecture, is about a bit a year.

"By contrast," Hawking says, "there are about 50,000 new books published in the English language each year, containing of the order of a hundred billion bits of information. Of course, the great majority of this information is garbage, and no use to any form of life. But, even so, the rate at which useful information can be added is millions, if not billions, higher than with DNA."

This means Hawking says that we have entered a new phase of evolution. "At first, evolution proceeded by natural selection, from random mutations. This Darwinian phase, lasted about three and a half billion years, and produced us, beings who developed language, to exchange information."

But what distinguishes us from our cave man ancestors is the knowledge that we have accumulated over the last ten thousand years, and particularly, Hawking points out, over the last three hundred.

"I think it is legitimate to take a broader view, and include externally transmitted information, as well as DNA, in the evolution of the human race," Hawking said.

In the last ten thousand years the human species has  been in what Hawking calls, "an external transmission phase," where the internal record of information, handed down to succeeding generations in DNA, has not changed significantly. "But the external record, in books, and other long lasting forms of storage," Hawking says, "has grown enormously. Some people would use the term, evolution, only for the internally transmitted genetic material, and would object to it being applied to information handed down externally. But I think that is too narrow a view. We are more than just our genes."

The time scale for evolution, in the external transmission period, has collapsed to about 50 years, or less.

Stephen-hawkingMeanwhile, Hawking observes, our human brains "with which we process this information have evolved only on the Darwinian time scale, of hundreds of thousands of years. This is beginning to cause problems. In the 18th century, there was said to be a man who had read every book written. But nowadays, if you read one book a day, it would take you about 15,000 years to read through the books in a national Library. By which time, many more books would have been written."

But we are now entering a new phase, of what Hawking calls "self designed evolution," in which we will be able to change and improve our DNA. "At first," he continues "these changes will be confined to the repair of genetic defects, like cystic fibrosis, and muscular dystrophy. These are controlled by single genes, and so are fairly easy to identify, and correct. Other qualities, such as intelligence, are probably controlled by a large number of genes. It will be much more difficult to find them, and work out the relations between them. Nevertheless, I am sure that during the next century, people will discover how to modify both intelligence, and instincts like aggression."

If the human race manages to redesign itself, to reduce or eliminate the risk of self-destruction, we will probably reach out to the stars and colonize other planets. But this will be done, Hawking believes, with intelligent machines based on mechanical and electronic components, rather than macromolecules, which could eventually replace DNA based life, just as DNA may have replaced an earlier form of life.

Casey Kazan

Related Galaxy posts:

The 10,000 Year Explosion: Has Human Civilization Turbo Charged Evolution?
Homo Sapiens -The "Time Travelers" -A Galaxy Classic
“Hyper-Speed” Evolution Discovered
Bringing Ancient Human Viruses Back to Life: A Jurassic Park or Salvation?

Immense Journey



I thought about this for a while and it's awesome to know that people in the scientific community recodize this

Come on...the "External Transmission Period"?????? Unbelievable that anyone could believe this nonsense!

I'm sorry but a)that was not a valid response to the movie Avatar and b) anyone could have said that. this guy only goes so far with me and that starts and ends where pretty much the same place as the clowns I hire for my son's school fair.

I somehow have the feeling that in a million years the earth will be ruled by an enormous network of artificial intelligence that controls robots and seeds intelligence into outer space in order to survive and expand.

Maybe the human race didn't evolve from anything and has actually been devolving, and now needs numbers and mass info. distribution to survive :)

It makes sense. Evolution is now being expressed through our development of technology. Technology has the capacity to evolve much faster than DNA. I think Ray Kurzweil pioneered this theory in his book, "The Singularity is Near".

Also, Andreas Weigend posted in a May 2009 Harvard Publishing blog that "In 2009, more data will be generated by individuals than in the entire history of mankind through 2008." So, I think Hawking actually understates the the current volume of written knowledge.

George Tirebiter, what would you call it then? I'm sorry that you think his terminology is nonsense in comparison to yours.

What would you classify our current stage of evolution as? In terms of the changes we are undergoing from the overload of information that's available to us I think "External Transmission Period" fits pretty well considering that translates into information being sent between people at an unheard of rate compared to the last few hundred years.

"Unbelievable that anyone could believe this nonsense!"

He's one of our planets most gifted minds and has had tenure for longer than I've been alive. Your ignorance is showing.

What would you rather believe then? What professors do you idolize that allow you to dismiss Stephen Hawking in such a way?

Sounds like disdain to me. Just look at Synaesthesia for example; the brain trying to deal organizing various types of information causing them to merge. (Tasting words, feeling music)

My two cents.

neon genesis evangelion will be the beginning LAWL. but seriously, this makes me think seriously about getting a genetics major... sounds really fun!

Remember science and religion are the exact same thing, but 2 different ways to see it. Simple minds fear what they do not understand.

I like the idea he`s pointing out but at one point he sais: "Nevertheless, I am sure that during the next century, people will discover how to modify both intelligence, and instincts like aggression.", but stupidity is funny and aggression is sometimes good. I don`t think that serious and boring people who do not like to punch fists into walls when they are mad, or have a pillow fight (just to give an example) will ever conquer the stars or save us from self-destruction. We should be carefull because if this technology will be very efficient we will have humans that act like machines before we manage to create machines that act "human-like". So... what about that Turing test then.

Science and religion aren't remotely the same thing. One purports itself as an absolute and immediate answer that never changes, thus, ceasing pursuit of further truth because all questions have been answered. The other is forever hungry for new information to change and improve what is known and what is possible.

One assumes perfection, the other assumes imperfection. One stagnates, the other grows. One is the playground of "simple minds" that "fear what they do not understand," and the other embraces new things in order to understand them.

If you don't know which is which, then you're part of the disease on our culture.

The first comment is a spam robot, and there is no link to report this. The site at contains, and spreads, spyware, so beware.

Terence McKenna had this same theory long ago. Listen to the Alien Dreamtime cd and you'll hear a great speech encapsulating his version of the idea.

Punch walls not boring. Punch walls, be human.

Let me gently remind the reader that the extension of evolutionary principles to information was all set down by Richard Dawkins and Aaron Lynch way back in the 1970s (see "Selfish Gene" by Dawkins for starters).

And Susan Blackmore has done far more thinking about the compression of evolution via information-based replicators than Steven Hawking.

The great authors ideas have spread further than there genes have. Ideas can be both worthless and priceless to different audiences.

If you are not smart enough to discuss the topic, please return to, it was built vile commenters, who have no value in their discussion.

I became a little stuck on the phrase "Hawking observes" when his notion fails to provide the irrefutable evidence science demands of people who claim a creator God is responsible for our condition. All the babble of this article just sounds like a contrary opinion about the stuff from which we are made. Fortunately the people who believe in God can reference his prophets to the people who foretold of people and events which later became events of the day and left history to prove accuracy. I'll pay more heed to the dust on scrolls lost then found many centuries later and dated and later read to contain prophecy that had already come true (during the time the scrolls were lost) over the musings of Hawking any day. I like his gadgets though.

This fool needs to read the bible. The universe is only 6000 years old. And what's all this DNA business? Sounds like a bunch of mumbo jumbo to me.

nice Jesusluvsguns;-)
John M, you better be joking. How do you explain that humanity is capable of making plastik, manipulate the genes of plants if you don't accept that science works?

Humanity didn't create plastik. God did it because he is the creater of all. As far as plants go.. I ain't never seen no plant wearing no jeans. A scarecrow maybe?

hawking should write comic books about aliens and frankenstein creations. such myths and theories with no solid proven points of where life actually come from to his theory of some half man half machine ????????

Designer humans. Want to be taller? Change your genetic code. Whats that? You want to change gender??? A bit more difficult but sure... why not!

This would make a good sci-fi story

It's kind of exciting knowing we could do that stuff, but are we collectively mature enough? Genetic manipulation will be used cosmetically. A similar situation occured with plastic surgery, initially it was to 'correct' serious disfigurement.

One thing that is common knowledge but Hawking does not refer to is that our bodies have not been adapting quick enough to changes in our environment... and I don't think they can. Maybe this is where artificial evolution comes to play

it borders on pseudo-science to say
'we are going to do this and that'
if there is no experiment i can do,
or tangible result i can see then
its just dogma.

at least the church is trying to improve
our psyches and our state of well-being
by teaching morals - like 'do not bare false witness'

a concept which most of recent
'science' cannot even slightly understand

Ask God, for what He creates the world if not to be understood? Or to be learned?

Tell me when you have the answer

Wait until biomolecular evolution combined with nano technology and becoming us an immortal human

Happy Birthday :-)

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