How Technology Made Us Humans


The Man of Year Million

In his book, “The Artificial Ape,” anthropologist and archaeologist Timothy Taylor makes the startling claim that we did not make tools, tools made us.

He reminds us that the oldest stone tools we’ve found are 2.5 million years old. But the genus to which we belong, Homo, is only 2.2 million years old, at least according to the current fossil record. Our species, Homo sapiens, has been around for less time than the gap between tool creation and our genus.

In a fascinating interview with New Scientist, Taylor believes “earlier hominids called australopithecines were responsible for the stone tools . . . The tools caused the genus Homo to emerge.”

How does that reverse the human-technology equation? Taylor believes that the creation of tools – in his example a sling to carry an infant – is “how encephalisation took place in the genus Homo.” The creation of technology to take care of infants allowed them to be born more helpless. In other words, the development of initial tech allowed evolutionary forces to shape us in a particular fashion. In fact, perhaps forced them to do so.

ReadWriteWeb: How Technology Made Us Humans

Will our brains shrink due to our external ones? Not necessarily. The current trend is a demand for more and more intelligent and educated people to operate and program those machines. Even though I’d like to see computers get easier to operate and program, I would still expect see a demand for humans to do increasingly complex work with them.

2 Comments

  1. Seems to me that evolution as a response to survival of the fittest is, barring epic disaster, pretty much over for humanity. Better question is what will we choose to become?

    Also, how helpless are infants, really? In many indigenous cultures humans are capable of hunting and gathering enough to provide 100% of their dietary needs by 3 years old, go off in the woods by themselves and find their way back to camp, find water in the desert, all kinds of shit many city people would find difficult at 20 years old, much less coming from someone probably not capable of learning to read yet.

    I hold that humans are way more badass than we allow ourselves to be, and we’ll be getting a lot more badass than that real damn soon. Turning into grays over time just doesn’t seem likely. Vastly improved intelligence? Yes. Stronger capacity for empathy and creativity? Yes. But I highly doubt that just because there will be vastly less ‘need’ for it the drive to maximize survival capacity in hostile wilderness environments will ever leave mankind. Humans will become taller, stronger, faster, tougher, more sexually potent, more capable of withstanding extremes of heat and cold and major injury, needing less food to sustain life, more capable of regulating bodily systems, possessing vast endurance, and of course gifted with negligible senescence, functional immortality. Evolution may not demand it, but between the rapid march of technology and our own vanity and current evolved biological drives, we’re headed in that direction long before evolution obviates the need for it. Frankly, I think the future has more sports in it, not less. Hopefully it won’t be the preponderance of spectator sports we are now cursed with so much as something that most people enjoy doing on their own, but regardless of some scientists’ poorly hidden fantasies, robust physical vitality isn’t going anywhere, not even in a million years. Why not? Simply put, because it’s not an either/or question. If we evolve past the need for fixed bodies through self-design, becoming shapeshifters, or even becoming beings capable of manipulating energy and matter itself, transcending the physical form entirely, which may actually happen long before a million years pass, even then we will likely skip the giant brain-wimpy body stage. I’m just sayin.

  2. Quite an interesting approach: the accidental (i.e. not deliberate, as was thought) creation of tools determined us to evolve in order to squeeze the most of those tools, then build better ones and so on.

    If you think about it, even with computers we thrive to get the most out of them and then to build better ones. Technically, humans invent one tool, then discover more ways to use it then they thought possible.

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