I’d like to indulge in a thought experiment. This could end up as just a prompt for a neat science fiction story, but I’m not so sure that I’m the one to write it. That’s why I’m not worried about sharing it in public. Perhaps somebody else could make better use of it than me. Then again, I’m just not as uptight about protecting my story ideas as I used to be.
Anyway, two subjects that I’ve been hearing about in the popular science world quite a bit in recent years are space travel and what we can accomplish by mapping the human genome. In the case of the former, much has been discussed as to how we can make humans fit for interstellar journeys. With the latter subject scientists are realizing the potential for both benign and malicious uses with knowing how to read and even alter people’s genes. I’m intrigued by the idea of the two fields taking their own separate paths and then meeting later on, much further into their respective developments.
Suppose that technology has progressed to the point that we finally realize how humans can travel into deep space. Early generations may not be comfortable at first, but they know how to sustain themselves within their giant space ship as they slowly make their way to the nearest habitable planet. They evolve to the conditions of their journey to their new home and then again to the conditions of the planet itself. Finally, they discover a sort of warp technology that can bring them back to Earth without disrupting the space-time continuum.
Meanwhile, soon after the original astronauts left Earth, another step in the human experience has taken place. Genetic technology has advanced so much that humans are finally able to build machines that can build living, self-aware human beings from scratch. Biological reproduction suddenly becomes irrelevant. Not only that, these machines can build “perfect” humans who can solve all of the worlds problems. As such, they become the dominant race on the planet. Those who chose to still have children through biological means dwindle in numbers and ultimately become outcasts, living as tribes in remote regions of the globe. In addition, the machine-built human society progresses to the point where it largely “forgets” it’s predecessors, including those that went into space.
So what is the meeting like, then, when the space colonists come to Earth? The physical differences would be noticeable right away. The space-humans would have changed through their natural evolution in such alien circumstances that they may have passed the threshold of what to us today would look like human; rather, they would be a humanoid alien of some sort. The machine-bred humans, on the other hand, would be more recognizable but only as the sort of “ideal” humans. Also, as they would no longer need to reproduce sexually it’s conceivable that the software running the machines would develop an androgynous race of humans, all identical save for certain physical attributes specific to certain tasks.
The space-humans would argue that they are the true humans as they have reproduced and evolved naturally. In addition, whereas the machine-bred humans were made ideal for conditions here on Earth, the space-humans have adapted to conditions that those left on the planet couldn’t begin to imagine. Therefore, they are stronger.
The machine-bred humans may concede that they are not as “natural” as defined by the space humans, but they are the real next step in the human evolution. That is, of course, if the space humans are even telling the truth about their shared past. But if it is true then the machine-bred humans were made ideally suited to the conditions that fostered human development in the first place, thereby proving that they are truly the next step in human evolution.
Then, to add dramatic impact to our story, a member of one of the minority human tribes stumbles into the machine-bred world while looking for resources, right in the middle of the argument. The machine-bred people look down on this person in disdain, while the space humans look at this person in curiosity. In both cases the effect is dehumanizing, as if the person was either vermin or a lab rat.
Maybe this is a story that I would like to pursue. However, if somebody else gets to it first, then I say go for it. I think it requires a lot more research than I’m prepared to do for a work of fiction right now. I can always keep this scenario in mind for the future, I suppose. I’m sure that I’ll be daydreaming about it for some time to come.