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Taking over from evolution: how technology could enhance humanity

By Arthur Saniotis and Maciej Henneberg

Technology offers great possibility of enhancing human capacity.

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Human brains evolved over the last four million years in response to the interaction between environmental challenges and behaviours that enabled us to overcome these challenges. But the future of the brain may be more directly in human hands.

Our ancestors became more successful at ensuring their survival with greater behavioural complexity over time. So their bodies grew in size because of more efficient ways of obtaining foods. And the advantages of greater body size and strength provided security from predator attacks.

As our bodies were growing taller – from about 1.2 metres 3.5 million years ago to about 1.7 metres at the end of the Ice Age some 10,000 years ago, brain expansion followed. This is not surprising because bigger bodies need more nerve cells to control them. But this part may come as a surprise – during the last few thousand years, especially from the time the oldest civilisations arose (about 5,000 years ago) our brains became smaller (yes, smaller!) by about 10%.

This process sped up in the last 2,000 years. If the size of human brain was related to mental ability, this would contradict the increasing sophistication of human knowledge during our recent history.

Recent research suggests that the gene ASPM, which regulates brain growth, is still directing brain evolution. But since the brain is neuro-plastic (changed by...

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Arthur Saniotis is a Visiting Research Fellow in the School of Medical Sciences at the University of Adelaide, where Maciej Henneberg is Professor of Anthropological and Comparative Anatomy. This article was originally published at The Conversation.