Future! Evolution! Predicted!

Back in the day when I was a naive young man, the news would occasionally run stories about the Future of Humanity, and predict where evolution was going to take us. It was usually a destiny of feeble, shriveled bodies and gigantic domed heads, but there were recent variants. Wall-E instead suggested humans were all going to become obese, trapped in motorized wheelchairs. Or look to Idiocracy, which instead predicts we’re going to be selecting for crass stupidity. You should realize that these are not scientific predictions at all, they are merely cautionary tales conjured up by creators who are telling us about themselves — that they find eggheads and fat people and stupid people repellent, for instance. It’s both ugly and unscientific, because no, evolutionary biologists are not going to make long term predictions about the trajectory of evolution, because selection is a short term and local process.

Are you ready for the next generation of inane predictions? Oh boy, they are at least going in a different direction. Behold Mindy, our destiny, if we continue to do things the artist doesn’t like very much.

You might be wondering how they came up with this remarkable portrait. “Researchers” were commissioned to create a model.

Researchers worked with a 3D designer to create images of a “future human” that accounts for all of the problems long-term tech use may cause.

That does not explain who these “researchers” are. I read through the original source, and it seems to have been Professor Google. They rummaged around through various sites that complain about modern ills — I found some New Age sources, some crank medical sites, and some legit medical sources that talk about the perils of poor posture — and stitched them all together into a rationale for what evolution would favor, an invalid line of reasoning. It’s all entirely driven by contempt for people who use cell phones and do office work. As usual, it’s all about airing the creator’s ill-informed biases. So, if you look at your phone, you are warping the morphology of any progeny you might have! Stop it!

Researchers predict that office work and craning the neck to look at smartphones will lead to humans having a hunched back in the future. Currently, many people consistently adjust their position to look down at their phones, or to look up at their office screens.

If you sit in front of your computer, your grandchildren will grow up to be hunchbacks! At least, according to a holistic medicine guy.

Sitting in front of the computer at the office for hours on end also means that your torso is pulled out in front of your hips rather than being stacked straight and aligned,” says Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert at Maple Holistics.

Using this logic, I guess if they’d hired “researchers” a hundred and fifty years ago to draw what humans would look like if we continued to employ chimney sweeps, they’d have predicted small thin people with armored skin and flexible joints and extra eyelids…oh, look, these guys also predicted extra eyelids to filter out blue light that disrupts sleep patterns, because of course evolution is all about conveniently delivering exactly what you need.

Are you ready for the disclosure of who actually commissioned this work? It’s a company called “Toll Free Forwarding” which is using it to promote their cell phone service with sensationalist bullshit.

Technology has revolutionized the way we do business. Whether it’s the instant access to infinite knowledge through a device in our pocket, or the ability for businesses to expand into new markets all over the world (like Canada, Australia, and Ireland) with a virtual phone number, the scope of technology’s impact is limitless, and this trend shows no sign of letting up.

I’m not linking to them, because that’s what they want, but you can probably find them if you wanted. I don’t know why you would, because the people running this company are dishonest idiots.


  1. Reginald Selkirk says

    Researchers predict that office work and craning the neck to look at smartphones will lead to humans having a hunched back in the future. Currently, many people consistently adjust their position to look down at their phones, or to look up at their office screens.

    Totally bogus. Very short-sighted. Current human-machine interfaces – monitors, keyboards, etc. are a short term gap filler. Eventually we will all just have computer chips in our brains linking us to the worldwide computer.

  2. Oggie: Mathom says

    Researchers worked with a 3D designer to create images of a “future human” that accounts for all of the problems long-term tech use may cause.

    Despite there being a Lamarck Mountain in Yosemite National Park, I thought that Lamarckism was no longer thought of as a good description of the evolutionary process. If children inherit damage caused by the environment, does that mean my children will have neck and lumbar problems, bad knees and hips?

  3. wzrd1 says

    Dishonest idiots, honest idiots, I’m going to continue to avoid idiots in general.
    Besides, we all know that we’re going to evolve to be born with built in guns.
    Hopefully, mine will have a lifetime clutch to avoid stripping out screwz for my entire life.
    Then again, “I have a gun and grease my car with it” ended poorly – hardly any grease fittings these days.

  4. says

    Further hilarity: in order to justify their Lamarckian nonsense, they cite…Evolution News, the Discovery Institute’s propaganda mill.

  5. mordred says

    Does that mean I not only deal with my own computer related problems but inherited my father’s too?
    Wonder what part of my health problem comes from him working with punch cards and what was added from the more modern equipment I’m used to…

  6. says

    If I were to “wildly” guess, I would think that we’re not too, too far out from natural selection no longer being a major factor in human evolution and that gradually gene therapy will take a larger and larger role in how our bodies change for future generations, but I don’t know much really. (this is all assuming that we don’t have some kind of apocalypse due to environmental breakdown and wars or some shit)

  7. Oggie: Mathom says

    So why didn’t I inherit a crooked pointer finger from my parents spending most of their lives fingering rotary phones?

  8. hemidactylus says

    “Mindy” is in line with Bill Maher’s snotty elitist calumnies against smartphone usage and about as full of nonsense as what led to “Mindy” as a concept. Smartphones for him are stand ins for the younger generations. He hates them too.

  9. larpar says

    I want to know how using Toll Free Forwarding’s services will prevent those nasty mutations?
    Also, “text claw” can happen from other activities. Ask Ray McKigney.

  10. M'thew says

    What would lead to the thicker skull? Or is that just thrown in to make it look more like Neanderthals or other distant relatives of Homo sapiens, so it looks more repulsive?

  11. Howard Brazee says

    Before we talked about natural selection, we knew about artificial selection (with crops and dogs and livestock).

    We’re bigger and stronger than we were a century ago.

    The big issue in the future is what extent will we be allowing people to actually biologically improve their progeny. But even if we don’t change genes, we will make sure that those people in Wal-E have bodies that they want.

  12. monad says

    My one prediction is increased heat tolerance, on the basis not that we could use it but that people are already starting to get killed without it. :(

  13. woozy says

    Do you get the feeling people in general (not scientists; people) understand evolution less than they did 50 years ago. …. I just have a hard time thinking why anyone would make these and how they can’t know that that’s not how acquired traits go.

  14. hemidactylus says

    Smartphone usage could go in two ways:
    1. Sex apps mean smartphoners leave more progeny and swamp techphobes.
    2. Smartphone usage rewires reward system to exclude sexual desire and smartphoners leave fewer progeny. Techphobes win.

    Either way I’m not giving up my smartphone.

    Contra the graphic PZ posted, widespread usage of smartphones could reset the adaptive landscape where to process the cognitive overload Mindy’s brain mushrooms.

  15. says

    They get evolution so wrong I don’t even know where to start. For example they get natural selection backwards. If we presume that cell-phone usage will significantly impact fitness, then shouldn’t we expect future humans to be far more adept at using cell phones? Mindy should have long, thin, hyper-mobile thumbs with ultra-fast-twitch muscles to fire off 100 tweets per minute. Of course that is BS too, but at least it is BS in the correct direction.

  16. says

    You should realize that these are not scientific predictions at all, they are merely cautionary tales conjured up by creators who are telling us about themselves — that they find eggheads and fat people and stupid people repellent, for instance.

    Hmmm…I was initially going to say I thought that was an odd take on WALL-E. I had taken it more as “These people are fat as a consequence of runaway capitalism imposing an unhealthy lifestyle on them.” And, yeah, I do think capitalism is still applicable despite everything on the ship being free of charge. But I acknowledge that does indeed stifle an anti-capitalism message a bit, if that is what the message was supposed to be. I do think there is, at least, a message about over consumption. Anyway, I then I remembered prior concerns that I have noted with the movie, mainly that gym memberships are a thing in capitalism along with weight loss products. So, there really isn’t a realistic reason for there to not be slim people, even in a universe that has been wrought by over consumption. (They did have a pool, after all!!! Though, if I recall, the robots may not have liked the humans using the pool…or was it just that a couple of humans were using the pool after hours?)
    That all said, if there is indeed a message here about over consumption and/or runaway capitalism, there is a challenge in how to depict that so that the message is not terribly subtle. If those humans of the future are depicted the same as humans of today, that certainly undercuts the message that over consumption is bad for us and our health. Unfortunately, using fat people as a stand in for unhealthy is all too typical. I don’t think that necessarily means the people who made the movie think poorly of fat people, but rather that they know their audience will likely associate fat people with poor health. By all means, go ahead and critique them for perpetuating stigma about fat people and for not finding a better way to depict poor health. Absolutely do that! (And, if you have suggestions of how to better depict poor health that can fit neatly into a 90 or so minute film, even better!)

  17. bcw bcw says

    I disagree; the depiction is absolutely accurate; as long as you only see the world through your video headset in Zuckerberg’s Meta-verse. In the Meta-world that Zuckerberg avatar is the epitome of man’s future.

  18. unclefrogy says

    ghee whizz I despair almost at the ignorance of people about life and evolution hell about science in general.
    evolution is about the survival and reproduction we have been having a major influence on both of those things for some time just look at the population today. There are many of us who would not have survived long enough to reproduce were not for the work of scientists and engineers, it is not our DNA that has “vanquished” the number of infections and famines that have helped keep our numbers smaller then they are today Science has developed the ability of reproduction for some who would not be able to without that intervention. The only thing I could say about our evolutionary direction is that were are by the numbers we are well prepared for a bottle neck if and when we come upon it. what way will the drift take us that is a much more difficult question I would not be looking at the rich and successful for clues however but more at the vast number of refugees moving around the world today they outnumber the rich now and their numbers will surely increase going forward

  19. Oggie: Mathom says

    Also, “text claw” can happen from other activities.

    My right hand has what could be described as ‘text claw’. Fourth and fifth fingers tend to curl under and my thumb tends to lock straight and slightly bent into my palm. But that’s from nerve damage thanks to a dislocated disc in my neck (mostly successfully corrected surgically). Not from texting.

    And I don’t think my kids will inherit it.

  20. birgerjohansson says

    Ironically, by endorsing Lamarckism they go down the path of Stalin’s pet biologist Trofim Lysenko.

  21. hemidactylus says

    @22- birgerjohansson
    Why when people think Lamarck do they gotta knee jerk to Lysenko? Besides Lamarck had other mistaken ideas such as coining “invertebrates” as a grouping. The whole inheritance of acquired characteristics thing wasn’t unique to him though. He got saddled with it. Gemmules weren’t his invention either (snark snark).

  22. chigau (違う) says

    I was an archaeologist for 40 years.
    That hand position is really “trowel claw”.
    after work it becomes “beer grip”.

  23. chrislawson says

    To be fair to Wall-E, I don’t recall it positing an evolutionary explanation at any stage. Quite fair to criticise its reductive view of modern culture, though. Idiocracy of course dives deep into stupid and regressive eugenic scare theories, which is particularly sad because the film did not need it. If it had been a critique of cultural dumbing down, of the wilful ignorance of modernity taken to extremes, all the good jokes in it would still have landed without the foundation of long-discredited genetic-essentialist lies.

  24. John Morales says

    Quoth PZ in the OP:

    I’m not linking to them, because that’s what they want, but you can probably find them if you wanted.

    So, basically, I can’t really evaluate PZ’s opinion without going to the source; but then, I can’t really comment on the merits of the OP regarding the actual claims made due to insufficient knowledge since I did not go to the source.

    But, did I do so (and easy as it would be to so do), it would effectively mean that PZ as might as well posted the URL, since the only basis upon which I would check the content of this dismal pop stupidity claim is to determine the merit of PZ’s OP, and so by my finding it and perusing it sufficiently they would still the get hit much as if PZ had posted the URL. That said, I know most people would find that sort of effort beyond them, so I suppose such reticence is not entirely pointless.

    chigau, aha!
    Far as I’m aware, you never were explicit before, so I mistakenly made you to be an anthropologist.

    (Your unstated erudition elsecomment is evident to me, so there’s that)

  25. hemidactylus says

    @25- chrislawson
    I haven’t seen Wall-E and it was quite a while since I saw Idiocracy. Was it reminiscent of The Time Machine at all? Wells was toying with some sort of negative eugenics in his World State idea but walked it back a bit in later years. The book was more a class reductionist take on a weird evolutionary premise. Maybe it was the dysgenic outcome of capitalism left to its own devices from a mostly descriptive POV. Can’t recall anything explicitly eugenically prescriptive. More Fabian social critique perhaps. But I have read a disturbing essay that grounds it in the biological notion of degeneration propounded by Wells’ acquaintance Ray Lankester: https://medium.com/@FreisinnigeZtg/the-eugenic-nightmare-7a1d358d0062

    The Eloi are kinda larvated or neotenous akin to ascidians or barnacles. Does Idiocracy rely on similar themes of degeneration? A misgiving I have with the essay is the author’s tendency to draw a necessary connection between socialism and eugenics. Wells could have very well been urging a social remedy of reducing the socioeconomic gap between haves and have nots to prevent their fictional evolutionary divergence. The essay harps on the 800,000 year time frame which seems to rely on use and disuse and inheritance of acquired characters to work. Were humans deliberately bred in Idiocracy or did they just wind up the way they were due to evolutionary pressures or lack of a challenging regime?

    The movies based on The Time Machine aren’t as explicitly anticapitalist. The 2002 has Morlocks self-breeding into castes so some eugenics going on, but they’re the baddies. The Eloi seem on par with us except maybe less technological in culture. An anticapitalist message would not have meshed well with the post-90’s neoliberal triumph. The 1960 had an eventual insurgence against the Morlock predatory system. Neither movie made Eloi the descendants of the leisure class.

  26. says

    That does not explain who these “researchers” are.

    Beavis and Butthead using AI-generated graphics to help them make fun of women’s appearance.

    Seriously, this kind of image can be generated by an AI based on keywords given it by users. And the keywords in this case are the ones appearing on the image.

  27. says

    So, there really isn’t a realistic reason for there to not be slim people, even in a universe that has been wrought by over consumption.

    Especially since that same universe would also be wrought by both high-tech health-consciousness and very particular standards of masculine and feminine beauty/perfection that many if not most people will inevitably be pressured/incentivized/forced to conform to. And people with more money will have less excuse not to get their health and appearance right. (Has there ever been a society where all the well-off people let themselves get obese, just because they could afford to overconsume?)

  28. unclefrogy says

    and very little of that will have any effect on DNA. Peoples appearance is and will be manipulated by all manner of means some deliberate what is fashionable some side effects to other behaviors like food and drink, much of that will be accomplished by money or the lack of it but it will not change the DNA though it might have some effect on reproduction.
    look to the poor and the refugees streaming across all the borders as a reservoir of DNA