(artwork by: H R Giger)
Staff writer for Live Science, Tia Ghose… recently wrote an article titled: “What Species Rules Earth? The Answer May Surprise You.” In the article, Tia compares species that could or would compete with humans as the planet’s “Dominator Species.” All very interesting stuff… but the true nugget of the article is revealed when paleobiologist Jan Zalasiewicz, who was consulted as the article’s expert, makes his pick for most likely usurper of humanity.
Below is an excerpt from the original article…
In the newly released film, "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," humans and apes vie for dominance after a virus has made apes hyperintelligent while wiping out most humans. But though apes riding horses, reading and writing in English, and hunting like Stone Age humans is probably far-fetched, the idea of another species or life form dominating the planet isn't, scientists say. In fact, depending on how dominance is defined, other creatures may already be in charge, experts say.
With humans around, it's very difficult for another superintelligent species to evolve, said Jan Zalasiewicz, a paleobiologist at the University of Leicester. "Humans have been quite good at removing the competition," Zalasiewicz told Live Science. Over several million years of evolution, modern humans have already outcompeted several primates and other human species, such as Denisovans, hobbitlike creatures dubbed Homo floresiensis, and Neanderthals, he said.
Still, the movie's premise isn't too realistic. Apes are unlikely to supplant us, given that gorillas and chimpanzees are already struggling in the wild, with slightly more than 100,000 gorillas worldwide and less than 250,000 chimpanzees worldwide, according to the World Wildlife Fund. (No other primate populations exceed 100,000.) With 7 billion humans on the planet, even if 95 percent of them perished as a result of an engineered virus, the remainder would still greatly outnumber the apes.
But assuming humans had managed to kill themselves off with famine, plague, war or climate change, it could take many millions of years for a new species to evolve the intelligence and abilities to dominate the Earth. After all, creatures as intelligent as humans only evolved once in the nearly 3.5 billion years of life on the planet, Zalasiewicz said.
Rats, ubiquitous pests that live on virtually every scrap of land on the planet, are already intelligent and have a highly evolved social structure. In many millions of years, oversized rats could become a hyperintelligent species that could rule the Earth. Pigs, too, have complex social structures and a high level of intelligence, Zalasiewicz said. If they evolved an ability to use tools and continued to evolve intelligence over millions of years, they could conceivably take over the planet, he said.
But realistically, the biggest threat to humans is not a naturally evolving creature, but rather artificial intelligence, he said. "If something else intelligent arises, it will be electronic and [we'll have] made it," Zalasiewicz said.
Researchers recently reported that a machine had passed the Turing Test, exhibiting behavior that could pass as "human." (In the Turing Test, if a human interviewer cannot tell the difference between responses from a machine and a human, then the machine is said to show intelligent behavior.) And futurist Ray Kurzweil has long predicted that the singularity, a hypothetical point when machine intelligence overtakes human smarts, will be here by 2045.